Opinion |

The Real Message Behind Netanyahu's 'Ethnic Cleansing' Speech

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent actions have brought to an end 50 years of Israeli deception about the temporariness of the settlement enterprise.

Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Naftali Bennett pose for a photograph in a school in the Israeli Arab town of Tamra, September 1, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Naftali Bennett pose for a photograph in a school in the Israeli Arab town of Tamra, September 1, 2016. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner, AP
Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor

The deepening of the conflict has always demanded more radical arrangements than those that were missed. After all, ever since the 1949 Rhodes armistice agreement, Israel has preferred occupying territory by force. That can’t be blurred by any journalist from the “Once I was on the left” niche.

Indeed, the innocent Zionist dream – being a representative of Western democracy – is spitting blood. Can it still be saved? How long will the legitimacy of Israeli apartheid last? It seems as if the time for feigning innocence is coming to an end. Its end was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent “ethnic cleansing” video and the scene in Tamra, where the disingenuous premier played dumb before the cameras, capering before first-graders who only understand Arabic and urging them, in Hebrew, to learn Jewish history and the truth.

A footnote: In the debate over Zionism, there is constant confusion between two stories, also at Haaretz. The first story is the tragedy of the occupation, which was born in the comedy of errors of 1967. It ends, as proposed here, with the hypocritical Netanyahu. He was preceded by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, who were also outgrowths of the “We won!” megalomania. The second story is the colonial “nature” of the project since 1948 (representing the West in a region which it only started to control in 1918).

There isn’t “necessarily” a connection between the two stories. The occupation did not stem from the “nature” of innocent Israel, even though it saved the country for years from falling apart. Even if we hadn’t used the territories since 1967 as land and water reserves, and to provide living space for the crowded coastal region, Israel would have been in trouble.

How long would the Arab minority have been ready to surrender its land and water? Twenty percent of the population is forced into two percent of the land available for construction and one percent of the agricultural land. The pressure would have caused them to rise up, sooner or later, if not for the occupation of 1967.

The “East within” – Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern or North African origin – was contained using secularism, confinement to the periphery, educational tracking, continuous incitement and, ultimately, a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. That’s why the state gave them permission to free themselves from “modernization” through religion – the Shas party or the Biton report (on teaching Mizrahi heritage in the education system) – and to seek a refuge there from the political.

Either way, the tensions created by Israeli statism – for the Arabs without compensation, for the Mizrahim with compensation – would have led to disintegration. What saved the state, as noted, was the occupation of 1967. That’s when the state armed the people to face a constant civil war, between “inside” and “outside,” in which what’s outside is inside, and every Jew is a settler, soldier and potential victim of an uprising in the territories. The welfare state, for example, would not have crumbled so quietly if not for the occupation, which gave this democracy’s citizens assignments as warders and prisoners. The Zionist dream is spitting the blood of others.

But what brought about the burial at Tamra? For 50 years, the legitimacy of the occupation was drawn from the culture of defense: the tower and stockade, youth movement songs, the thirst for normalcy, the desire to be “like all the nations.” The siege, its checkpoints and its brutality were aided by the illusion of temporariness.

For 50 years, Israelis have been deluding themselves and the world, including the "High Court of Injustice," into thinking that the situation is temporary (which is why the “ethnic cleansing” video is the final chord in the age of feigned innocence). The system of symbols collapsed. What happened?

It was brought down by the recent innocent “intifada of knives,” which began last October. It suddenly became clear – not just to generals Yair Golan or Gadi Shamni – that there are no symbols for controlling another people; that there isn’t a proper right-wing culture, but the religious Zionist. The knitted-kippa community didn’t “sacrifice” or “give their lives.” It’s much simpler: only they have symbols that provide the barbaric colonialism with messianic significance.

The innocence ended in 1967, and the pretense at innocence is ending now. Imagine Netanyahu vanishing in Tamra, and from the ruins of the dream Education Minister Naftali Bennett emerging with the Tables of the Law. Only Habayit Hayehudi can manage apartheid, talk about five-point math and loudly proclaim “Zion shall be redeemed with justice” in synagogue.

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