By Jeremy Salt
In the latest incarnation of Israeli politics, incoming ‘prime minister’ Benyamin Netanyahu has given the most extreme figures on an already extreme spectrum the portfolios for ‘national security’ and settlement-building on the West Bank.
Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, who has been allocated the national security portfolio, recently called on his settler followers to shoot Palestinians who resist the takeover of their homes and land. That can be taken as a portent of how he intends to do his job.
Ben Gvir’s portfolio gives him control over the police, including the border police, who have been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Zionist history. He lives in the Kiryat Arba settler colony and, until his entry into politics dictated a modicum of prudence within Israel at least, kept in his living room a portrait of Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque in 1994.
Entering political life early, Ben Gvir belonged to the youth movements of the Moledet (Homeland) party and the Kach and Kahane Chai settler terrorist movements.
Ben Gvir’s equally ‘far right’ colleague Aryeh Deri, of Shas, has been allocated the portfolios of interior and health but is expected eventually to be given finance as well, irrespective of his conviction in 2000 for taking $155,000 in bribes while interior minister. Sentenced to three years in prison, he served 22 months being released in 2002. In 2018 the prosecutor recommended that he be charged with money laundering, fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion, and obstruction of court proceedings.
Eventually charged only with tax evasion, in 2022 he plea-bargained. In return for resigning from the Knesset and paying a fine, he was given a one-year suspended sentence. Before taking up his new portfolios, the Knesset will have to pass a bill allowing convicted persons to hold ministerial positions.
The third member of this unsavory trio is Bezalel Smotrich, representing the Religious Zionist Party, who is slotted to serve as an independent minister in the defense ministry, in charge of West Bank settlements and Palestinian construction, which, as an annexationist, he will block at every turn. Born on the occupied Golan Heights, Smotrich now lives in a settlement outside the West Bank settlement of Kedumin, which even the Zionist government regards as illegal.
Smotrich has a long list of hatreds, extending from the Palestinians to gay pride marchers, whom he mocked in 2006 with a ‘beast parade’ of goats and donkeys through Jerusalem. Asked what he would do to a Palestinian child throwing stones he replied “Either I will shoot him, or I will jail him or I will expel him.” In 2021 he told Palestinian members of the Knesset “You’re here by mistake. It’s a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”
As part of the deal struck with Netanyahu, the new regime is expected to retroactively legalize dozens of settlement outposts that so far have been technically regarded as illegal under Zionist ‘law.’ Other changes will include a broadening of legislation that allows weapons to be used against Palestinian resistance by soldiers and settlers and increased political control over judicial appointments.
Shin Bet, the internal ‘security’ arm, will be given an ethnically separate division to deal with ‘Arab’ crime while further legislation is expected to introduce the death penalty for ‘terrorists’, to end the ban on individuals who incite race hatred standing for the Knesset (already stuffed full of them) and to take further measures to promote ‘Jewish identity, ’ of which these three MPs are surely the most pernicious example.
They represent different parties but insofar as the Palestinians are concerned they are one and the same. Their shared goal, whatever it takes, is the extirpation of all Palestinians from their homeland.
Mainstream Israel reacts with rage to the accusation of apartheid. By contrast, these three violent, racist Jewish supremacists are open in their demand for one religiously purified Jewish state, with Palestinians who survive the murderous demographic war launched against them more than a century ago denied citizen rights but perhaps allowed to run their own municipal services.
Zionism is a morally deplorable ideology. There can be only worse words for an ideology based on the ejection of an entire people from their homeland and the destruction or theft of all their property. The ideology gave birth to a lawless, violent settler state which has simply become more extreme over the years.
The current regime is being described as the most rightwing or hardline in Israel’s history. Will the trend stop here? Unlikely. The distinction between 1948 Zionism and post-1967 Zionism is a delusion, an escape from historical reality favored by secular Zionist liberals. The Zionism of Ben-Gurion and the ‘labor’ prime ministers who followed in his wake is no different in its impact on Palestine life than the Zionism of Menahem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Benyamin Netanyahu, which at least does not pretend to be what it is not.
The military wars of 1948 and 1967 were followed by a war of attrition which has continued to the present but however, the war is fought it remains a war on the Palestinian people.
Just as Netanyahu and the Likud paved the way for the rise of Ben Gvir, so Ben Gvir opens the door for someone even more extreme, hard as that might be to imagine.
Zionism is on a collision course with history, human rights, the Muslim world, and with Judaism. It has put itself out on a branch that is creaking under its weight and one day is likely to snap.
In its 19th-century origins, Zionism was rejected by Jews everywhere as a fanatical splinter movement. Jewish groups such as Neturei Karta have always taken a particularly strong stand. In the 1960s Moshe Menuhin, the father of the great violinist Yehudi, summed up his feelings in a book entitled ‘The Decadence of Judaism in Our Time.’ To this enlightened author, the wickedness at the heart of Zionism was a malign growth at the heart of his Jewish faith.
For more than 2000 years Jews in the Middle East and North Africa lived peacefully with their neighbors, whatever their ethnic or religious background. Many of them flourished. They served sultans as advisers, they built great commercial empires. All this was brought crashing down in the 20th century with the advent of Zionism. Its goal of a Jewish Palestine put it on course for a head-on collision with Arab nationalism. It deliberately set out to destabilize Jewish life across the region, with the intention of frightening Jews into packing their bags and coming to Palestine.
Its terror, propaganda, and spying sowed suspicion of Jews everywhere and over decades Jewish life in Damascus, Baghdad, Sanaa, and across North Africa ground to a halt. Now only a few remnants are left. Empty synagogues and abandoned homes mark the wholesale disappearance of an entire religious community from all Arab lands.
This has to be regarded as an enormous tragedy, staked on a doubtful roll of the dice, against all odds, that the Zionist venture would succeed. If it doesn’t, a possibility which in their arrogance Netanyahu and his even more ‘extreme right’ partners would laugh off, the cost will vie with the Nazi genocide as the most calamitous blow to Judaism and Jews in their long history.