Naomi Chazan
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Israel’s new post-Zionists

The government is systematically replacing Israel's core political values with a one-state reality based on messianic thinking

Forty-six years after the Six Day War of 1967, the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank no longer appears temporary. These territories, with the exception of Jerusalem, have not been annexed; they have, however, gradually become an integral – albeit decidedly unequal – part of Israel. A one-state reality is taking shape: one which flies in the face of the democratic and Jewish values of the founders of the state. The present government is the first in the country’s history that, by its dedication to making the current situation permanent, is directly contravening the Zionist dream and replacing it with a messianic vision which leaves little room for “the precepts of liberty, justice and peace” or the ideals of “full social and political equality of all…citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex,” embedded in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

The third government of Binyamin Netanyahu, sworn in a few months ago, is also Israel’s most avowedly nationalist. Both its composition (it includes all the parties on the right of the political spectrum) and personal make-up underline its ethnocentric orientation. The prime minister’s own Likud, virtually devoid of the liberal followers of Jabotinsky (such as Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eytan), is now represented by the likes of Moshe Feiglin, Danny Danon, Tzipi Hotobeli and Miri Regev – all declared one-staters. Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home alliance are committed to the retention of the entire Land of Israel. Even the seemingly moderate Yair Lapid is proving to be a sheep in wolves’ clothing. Together, under Netanyahu’s guidance, they are systematically demonstrating that Jewish ultra-nationalism and post-Zionism are two sides of the same coin.

Five techniques are being used by the government and its allied institutions, think-tanks and NGOs to further the agenda which will solidify a Jewish-dominated bi-national reality. The first is procrastination. John Kerry’s efforts notwithstanding, the message emanating from Jerusalem in recent months is emphatic: the time is not ripe for negotiations leading to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reasons proffered are familiar: growing regional instability, the Iranian nuclear program, Palestinian militancy and leadership unreliability. The modified and moderated Arab Peace Initiative is therefore purposely ignored. Even if bilateral negotiations are resumed in one form or another in the wake of U.S. pressure, these are not seen as more than a necessary ritual that will not lead to any durable peace. Conflict management is viewed as the only viable strategy under present circumstances. Israel is conducting a masterful holding operation in order not only to avoid engaging in game-changing talks, but also to gain time to further alter conditions on the ground.

The second tool for avoidance of the realization of a two-state scenario is compartmentalization. This government continues the pattern set in motion by its predecessor of purposely deflecting attention from fundamental long-term challenges by magnifying immediate domestic preoccupations and maintaining them at the forefront of public attention. Economic questions (particularly the debate over ongoing austerity measures) and the knotty question of ultra-orthodox conscription, however important, leave very little room for serious existential conversations. This is especially true when almost all domestic challenges have been placed in the hands of new coalition partners and the popular sentiment that little can be done on the peace front is reinforced daily by senior government officials. By separating out socio-economic justice from the occupation and suppressing the inexorable connection between the two, the message being transmitted is unequivocal: Israeli-Palestinian accommodation is simply not practicable at the moment.

The third instrument for the entrenchment and elaboration of the status quo is promotion. This government, with nary an apology to Washington for promises broken, has in a few brief months reaffirmed its enthusiastic support for settlement proliferation. The boundaries of existing settlements have been expanded (often at the expense of Palestinian landholders), four heretofore unauthorized outposts have been duly recognized, and new tenders for construction in East Jerusalem have been promulgated. Resistance in the West Bank has been met with increasingly harsh responses. At the same time, the organized hooliganism of “Price Tag” militants, while publicly condemned, has yet to be assertively curtailed. These activities contribute directly to the already widespread feeling that after forty-six years, Israel’s hold over the West Bank is irreversible. Every additional house constructed beyond the Green Line has one purpose in mind: to make it clear that the two-state solution is no longer possible.

The fourth method of ultra-nationalist policy is vilification. Perfecting the pattern developed in the previous Knesset, those who disagree with government policies are denounced, ridiculed and generally dismissed as unpatriotic (or worse). Anyone who demands self-determination for the Palestinians alongside Israel, decries human rights violations, or actively seeks to revive the prospects for a negotiated solution is branded a renegade (if not, ironically, a post-Zionist) by an administration that is doing everything possible to undermine the Zionist dream of peaceful existence in the region. The reactions of several ministers to President Peres’ speech at the World Economic Forum are a case in point. In its awkward quest for ideological uniformity, the coalition has succeeded in further alienating Israel’s few friends abroad and enhancing its global isolation. The constant hounding of dissenters and the propensity to lump them together with delegitimizers of Israel seeks to drive home the perception that advocating anything other than what exists today is an act of betrayal.

The final means of institutionalizing the new reality involves purposeful ideological transformation. In a sophisticated and multi-faceted manner, proponents of inaction on the peace front have, for quite some time, engaged in a subtle effort to change the ethical foundations of the state and reshape its guiding values. Still unable to convince the majority of Israelis that maintaining the territories interminably is both in their best interest and morally justifiable, attempts are constantly being made to instill an alternative normative code. These involve a redefinition of the state from one rooted in the universal notion of self-determination and its accompanying values of equality and justice to one deriving from the inalienable rights of the Jewish people to the land. The Zionist notion of personal and collective Jewish liberation through the construction of a state which treats all its citizens equally has gradually been replaced by a clear preference for its Jewish over its democratic components. The anti-democratic and anti-Arab legislation of the last administration is being augmented by basic legislation affirming Israel as the nation-state solely of the Jewish people. The result is that the normative base of Israel is being manipulated to conform to what is nothing short of a post-Zionist mindset.

Extreme nationalism and post-Zionism go together; they are fast coalescing into a different reality and worldview. This trend is not irreversible: most Israelis would be happy to rid themselves of the moral and instrumental burden of occupation. Most are alienated from the untenable messianic rhetoric currently being parlayed in official quarters. And most would be happy to revive and update the Zionist values on which they were reared. They reject the creeping and inequitable bi-nationalism championed by the present government. Now they must do something about it before it is too late.

About the Author
Naomi Chazan is professor (emerita) of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A former Member of the Knesset and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, she currently serves as a senior research fellow at the Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.