Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ address at the United Nations is an important part of his movement toward an upheaval in Israel. It’s a continuation of the identity putsch in his “Jewish state” campaign.”
At its core, Zionism was an attempt to wrest Jewish identity from the hands of hostile non-Jews and take possession of it. Netanyahu’s move does just the opposite. His use of fear tactics is not “solely,” or even mainly, aimed at returning the Jews to the ghetto defined by non-Jewish racism. Through his all-consuming focus on “exposing” the intentions of others, Netanyahu is dismantling independent Israeli identity and Israeli choice. The question of “What do we want?” was disposed of, almost the same way that Yitzhak Rabin, one of the symbols of the world of this question, was disposed of, together with the decision to adopt his order of priorities.
There is a symbolic aspect to Netanyahu’s focus on the UN and the fact that he does so in English. Gone is the talk of universal Jewish ideas about the family of nations, the Hebrew Ben-Gurionism of “oom shmoom” to dismiss the UN or “It doesn’t matter what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.” Instead, we have the exact opposite: an identity that is dictated by others and presented as an endless reprisal action to the primary move of exposing gentile racism.
Behind all of this is a great deceit. There is no greater success for Netanyahu than the repeated asking of the question, “What does he want?” and answering that all he wants is to remain in power. The truth is very different. After all, the settlement enterprise, that Kookian enterprise of Rabbi Dov Lior and Naftali Bennett, is entirely an Israeli choice — and from their perspective, a Jewish choice. It is an arrogant, messianic, racist choice by the “chosen people.” But since this choice of a messianic, racist, Jewish society, a society of extreme inequality, a society without borders, a society of settlements, is not yet accepted by most Israelis, Netanyahu has made the tactical decision to conceal this fact for now and to instead present his actions as a prolonged reprisal action, the response of the eternal Jewish victim to ongoing anti-Jewish hostility.
It is clear that all of Netanyahu’s activity is deliberate and planned, from the complete support of the settlement enterprise, through the Judaization of Israel, his more than nodding support for incitement against Arabs and the left, the crushing of the free media and the imposition of extreme capitalism that leads to record inequality. But because it is so extreme, he feels the need to disguise it and present it as ongoing retaliation. If as a result the basis for Hebrew identity — the independent, confident identity that was a central tenet to the creation of Labor Zionism — is undermined, all the better.
From this, we get to one of the changes that Israel’s non-right must make in order to keep the deceptive discourse of the right from dominating. Instead of pinning its hopes on “peace,” thereby helping Netanyahu to frame the anti-Zionist debate of “Who are the goyim?,” “What do they want to do to us?” and “Can we trust them?,” with all its racist responses, the non-right would do well as to ask the fundamental Zionist question: What do we want?
This, in many respects, is how the Bible was made: through choice. And it is definitely the way modern Jewish identity developed — by pouncing on the promises of the French Revolution in order to rescue itself from an identity held by others into an identity constructed from free choice.
The non-right has the power to return to the path that created Israel’s independence and its Declaration of Independence; the path that asks, What does Israel want? What does Israel need? The substantive answers are a free and egalitarian society, not one that is racist-religious; a society that is sure of itself. A society with borders. A society that doesn’t create a new, inverted Pale of Settlement beyond its borders, in which the Jews are citizens and their neighbors are not. A society that isn’t obsessed with exposing non-Jewish evil, but with developing Israeli power, freedom, spirit, self-confidence and justice.
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