In Israel, Netanyahu's extremist new government rips off the mask

If this racist and ultra-nationalist government is as bad as it looks, a deadly third intifada is coming soon

Published December 17, 2022 12:07PM (EST)

Israel's ex-premier and leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on November 2, 2022, after the end of voting for national elections. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)
Israel's ex-premier and leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on November 2, 2022, after the end of voting for national elections. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

This article originally appeared at ScheerPost. Used by permission.

Benjamin Netanyahu's proposed coalition government of Jewish extremists, fanatic Zionists and religious bigots represents a seismic change in Israel, one that will exacerbate Israel's pariah status, erode external support for Israel, fuel a third Palestinian uprising, or intifada, and create irreconcilable political divides within the Jewish state.  

Alon Pinkas, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, calls the coalition government, scheduled to take power within the next week or so, "a kakistocracy extraordinaire: government by the worst and least suitable collection of ultra-nationalists, Jewish supremacists, anti-democrats, racists, bigots, homophobes, misogynists, corrupt and allegedly corrupt politicians. A ruling coalition of 64 lawmakers, of whom 32 are either ultra-Orthodox or religious Zionist. Certainly not a coalition Zeev Jabotinsky, the father of Revisionist Zionism, or Menachem Begin, the founder of Likud, could have ever imagined." 

Itamar Ben-Gvir, from the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit or "Jewish Power," party, will be the new minister for internal security. Otzma Yehudit is populated with former members of Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach party, which was banned from running for the Knesset in 1988 for espousing a "Nazi-like ideology" that included advocating the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as all Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. Ben-Gvir's appointment, along with that of other far-right ideologues, including Bezalel Smotrich, to be in charge of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, effectively jettisons the old tropes liberal Zionists used to defend Israel: It is the only democracy in the Middle East, it seeks a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians in a two-state solution, and while extremism and racism have no place in Israeli society, Israel must impose draconian forms of control on the Palestinians to prevent terrorism. 

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich represent the dregs of Israeli society, one that promotes "Jewish identity" and "Jewish nationalism" in a Zionist version of fascism's call for blood and soil. They are Israel's equivalent of Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Their Religious Zionist bloc is now the third largest in the Knesset.

Israel's new government effectively jettisons the old tropes used by liberal Zionists: This is the only democracy in the Middle East, it seeks a peaceful settlement, extremism and racism have no place.

Ben-Gvir, who was rejected for army service because of his extremism, stole a hood ornament from Yitzhak Rabin's car a few weeks before the then-prime minister was assassinated in 1995 by Jewish extremist Yigal Amir. Amir, like many far-right Israelis, including arguably Netanyahu himself, considered Rabin's support for the Oslo Accords to be an act of treason. "We got to his car, and we'll get to him too," Ben-Gvir said at the time. He calls for the deportation of Palestinians who confront Israeli soldiers, followers of the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Netueri Karta movement, as well as Israeli-Arab Knesset member Ayman Odeh and the anti-Zionist Marxist Knesset member Ofer Cassif, who is Jewish. 

The old tropes Israel employed to justify itself were always more fiction than reality.  Israel long ago became an apartheid state. It directly controls through its illegal Jewish-only settlements, restricted military zones and army compounds more than 60 percent of the West Bank and has de facto control over the rest. There are 65 laws that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and those living in the occupied territories.

The old tropes are being replaced by screed-filled diatribes that paint Palestinians and Arabs (both Muslim and Christian) as contaminants and an existential threat to Israel. This hate speech is accompanied by a vicious internal campaign to silence Jewish "traitors," especially those who are liberal or left-wing and secular. An Otzma Yehudit-run autocracy will shut down democratic debate, eviscerate the protections of civil society and further codify what has long been reality — Jewish supremacy and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their own land that dates back to the founding of Israel in the 1940s.

The once unthinkable is now thinkable, such as formally annexing large sections of the West Bank, including "Area C," where up to 300,000 Palestinians live. The killing of about 140 Palestinians this year, including the American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, is the worst death toll since 2006 (not including major escalations of violence such as Israeli bombardments of Gaza). It has been accompanied by Palestinian attacks that have left 30 Israelis dead. 

The new government will accelerate these killings along with house and school demolitions, expulsions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the uprooting of Palestinian olive orchards, mass imprisonment and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The totality of these crimes amount to the international crime of genocide, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights explained in 2016. 

Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison, will continue to be more frequently bombed and shelled. Its infrastructure, including its water, electrical and sewage systems, as well as fuel storage facilities, will be targeted for obliteration. Gazans and their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank will be subject to ever-tightening blockades, reducing them to a level of subsistence one step above starvation. Instead of attempting to cover up the murder of Palestinians by Jewish settlers and the Israeli army, the new government will openly celebrate the atrocities. 

After the recent execution of an unarmed Palestinian who was shot three times at point-blank range, and then again while on the ground, by an Israeli border policeman during a scuffle that was captured on video, Ben-Gvir called the officer a "hero."

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Netanyahu, who is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three corruption cases, is determined to politicize the judiciary. He and his coalition partners will further curtail the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel who are already second-class citizens. They will continue to push aggressively for a war with Iran. They will support efforts to seize the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which Jewish Israelis call the Temple Mount and is the apparent site of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Jewish extremists have long called for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine for Muslims, to be torn down and replaced by a "Third" Jewish temple, a move that would set the Muslim world alight. (The First Temple, according to Jewish tradition, was built there by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C., although there is no clear archaeological evidence to support this.) Ben-Gvir, who considers Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish settler who in 1994 massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron, "a hero," has announced an imminent visit along with other Jewish extremists to the site of the mosque. When Ariel Sharon, then Israel's opposition leader, went to the mosque site in September 2000, it ignited the Second Intifada. 

I wish this was conjecture. It isn't. It is what these fanatics advocate.

Avigdor Maoz of the extremist Noam party, which opposes LGBTQ rights and wants to ban women from serving in the military, has been appointed to oversee the Israeli school curriculum, Russian immigration and national Jewish identity.

"Anyone who tries to harm real Judaism is the darkness," he said last week. "Anyone who tries to create a new so-called liberal religion is the darkness. Anyone who — with intentional concealment and obfuscation — tries to brainwash the children of Israel with their agendas, without the knowledge of the parents, is the darkness."

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Zionist advocacy organization J Street, said in a public statement that Israel's next government "seems likely to take more actions that run counter to the values that American Jews teach our children are the essence of Jewish identity," including support for civil rights, the labor movement, the women's movement and LGBTQ freedoms. 

"How can we explain to our children and our grandchildren, let alone to ourselves, that these values are the core of the Jewish identity, but the state of the Jewish people is denying another people their rights and equality and undercutting the rule of international law?" Ben-Ami asked. "This is a fundamental crisis that looms over our community in the coming years. Those in the establishment of our community who insist that Jewish America must stand united and unquestioningly loyal to Israel no matter what are doing a deep, deep, disservice to the health of the Jewish community."

After the 1967 war that saw Israel invade and annex Egypt's Sinai peninsula, Syria's Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank, Israelis frequented Palestinian territory to shop, eat at restaurants, spend the weekend in the desert oasis of Jericho or get their cars fixed by Palestinian mechanics. 

The Oslo Accords of 1993 seemed to herald a new era: Palestinian businessmen returned from abroad. Radical Islamists shrank away. Women took off their head scarves. There was a brief and shining moment when normal life seemed possible.

The Palestinians were a pool of cheap labor, and by the mid-1980s, around 40 percent of the Palestinian workforce was employed in Israel. But the growing repression by Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza, seizure of larger and larger tracts of Palestinian land for expanding Jewish settlements, and festering poverty saw Palestinians, most of them too young to remember the 1967 occupation, rise up in December 1987 to launch six years of street protests known as the first intifada. That uprising eventually led to the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), headed by Yasser Arafat. Arafat, who had spent most of his life in exile, returned in triumph to Gaza with the PLO leadership. 

The Oslo Accords seemed to herald a new era. I was in Gaza when they were signed. Palestinian businessmen who had made their fortunes abroad returned to help build the new Palestinian state. The radical Islamists shrank away. Palestinian women took off their head scarves. Beauty salons proliferated. There was a brief and shining moment when a normal life, free from occupation and violence, seemed possible. But it swiftly soured. 

The barring of Palestinian workers from Israel, coupled with increased Israeli violence and land theft, led to another uprising in 2000 that ended in 2005. This one, which I covered for the New York Times, was far more violent. Jewish settlers were relocated from Gaza and Gaza was sealed off. Israel also built a security barrier — at a cost of about $1 million per mile and deemed illegal by the Internal Court of Justice — to separate Israel from the West Bank and annex more Palestinian land. The wall was constructed in the wake of a spate of suicide bombings that targeted Israelis, though the idea was floated by Prime Minister Rabin in the 1990s on the basis that "separation as a philosophy" requires a "clear border." Arafat, whom I met with many times, spent the final days of his life under Israeli house arrest. The collapse of Oslo ended the pretense of a peace process or negotiated solution.

I suspect we stand on the cusp of a third and far more deadly intifada. An uprising will be used by Israel to justify savage reprisals that will dwarf the punishing economic blockade and wholesale slaughter meted out in Gaza during Israel's assaults in 2008, 2012 and 2014, which left approximately 3,825 Palestinians killed, 17,757 wounded and over 25,000 housing units partly or completely destroyed by Israel, including multi-story apartment buildings and entire neighborhoods. Tens of thousands were left homeless and huge swaths of Gaza were reduced to rubble. During the 2018 Great March of Return protests, where young people in the besieged enclave demonstrated in front of the Israeli barrier, 195 Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli snipers, including 41 children, as well as medics such as Razan al-Najjar. 

As the violence and repression against Palestinians by security forces, soon to be run by Jewish fanatics, increases, larger and larger numbers of Palestinians, including children, will die in airstrikes, shelling, sniper fire, assassinations and other Israeli attacks, including those carried out by rogue Jewish militias, which also attack Arab citizens inside Israel. Hunger and misery will be widespread. 

The brutal subjugation of Palestinians, justified by a toxic ideology of Jewish supremacy and racism, will only be halted by the kind of sanctions campaign mounted successfully against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Short of that, Israel will be a despotic theocracy.

By Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief of the New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a columnist at ScheerPost. He is the author of several books, including "America: The Farewell Tour," "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" and "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." He previously worked overseas for the Dallas Morning News, the Christian Science Monitor and NPR, and hosted the Emmy-nominated RT America show "On Contact."

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