It is somewhat dispiriting, for those on the progressive left, to watch Israel’s continued slide into sectarian and racial totalitarianism, a sad state of affairs reflected in the recent formation of the most right-wing government in the nation’s history. The new political dispensation in Israel now leans heavily to a type of militant Judaism that is a mirror image of the worse aspects of political Islam. While the country is no Saudi Arabia, and certainly not comparable to the likes of the Islamic State, neither is it a liberal and secular western-style democracy; at least as we would understand it. Rather it sits somewhere uncomfortably in the middle, trapped in a titular prison of its own making as a “Jewish state for a Jewish people”. That leaves precious little room for the 25% of the population who are non-Jewish but whose citizenship is that of “Israeli” (at least for now).
In Ireland of course we have had our own experiences with sectarian and racial intolerance, first under British colonial rule and then after partition in the regional colony-state and national nation-state that emerged from the debris of a partially successful revolution (and a largely unsuccessful peace). The fascistic “Protestant state for a Protestant people” in the north-east of the country, a puppet-entity of the UK, and its authoritarian “culturally Catholic” rival, the sovereign and independent nation of Ireland, were once not so different from what Israel has become today. However while Ireland has lived up to its potential and developed into something closer to the original, religiously and ethnically pluralistic vision of its revolutionary founders in 1916, Israel has devolved into something far worse than most – if not all – of its supporters expected or hoped for back in the 1940s. It has become the “Northern Ireland” of the Middle East, a state beset with institutional discrimination and intolerance towards its minority communities, coupled with a belligerent ethno-religious chauvinism. By no means are such attitudes typical of all Israelis, or even most, but it is certainly the ideology of those in positions of power and authority. Just as the reviled unionist regime in Stormont from the 1920s to early 1970s doomed itself through its own despotic inclinations and behaviour, faced first by a civil rights movement and then an active insurgency, so the Israeli establishment, through its failures, is dooming itself to its own destruction.
“A Facebook campaign demanding the execution of “terrorists” went viral in Israel last weekend, with Israelis posting photos of themselves, their children and their pets holding signs demanding the death penalty.
The campaign was launched by Sharon Gal, a former journalist and first-term lawmaker from the far right Yisrael Beiteinu party.
Gal recently sponsored legislation that would have made it easier for judges to sentence ”convicted murderer[s] motivated by nationalism” to death both inside Israel and the occupied West Bank.
…the bill is the partial fulfillment of one of many fanatical campaign promises by Yisrael Beiteinu chair Avigdor Lieberman, who rallied his right-wing base during election season by calling for the execution of Palestinian prisoners and the beheading of Palestinians disloyal to the state of Israel.
Bezalel Smotrich, a freshman lawmaker from the ultra-nationalist Habeyit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party and a deputy speaker in the Knesset, attempted to outdo Gal by offering to personally carry out the executions during an appearance on Israel’s Knesset Channel.
On 8 July, in the lead up to the death penalty bill vote that was ultimately shelved by Netanyahu at the last minute, Gal initiated a Facebook campaign calling on Israelis to pressure the government to support the bill by sharing photos of themselves on social media holding signs that read ”I too am in favor of the death penalty for terrorists.”
“Terrorist” is a loose term in the Israeli lexicon that is interchangeable with “Arab” and applies exclusively to Palestinians. In effect, “death to terrorists” amounts to a thinly veiled version of the far more common Israeli slogan “death to Arabs.”
While the unsettling incitement to violence from Israeli politicians is nothing new, this latest campaign highlighted a disturbing trend. Israelis posted photos not just of themselves but also small children agitating for executions. This comes in the aftermath of the Jerusalem Day march in April, when The Electronic Intifada documented the participation of children in “death to the Arabs” marches, suggesting an alarming pattern of ever younger children being steeped in Israel’s culture of supremacist violence.
Meanwhile, the ritualistic incitement to violence by Israelis on social media, encouraged by top government officials, has proven deadly for Palestinians.
A new report by a group called the Coalition Against Racism finds that a sharp rise in anti-Arab attacks since 2013 coincided with racist incitement by Israeli elected officials and decision makers.
Netanyahu’s incitement to revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens last year led to the burning alive of Muhammad Abu Khudair by Jewish extremists who met at a right-wing “death to the Arabs” rally the day before that may have been organized online.
Emboldened by an Israeli public and its leaders cheering for executions, trigger-happy Israeli soldiers will more than likely crank up the violence. As for the vigilantes, there’s no predicting who or where they will target next, but when they do, they will not have acted alone.”
Of course we have seen equally reprehensible behaviour from Palestinian organisations, including the use of children in violence-advocating propaganda. However two wrongs do not make a right and it is not unreasonable to expect more from Israel, as the occupying power, in these matters. The scales are not – nor should they be – even. Just as the Irish nationalist communities in the north-east of our country, in the Occupied North, were driven to embrace armed struggle as a means of asserting their rights, so the inhabitants of Palestine have little choice but to seek succour in military force when all other avenues are closed to them. Just ask the genuinely oppressed men, women and children of Occupied Gaza. Unfortunately it is the innocents on all sides who are paying the price for the blinkered vision of the few.