To this American observer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Right, in their expansion of the occupation of the West Bank, doom Israel’s dual mission of being both a Jewish and democratic state. This means that a future Israel that encompasses all of the former British Mandate for Palestine, along with the formerly Syrian Golan Heights and with or without the Gaza Strip, will be either Jewish dominated or democratic — it will not be able to be both simultaneously. It’s impossible at this time to know which Israel will prevail, or if there will even be an Israel at all.
Recognizing this path of obvious self-destruction, clear to those who take even the most cursory look at Israeli politics, it is confusing why the Israeli leadership continues to press on with its steady incorporation of the West Bank, along with its overwhelmingly Palestinian-Arab population, into Israel proper. Netanyahu clearly has no concerns for the political rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, and he displays a growing disdain for Israel’s Arab citizens as well. Were he to undertake the illegal annexation of the West Bank into Israel, the Jewish state would surrender any pretense of its democratic identity.
The head of government of the State of Israel openly disdains its founding, core values. In that, Netanyahu hates the geopolitical entity that is Israel. How is it possible that the Prime Minister of Israel resents the state he’s led for more than a decade? His Revisionist Zionist upbringing provides an explanation.
Revisionism is an early Zionist political ideology that refers to the ideas of pre-state thinkers such as Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin (who later became a prime minister of Israel himself). Revisionism called for a Jewish state to be established throughout the entire British Mandate of Palestine, which at one point even included modern-day Jordan. While Revisionism preached some degree of coexistence with Arabs, it did not recognize their rights to national self-determination in Palestine. Benzion Netanyahu, the father of the Prime Minister, was a Jewish historian and Revisionist Zionist thinker himself.
Revisionist Zionists, though they played a fairly significant role in ousting the British from Palestine, were snubbed by the mainstream Zionist movement in the creation of the State of Israel. The 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, accepted by a supermajority of UN member states, allowed for the dividing of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. This plan was opposed by Revisionist Zionists who were territorial maximalists, but adopted by the socialist Zionist leadership of Palestine, who, only two years after the end of the Holocaust, understood the pragmatism needed at that moment in order to get any state for the Jews. Much to the ire of Revisionist Zionists, the State of Israel was declared in May 1948 on the land allocated by the UN; Israel later acquired additional Palestinian-designated territory in the ensuing War of Independence.
After the declaration of statehood, the Revisionist paramilitary organization, Etzel (commonly known as the Irgun), was reluctant to place itself under the unified command of the newly-created Israel Defense Force (IDF). Things came to a head shortly after statehood was declared when the Irgun attempted to dock a ship full of weapons and refugees, but was not given permission by the IDF unless the weapons were placed under its unconditional authority. A tense standoff ensued, and, in what is now known as the Altalena Affair, a battle erupted between those on the ship and the IDF forces at the Tel Aviv shore. More than a dozen on the ship were killed and the weapon cache was destroyed, depriving the Jews of much needed arms with which to conduct the war, but establishing the primacy of the new state and its institutions.
Benjamin Netanyahu, born in 1949, grew up in the shadow of these humiliations. Israel existed on some, but not all, of the former British Mandate. The resentment for the Altalena Affair within his ideological circle remains palpable even to this day, when he and other right-wingers promote pro-Irgun accounts of the event. My own grandmother, born to a family of Revisionist Zionists and who was only seven at the time of the Altalena Affair, still complains about the IDF’s handling of the situation when walking along the beach where it transpired.
The State of Israel that exists today, while maintaining military control over almost all of the former British Mandate due to the victories of the 1967 Six Day War, remains the political entity created by those who humiliated the Revisionists. In Netanyahu’s eyes, the original sin of Israel, compromising with the world and accepting the UN Partition Plan, has not been rectified. In the same vein, Netanyahu resents the pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005, as the Gaza Strip was in the Palestinian mandate.
When Netanyahu approves each new settlement and expands Jewish control of the West Bank, he slowly works to create the Israel that he feels should have been founded instead of the one that exists today, correcting the perceived historical injustice that was dealt to his father and to his ideology. Netanyahu’s war on liberal Zionism, which seems to never end, is to denigrate the ideology to a lower status, so that it will meet the same fate as Revisionist Zionism did in nascent Israel. The end result he desires, the Greater Israel of his father’s dreams, will come at the cost of Israel’s founding values. But it doesn’t matter to Netanyahu; he hates that Israel and always will.