Judging by the results of the general elections held in Israel last Tuesday, it would appear that a majority of Israeli voters had turned into clones of Gordon Gekko, the corporate raider in Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie, Wall Street, hollering at a gathering of share holders: “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, greed is good. Greed works, greed is right. And greed, mark my words, will save not only [our brokerage firm], but the other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
In its endless trek to the off-beat fascist right, that began with the election of Menachem Begin in 1977 (ending three decades of Labour Party dominance), Israeli society has become imbued with a giddiness, bordering on lust, for colonial expansion, its leaders convinced that though the international community will huff and puff, Israel will continue to have its back covered by Washington, come what may.
Commentaries in the western media, in particular those in the US, have focused on how the insufferable Benjamin Netanyahu has suffered a “stunning setback” as his hard line bloc fared worse than expected in the elections, forcing the incumbent, as he goes about forming a coalition, to invite “moderate rivals into his government and to “soften his line” towards the Palestinians.
The long and short of it is that if this is a joke, the joke is on us. Israeli political culture has sprinted so far to the lunatic right that it is now beyond the pale. In Israel today, a kind of casual dismissiveness of Palestinian rights, including their right to statehood, has infected the public debate. Politicians on the lists of hard right, colonialist parties like Jewish Home and Israel Beiteinu, along with Netanyahu’s own Likud, have campaigned openly for the annexation of virtually the entire West Bank, with Palestinians provided with “limited self-rule” under Israeli sovereignty — and did it as if it were all a norm. To be sure, some did it less subtly than others, but the stance is the same and it is no longer seen as unusual. There are at least seven people on Netanyahu’s list who brazenly call for the “construction of a Third Temple” on the compound of Haram Al Sharif.
The scheme aimed at a comprehensive colonisation of Arab land is no longer considered the radical ambition of the 400,000 religious nationalists living in the colonies. Nor are colonists any longer seen as messianic hotheads. Not only are they now part of the political establishment, they have a political narrative that has already made the transition from the fringe to the centre. Their platform carries muscle beyond the colonies they began to build in 1967. “What is now happening”, David Remnick of the New Yorker quoted the liberal Israeli columnist Ari Shavit as saying, “is impossible to view as anything but the takeover by a colonial province of its mother country”. Imagine, in other words, the pieds noirs in Algeria, in the late 1950s, imposing their will on the whole of metropolitan France!
How does one explain this phenomenal transformation in Israeli society, a transformation that has cost it international isolation as well as condemnation? How does one explain Israelis’ penchant for building walls and fences around the locales they inhabit, choosing to turn their backs on the rest of the world, as if they were neither of this world nor from it, meanwhile constantly harping on their existential fears of the other? Are they so delusional as to think that when their moment of reckoning comes — when the implacable laws of history catch up with them, as these laws one day surely will — these separation bariers will save them from the wrath of 300 million Arabs in the heartland of whose world they have grafted themselves?
Sure, Israeli society has its many doves, liberals and peaceniks, its many compassionate souls, but the collective psyche of Israelis in general remains subject to that historical archetype anchored in what the Danish existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegard called “angst” — an intense feeling of apprehension, anxiety and turmoil, triggered by an acute sense of vulnerability, a sense of vulnerabilty that was an abiding companion of older Jews in 19th century central and eastern Europe.
Never mind that in our time, Jews are a privileged class in America and that their counterparts possess formidable military power in Israel. Yet, they continue to fear their own shadow. The world is out to get them. In America, the holocaust has become, in the words of the noted intellectual and academician, Norman Finkelstein — the son of two holocaust survivors — “an industry of remembrance”. They invade Gaza and Lebanon, they bomb aid ships on the high seas, they grab land and set up checkpoints in the West Bank, and well, heaven knows what they have in store for Iran. They not only differentiate themselves from, but set themselves at odds with, others because, archetypally, they have long since cast themselves as a victim state. And the more they are berated by the international community for their excesses in Palestine, the more to the lunatic extreme they will turn. And that explains Israel’s shift to that lunatic right evinced by the election results last Tuesday.
And, by the way, let us not, any time soon enough, dust off that Arab League peace initiative endorsed at the Beirut Summit in 2002, offering to normalise relations between the entire Arab world and Israel in exchange for the latter’s withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. We should instead hammer out a new strategy from the quarry of our own historical sensibility, responsive to the new challenges the Zionist entity in Palestine is today presenting us with.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.