The return visit from far right Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin to Toronto, where he called for an exclusivist Jewish state, minus the indigenous Arab population, sparked barely a whimper of concern in Canada beyond a protest of his presence by Independent Jewish Voices.
Feiglin, a deputy Knesset speaker and Jewish West Bank settler, is a follower of the now deceased racist rabbi Meir Kahane, and someone who has been barred from entering Britain for his views. But Feiglin has managed to pop up in New York City to address followers there, without any hassle from U.S. authorities.
Feiglin may be extreme even for the most right-wing government that Israel has ever had. But, he is still a manifestation of how racism, hysteria and militarism is presently gripping the Jewish state, says Max Blumenthal, U.S. journalist and author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
Blumenthal, an award-winning and best-selling journalist, was recently in Canada speaking at events in Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa, sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices. He spent three years working on Goliath — including one year living in Israel — which provides a picture of a disturbing side to the Jewish state that doesn’t get much attention from the North American media.
How has Blumenthal managed to plunge head first into worlds of political craziness and madness without it affecting him mentally?
From Goliath, it sounds like Blumenthal, an intense and passionate young man, obtained some peace of mind by hanging around in Jaffa and Tel Aviv with the tiny group of radical left wing dissidents and alternative journos within Israel. By the end of the book, after returning home to the U.S., he meets up with many of the members of the same crowd who just couldn’t abide their country anymore and had to depart out of despair of not being able to change things for the better.
The fact that Blumenthal is an American Jew — the son of a senior press aide in Bill Clinton’s presidential administration to boot — hasn’t given him any special license to avoid the opprobrium, verbal abuses and more serious threats that any serious published writer normally receives in offering a tough look at how Israel treats the Palestinians — either those living as citizens in Israel behind the 1967 green line borders or those without democratic rights under military rule in the occupied territories. "I have faced attempts to destroy my reputation," he says simply.
But what Blumenthal is revealing in Goliath is already known to the frequent readers of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, which reports on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza that were seized in the 1968 Six Day war.
That is, a harsher and more authoritarian trend has gained "momentum," in Israel since the election of a Likud led coalition government under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009. Blumenthal also suggests the conditions had already been set under the previous Kadima government with the military battering of the Hamas run Gaza under Operation Cast Lead, where Amnesty International estimates 1,400 Palestinian residents, including some 300 children, were killed.
One of the major features of the current Netanyahu coalition government has been the raft of anti-democratic legislation. This includes a legal restriction on commemorating the Nakba — that is the expulsion of several hundred thousand Palestinians and the destruction of about 400 of their villages at the hands of both socialist and right-wing Jewish Zionist militias at the founding of the country in 1948.
But Blumenthal delves deeply into a dizzying range of items including how children in Israel schools are indoctrinated with the assistance of the military into following an extremist and xenophobic Jewish nationalist ideology.
It is difficult to say if the violence and racism directed by Israeli youths in or out of military uniform against Palestinians, African refugees or left-wing anti-war protestors, as well as the macho attitudes of the young men (manifested in the high number of rapes against women in the Israeli military) is a result of an educational system that was moulded under the current Likud education minister, Gideon Sa’ar.
From the sounds of it, Sa’ar worked to intensify and nurture already existing attitudes within Israeli society that go back to the origins of the state. One of the by-products of the peace process since the Oslo agreements has been the physical separation of Israeli Jews from Palestinians, which has made matters worse since it is easier to hate a perceived enemy that one has never met or gotten to know.
Blumenthal quotes a 2006 poll by the Center for Struggle Against Racism that 68 per cent of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab, nearly half would not allow an Arab to enter their home, 63 percent agreed that Arabs are a security and demographic threat to the state and 40 per cent support encouraging Palestinians living as citizens within Israel to leave — which is being promoted by Feiglin.
Similar findings were found in a national survey of 536 Israeli high school students, ages 15 to 18, mostly Jews and some Arabs, Haaretz reported in 2010. Close to half say that Israeli Arabs should not have the same rights as Jews in the state. Also, more than half of the same group would prohibit Arab citizens of Israel from participating in elections to the Knesset.
Blumenthal notes in Goliath that contrary to the hopes of liberal Zionists, Netanyahu has never had the slightest inclination to bend to any American plea to halt the Israel Jews’ expansive squatting on Palestinian land in east Jerusalem and West Bank or even accede to a limited and negotiated Palestinian state — with all of the usual supposed safeguards like allowing the Israeli military a presence in the Jordon Valley and the maintenance of the larger Jewish settlement blocs under Israeli control.
In A Durable Peace, Netanyahu has cynically argued that the status quo of no peace mixed and a regime of low intensity war is preferable to final settlement of the 100 year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Historian Tom Segev has ruefully described it as simply "managing" a seemingly insolvable conflict.
What this means is that the Palestinians are kept in line with the occasional battering and bombing of their communities, especially in the Hamas run Gaza where about 1.6 million are under blockade or in the case of the West Bank by a collaborative Palestinian security force of the Palestinian Authority.
The result is that Israeli Jews both behind the green line and in their settlement communities are able to live in tranquility away from the Palestinians, much like North Americans do in their gated communities, as described by Middle East scholar Juan Cole.
Except as Blumenthal also notes, Israelis are kept sufficiently fearful and paranoid — courtesy of the manipulation of the terrible events of the Holocaust — to keep them on alert for real and imagined threats.
At his talk in Hamilton, Blumenthal let loose a prescription of a single state democratic solution that, at this time, also seems hard to imagine with the existing polarization on the ground between Jews and Arabs in Israel-Palestine. That is why the failure to negotiate a two-state solution even under the recent much criticized U.S. led negotiations makes this conflict so much more tragic.
Paul Weinberg is a Toronto-based freelancer writer who has written for IPS since 1996. He is also a regular contributor to local weekly magazine NOW and specializes in Canadian politics, in particular foreign, security and defence policy. Paul is currently writing a book on the RCMP’s spying on academics in Canada during the 1960s.
Photo: flickr/Adam Nieman