There is widespread criticism among Zionists of the Israeli far-right leader Itamar Ben Gvir, and rightly so. Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli journalist and author, wrote, “Ben Gvir’s “Jewish Power” party (which is running jointly with the “Religious Zionism” party) would destroy the intactness of Israeli society, replacing the fragile coexistence between Israel’s Arabs and Jews with nothing less than civil war”. Mercaz Olami, the Zionist umbrella arm of Conservative-Masorti Judaism, wrote, “We have always been proud of Israel and plan to continue to be so forever (every day, every moment, every hour). This very eternal pride causes us to firmly turn to the next prime minister of Israel with a request not to appoint Itamar Ben Gvir to a ministerial position in the new government.”
The criticism sounds very different, however, when it comes from anti-Zionist groups. Those groups routinely minimize or even support the crimes of Palestinian terrorists who are so extreme in their ideology that they make Ben Gvir look like a liberal. As an example, the Electronic Intifada openly supports Hamas and supports violence against Israel but accuses Ben Gvir of racism! And if anyone thought that the anti-Zionists were truly concerned about democracy, the Electronic Intifada disabuses them by openly stating that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s alliance with Itamar Ben Gvir “should be welcomed” because it helps the anti-Zionists’ goal of demonizing Israel.
While Ben Gvir calls for Palestinian terrorists to be expelled from Israel, we know that Arab entities (including the Jordan-occupied West Bank and the Egypt-occupied Gaza) indiscriminately expelled all Jewish residents decades ago. We also know that Israel’s enemies are “bent on wiping the Jewish state and its inhabitants off the map” (as Canadian National Post columnist John Robson put it). As racist and as anti-democratic as Israel’s far right is, it is nothing compared to Israel’s enemies. That is of course cold comfort to those who are genuinely concerned about Ben Gvir and his ilk, but it points to a double standard.
Criticizing Ben Gvir and the Israeli extreme right while giving a pass to far worse Palestinian groups is a double standard. It sets high expectations of Jews while setting much lower expectations of others. It is obviously a form of antisemitism.
Using Ben Gvir to demonize Israel is not a new concept. Before Ben Gvir and the Israeli extreme right became popular, it was Netanyahu and his Likud party who were the favorite target of anti-Zionists. Anti-Zionism was not born with Ben Gvir’s entry into Israeli politics, nor was it born with Netanyahu’s entry into Israeli politics. It has existed ever since Israel exists. Anti-Zionism was just as strong, and perhaps even stronger, when Israel was governed by socialists like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir.
In essence, there are two types of criticisms of Ben Gvir. There is the criticism that aims to make Israel better (or at least not worse). This criticism comes from Zionists in Israel and abroad. And there is the criticism that uses Ben Gvir as a new and more convenient way to demonize Israel. This criticism comes from anyone who hates Israel and does not give a fig about Israeli Arabs but looks on with glee as Ben Gvir weakens the fabric of Israeli society.
To Zionists, Ben Gvir is dangerous for several reasons. He is likely to weaken Western support for Israel, he is likely to weaken Israeli democracy, and he is likely to increase Israel’s investment in West Bank settlements which make a one-state bi-national solution increasingly likely. To Zionists, Ben Gvir is a problem. But to anti-Zionists, these are all reasons to celebrate. To them, Ben Gvir isn’t a problem, he’s an opportunity.