WALTER L. HIXSON ISRAEL-PALESTINE
Palestinians inspect a destroyed truck loaded with citrus after it was set on fire by Jewish settlers during an attack near the Shavei Shomron settlement, west of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank on Nov. 16, 2022. (NASSER ISHTAYEH/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES).
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2023, pp. 14-15
By Walter L. Hixson
RIGHT-WING EXTREMISM and cult of personality politics suffered a sharp defeat last November in the U.S. midterm elections and in Brazil, with the defeat of Trump-wannabe and rainforest plower Jair Bolsonaro. But Israel demonstrated yet again that it is one of the most politically reactionary regimes in the world by returning to office Binyamin Netanyahu, whose 15 years in power already make him the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history.
Netanyahu is a war criminal responsible for several massacres of Palestinians in repeated indiscriminate assaults on the Gaza Strip and elsewhere. No one—other than fanatical Jewish settlers—has done more to encourage the illegal occupation of the West Bank (now referenced on official Israeli maps as Judea and Samaria) than Netanyahu. The nation-state law of 2018, which makes Jewish settlement and colonization a national value, happened on his watch. No one has done more to ensconce apartheid by designating Israel an exclusively Jewish state, formally relegating Palestinians and other non-Jews to (at best) second-class citizenship. No Israeli prime minister, with the possible exception of Ariel Sharon, has been more openly racist and hate-filled. As for domestic politics, Netanyahu long has been deeply implicated in a series of greed-drenched corrupt practices.
That Israel would return to power such a decadent and despicable individual is damning enough, but the situation is much worse than that. To recapture the government, Netanyahu offered key ministerial posts to neo-fascist religious zealots and openly racist ultra-nationalists. Illegal settlement (even under Israeli law) and formal annexation of occupied territories will be the order of the day. Religious extremists will no longer be bellowing from the sidelines—they will be shaping and driving policy.
Opposition parties and critical media warned that Israel was becoming a religious state like Iran, in which yeshiva students would be paid more than IDF soldiers; football matches would be outlawed on the Sabbath; and men and women would be separated in the public sphere (as they already are at the Western Wall in the Old City).
Settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing are likely to be turbo charged now. But the preeminent goal of Netanyahu and the neo-fascists is to arrogate to the new government the power to override the pesky Israeli Supreme Court, which occasionally rules against the most repressive actions of the government. Undermining the Supreme Court could also help Netanyahu escape justice for his corruption.
In addition, he promised to “neutralize” an agreement the outgoing government signed in October with Lebanon, resolving a long-standing maritime border dispute on the Mediterranean Sea. Netanyahu has long detested conducting diplomacy with Arab states—except of course for cutting deals with oil-rich monarchies that accede to recognition of Israel.
A master manipulator—especially of the United States, which he once bragged was “a thing you can move very easily” in Israel’s favor—Netanyahu declared he would “preserve Israeli democracy,” but what he intends to preserve is apartheid, repression and injustice. He has shown he will work with any coalition, no matter how extreme, to exercise power.
For the Biden administration and liberal American Jews who claim there are limits to their support of Israel, Netanyahu and his new extremist allies pose yet another embarrassing challenge as Israel takes on the character of a far-right religious state. Does anyone in the administration or Congress, other than a few progressives, have the courage to challenge the unquestioned political support and bankrolling of this increasingly reactionary and brutally repressive militarized regime?
If history is any guide, the answer, sadly, will be “no.” But history can deliver surprises on occasion, so we can hope that Israel’s growing extremism will eventually undermine the heretofore unquestioned—but never more indefensible—U.S. support for a virulent apartheid regime.
History’s Shadows, a regular column by contributing editor Walter L. Hixson, seeks to place various aspects of Middle East politics and diplomacy in historical perspective. Hixson is the author of Architects of Repression: How Israel and Its Lobby Put Racism, Violence and Injustice at the Center of US Middle East Policy and Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict (available from Middle East Books and More), along with several other books and journal articles. He was a professor of history for 36 years, achieving the rank of distinguished professor.