Naomi Sussmann

Occupation is what drives Israel’s anti-democratic forces

Without addressing 56 years of undemocratic practices used to control Palestinians and expand settlements, the protest can't win
Screenshot from a video showing extremist Israeli Jewish revelers celebrating the killing of the Dawabsha family at the 2013 wedding of Chanamel Dorfman. In 2022, Dorfman began serving as an Otzma Yehudit advisor. (screen capture: KAN-11, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screenshot from a video showing extremist Israeli Jewish revelers celebrating the killing of the Dawabsha family at the 2013 wedding of Chanamel Dorfman. In 2022, Dorfman began serving as an Otzma Yehudit advisor. (screen capture: KAN-11, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In an Editor’s Note early this month, David Horovitz shares with readers two observations. His first observation is that there is great disharmony between the mainstream demonstrators who take part in the weekly demonstrations in front of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, and the anti-occupation activists also in attendance. This disharmony, Horovitz rightfully laments, risks serving those who wish to weaken the protests so that the government can resume its planned judicial overhaul.

In the face of this friction, it is worth mentioning that serious dialogue takes place between the organizers of the anti-occupation bloc and the mainstream protest. In practical terms, these exchanges lead to politically-informed insights, even though they can be emotionally and intellectually challenging to all participants. It is important to take this opportunity to acknowledge and salute those who continue to invest their energy in such dialogue.

Horovitz’s second observation likens the squabbles between the different groups of Israeli protestors to a scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian,” where we learn of the bitter rivalry between the Judean People’s Front and the otherwise indistinguishable People’s Front of Judea. Just as the ancient Jewish rebels let their insignificant differences weaken them while the powerful Roman empire came to crush them, so says Horovitz, the present-day “factions” are giving priority to their petty agendas instead of standing united and leveraging all possible power to derail the government’s intentions to castrate the Israeli courts. This serves no one but Netanyahu, Horovitz concludes.

Horovitz couldn’t be more off the mark when he makes light in this way of the anti-occupation activists’ determination to ensure their message is loudly heard. What is at stake is all but a witty quip of British humor. There is no need to repeat here the moral and ethical arguments for why “fighting for democracy” should not and cannot ignore the current state of an eternal military occupation. These claims are countered by those who believe that the protest should preserve the widest possible common denominator in order to gather as many groups as possible. They explain that it is not an issue of ethics, but of political strategy.

If that’s the case, then let’s look at strategy: Where are the roots of the political power behind the judicial overhaul camp planted? What is the soil that gives them nourishment and anchors their public support?

After all, the principle of separation of powers is not rocket science. We all learned in school – along with ample historical evidence – that removing the restraints that limit government power is a recipe for disaster. So how is it that significant segments of Israeli society support such a dangerous shift in the country’s political checks and balances?

The answer to all of these questions is that 56 years of a military occupation is not only a political phenomenon, but also a social one. Seizure of Palestinian lands, demolition of Palestinian homes, military raids alongside arbitrary arrests at night, and countless civilian deaths are all a part of this reality. This is not to make a moral argument, but a politically pragmatic one: Each of these actions necessitates the support and the direct involvement of significant parts of Israeli society that have been carefully cultivated to feel comfortable with undemocratic practices in order to uphold Israeli control over Palestinians and, specifically, advance the settlement project. Indeed, these individuals, communities, organizations, and political parties rely on said practices to actualize what they perceive as their needs, interests and visions.

The Israeli education system, for its part, is raising generations of young Israelis to accept the idea of denying Palestinians political rights as legitimate; generations of soldiers have carried out the tasks directly involved with the subjugation of millions of Palestinians whose human rights are routinely violated – many of them have done so with pride; Israeli officials are designing and implementing policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank that withhold from Palestinians the very freedoms that Israelis acclaim; and political organizations with the explicit mission to solidify this reality enjoy steady state support, whether through state funding or other means.

The heart of the pro-settlement camp

If you are not yet convinced by this analysis, then simply review the biographies of those leading the judicial overhaul: the politicians come from the heart of the pro-settlement camp, many of them West Bank settlers themselves. The organizations who are tirelessly supporting their efforts to overhaul the judicial system are the same ones whose pursuits are to expand the settlement project and undermine any group that works towards peace or Palestinian human rights. Moreover, the columnists now singing the praises of this government have similarly been writing for years in favor of annexation.

As long as these efforts have been directed against Palestinians, many in Israel (and throughout the world) who do not necessarily support the idea of Greater Israel and its outspoken proponents, preferred not to oppose them. But now, the undemocratic social and political forces that Israeli society has been nurturing for 56 years feel confident and strong enough to commandeer Israeli society itself.

Since these are the roots, we cannot mend the problem without attending to the source. Therefore, a victory for the current demonstrations that does not take on the occupation will only be a temporary one as it will leave the social conditions and political bodies that fuel Israel’s undemocratic forces intact. Should the demonstrations emerge victorious, these groups will merely retreat to lick their wounds, take a few years to regain their strength, and sooner or later will venture out once again to impose their undemocratic regime not only over Palestinians but over Israelis as well.

To be clear, the mass protests deserve much respect. The organizations and groups who have mobilized Israelis en masse have managed to halt a determined government – an impressive and inspiring success that expresses the strength of those who oppose the judicial overhaul. Yet with such power comes the responsibility to stop ignoring the most severe undemocratic reality that we are all complicit in, and it is in their direct interest to do so. Once the protests take on the occupation, they will truly deserve the title of pro-democracy demonstrations.

About the Author
Naomi Sussmann is a Jerusalem born, bred and based translator editor and activist in East Jerusalem.
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