Israeli leftists have a racist past, too
The serene liberal loves to be appalled by the right's racism. But the older form of racism, that of the center-left, can actually teach us something about its origins.
The small flame of racism ensures the right's power. It deepens the chasm between the center and the periphery - not necessarily between the racists and their victims, but primarily between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition and "the left" - meaning those who are appalled by the inflammatory speeches such as those of MK Michael Ben-Ari and Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
But imagine Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying, "Gaza is an abscess, a troublesome pus. Until they understand what has to be done over there, nothing will move over here." Facebook would erupt, the comments would look akin to Der Sturmer, and intellectuals would wax nostalgic for Zionism's glory days (when they did things they didn't talk about and talked about things they didn't do ).
But the description of the Gaza ghetto as an "abscess, a troublesome pus" was uttered - without any public reaction - by the Labor Party's Matan Vilnai, who has been working for years, in the name of the liberal consensus, to turn Gaza into hell, with a cruelty that owes nothing to any racist rabbi's wife.
Moreover, two years after the fiasco of a military operation in Gaza, Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai, like his colleagues in the military leadership, has not yet wised up enough to grasp the emptiness of our "national security."
An enormous army managed not only to commit atrocities, but also to drag Israel down into its closest brush with delegitimization since the United States considered rescinding recognition of the new state in the summer of 1948.
The serene liberal loves to be appalled by the right's racism. He feels so righteous at such moments. But the older form of racism, that of Vilnai and his ilk, can actually teach us something about its origins.
The religious-popular brand of racism always reflected powerlessness: The government preaches power, but when it has no power, the margins are able to take advantage of this worship of power, whether it's called "deterrent power" or "national pride."
The vacuum of weakness is filled by shrieking. And a lynching grants each of its participants a "military" role: He doesn't think, but he's important. He obeys orders from a higher power, and it speaks for him.
Two years ago, Lieberman's star was rising: "He says what everyone thinks." That's a fascist motto. That's exactly how Rabbi Meir Kahane rose from the ashes of the failure in Lebanon, back in 1984, after the Sabra and Chatila massacres. He, too, said "what everyone thinks."
So what does everyone think? Whatever the army does. And what does the army do? It shoots peasants and shepherds. And the people know perfectly well what "the people's army" is doing. That's how the "unconscious" - i.e., the "things that are only done, but not talked about" - becomes part of the political discourse.
And that's how things are in an era of utter impotence, in which no political party has a plan, in which the center is high on hedonism and the increasingly impoverished margins are "rebelling."
In the past, we extricated ourselves from diplomatic dead ends through action - i.e. wars. But today, when it's clear we have no partner for war, the diplomatic dead end has no military alternative, not even in Lebanon, which in the past served as an artillery and air force practice ground for every leader who wanted to show "determination." And as always, despair and confusion invite the mouse to roar. What does Lieberman roar? An interim agreement.
For years, this was Shimon Peres' trademark: "When there is talking, there isn't shooting." And they really did talk, all through the Oslo period. And they also expropriated, and settled, and shot, and arrested, and tortured, and prepared reprisal operations.
Now, we aren't talking, but it's highly doubtful that we can bomb, aside from routine fire on the miserable Gaza ghetto. Thus, it's now the security elite's turn to spout nonsense alongside the rabbis.
How did Vilnai put it? "Until they understand what has to be done over there, nothing will move over here." But where is "there" and where is "here"?
Here, with the exception of a few enthusiastic young people, there is no struggle. Even the trickle of people refusing to serve in the army has dried up. The politicians benefit from this dead end: It lets them run from microphone to microphone and organize "coalition crises." The military leadership prattles on about our "damaged deterrent capabilities" like a beggar with his cup. And the rabble are brought into the streets to demonstrate about Jewish virgins.