Opinion |

For Most Israelis, Including Bennett, Occupation Is Legitimate if It's Polite

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset in Jerusalem in November.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset in Jerusalem in November.Credit: Emil Salman
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Like many who tsk-tsked for the record, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was quick, in an interview with Yossi Verter, to condemn MK Bezalel Smotrich’s aggressive eulogy for former Supreme Court President Justice Miriam Naor: “The things he said were despicable,” Bennett said, aghast. “The religious Zionism in which I grew up stands for courtesy and Torah. In Smotrichism, none of that exists. It’s not the content, but rather the style.”

That last bit is crystal clear: What bothers Bennettism about Smotrichism is indeed not the ideology, but the style. For what did Smotrich argue that made Bennett jump like that? He said that he’ll remember Naor as “the one who insisted on demolishing homes in Beit El and in Ofra and in Amona and in Netiv Ha’avot on account of some crummy strip of land that doesn’t even have owners… In short, she was one more in a chain of [Supreme Court] presidents since Aharon Barak who destroyed a glorious institution.” Bennett, of course, is also a well-known proponent of the illegal settlements. But the style, oh, the style. It is so rude to say such things about a dead Supreme Court. Stealing Palestinian land and violating international law is fine and dandy, but let’s maintain some statesmanlike decorum toward official symbols of power, shall we?

All of this is the usual hypocrisy, including Bennett’s swipe at Smotrich: “Maybe his behavior derives from the fact that he wasn’t sufficiently educated in his abbreviated military service.” What does the army have to do with eulogies? That patriotic statesmanship, supposedly lacking in Smotrichism, whereas Bennettism prefers its occupation to be statesmanly. This is in complete accord with Bennett’s approach to the rioters in the West Bank hills. To him, it’s a marginal phenomenon to be condemned like Smotrich (“Phalangists,” “terror”) but in the same breath to stress that “The vast majority of the settlers are normative, law-abiding people.” No, they’re not. The settlers violate international law, and the Phalangists on the hills are not a marginal phenomenon but part and parcel of the mechanism of occupation that enables their existence.

This affinity for a statesmanlike occupation and the hypocritical distancing from the violent truth on the ground is not unique to the right. It’s part of the daily denial in Israel. Therefore, the most troubling eulogy for Naor in this regard was the response by another former Supreme Court president, Dorit Beinisch, to Smotrich’s remarks. In an interview with Oded Ben Ami last Monday Beinisch said: “I understand that MK Smotrich mentioned the issue of [Naor’s] attitude toward settlement. She, like her teacher and mentor, [the late Supreme Court President Moshe] Landau, who was Jewish, nationalist and principles, also respected settlement, but not on private [Palestinian] land. That was the legacy of Supreme Court President Landau, that private property is not to be harmed for the purpose of settlement. And I think it’s a great injustice to describe Justice Naor as someone who acted against the state’s most important values and its national-Jewish character.”

These are extraordinary remarks worth dwelling on. In her ostensible defense of Naor against Smotrich, Beinisch declared that the legacy of Israel’s Supreme Court is to respect “the settlement” (that is, the illegal settlements) – as long as it isn’t on private Palestinian land. Moreover, Beinisch describes “the settlement” as part of “the state’s most important values and its national-Jewish character.”

Many studies have shown how the High Court of Justice – the Supreme Court when sitting as a constitutional court – has served and does serve as a kashrut certificate for the trampling of human rights and international law in the territories, especially in regard to the establishment and expansion of the settlement enterprise. But to hear it like this, straight from the mouth of former court President Beinisch, makes it clearer than any study. For Beinisch – as for Bennett, as for the High Court, as for most Israelis – the occupation is legitimate, as long as it’s polite.

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