Grumpy Reflections on Israel's Descent into Madness

Let’s take Bibi Netanyahu at his word for a moment. Let’s assume that he genuinely believes Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons and that those weapons really do pose an imminent and existential threat to the survival of Israel.

This week, that threat was removed – or, at the very least, put out of the reach of the Iranians for a very long time. The four most powerful military-economic blocs on earth – the United States, the European Union, Russia and China – reached an agreement with Iran which, as Barak Ravid of Haaretz put it, will “put Iran’s nuclear program in deep freeze for the next 10 years, force parts of it into regression, and leave restrictions on it for a generation.”

The negotiators spent close to two years on the minute details of denuclearizing Iran and concomitantly lifting sanctions. But, important as those details are, they are not the clincher. continue reading…

Dear World

With the UN Human Rights Council having released yet another damning report this week on Israel’s conduct in Gaza, perhaps the time has come for some simple truths?

The first is that Israel is not going to change. It doesn’t want to change, it has no imperative to change and the strength of the settlement lobby is such that it is unable to change. Israel intends holding on to the occupied territories, building settlements and blockading Gaza until we’re all dead or the Messiah makes his entrance, whichever comes first..

The second truth is that there is no internal or regional force – political, diplomatic, military, ethical or whatever – that can force, cajole or persuade Israel to change direction. Anyone expecting change to come from either the Israelis or the Palestinians is deluded.

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In America, another nine people are dead due to the bizarre but widespread belief that instruments of death are in fact instruments of freedom and life. According to the twisted logic of the National Rifle Association, more guns and more public sight of them would have prevented the Charleston church massacre.

It is clear to anyone with even half a primate brain (but living outside America) that the problem is too many guns in too many hands. Underlying that – the real problem – is the grotesque logic of the NRA and its millions of supporters, which in turn is part of a wider, more profound flight from rationality in the U.S.

To put it simply, the most developed and most advantaged of countries is home to some of the most stupid thinking in the world. Stupidity that doesn’t derive from biological incompetence or lack of education, but from a willful denial of centuries of learning, discoveries and accumulated knowledge, dating back to the Enlightenment. continue reading…

There was something vaguely Stalinist about Bibi Netanyahu’s reaction to the drama in Zurich last week – not the arrest of a bunch of venal soccer officials of course (Israelis have a pretty laissez faire attitude when it comes to bribery,) but the last-minute compromise that averted a vote on whether Israel should be suspended from FIFA for restricting Palestinian soccer in the occupied territories.

“The last thing that we need to do is hang our heads and ask where we erred, where we went wrong,” Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday (as reported by Haaretz newspaper.) “We did not err, we did not do wrong. We are judged according to standards that no other democracy must face. We do not need to justify ourselves. We just need to say the truth.

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Currently on display in Jerusalem, the Netanyahu Paleontological Exhibition comprises 61 fossils from Israel’s distant past, reassembled with some intriguing deviations from standard bio-geological praxis and one or two highly dubious classifications.

Unfortunately, the Netanyahu collection lacks the usual exhibition notes that would make if a lot more accessible to the layman. Here, in the absence of formal notes, is a quick overview.

Since 1977 (the start of the Begin Epoch,) virtually every paleontological exhibition in Israel has been distinguished by a fly-by-night centrist organism, with the unique qualities of appearing suddenly, doing absolutely nothing and then disappearing just as suddenly. That role is played by the relatively recent (in paleontological terms) Kulanu in the new exhibition.

Kulanu is a simple but multi-celled organism, with only three of its estimated 10 cells having been identified so far – Kahlon, Galant and Oren. Other than having clear indications that the other cells exist, scientists are still in the dark as to their functions. continue reading…

The Israeli coalition government that is due to be sworn in over the next few days is a criminal enterprise.

Its creation was the result of a criminal conspiracy to defraud the public by allocating vast sums of public funds to the coalition’s member parties for distribution to pet projects, as they see fit. Those projects benefit only two of the country’s many population groups – ultra-Orthodox Jews and the settlers.

Such allocations contradict an opinion by the Justice Ministry last February that party-specific funding is both unethical and illegal, because it creates a relationship of dependency between the distributing party and the recipient, leading invariably to corruption.

Such was the case with the Yisrael Beiteinu Party of former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, which is currently under investigation for large-scale graft. continue reading…

Over the past few weeks, as Benjamin Netanyahu has been cobbling together his coalition government, a series of unrelated events has highlighted the true substance of the country that the fourth reincarnation of Netanyahu will be leading, at the head of a reshuffled pack of the same old faces.

It is a nation incapacitated by decades of fear-mongering and brainwashing.

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day were sad and somber affairs, as befits the memory of the fallen. They were also artificial and stage-managed spectacles – as befits a country in which memory and commemoration are political tools.

Far be it for Israelis to be left to mourn and commemorate as they see fit. Mourning in Israel is the prerogative of the state, which manipulates such occasions to deliver blunt, emotion-sodden messages. continue reading…

The results from last week’s Knesset election show a country that is virtually evenly split between center-right and center-left (the center-right has a very slight margin,) with the balance of power held by two religious parties. The latter are politically and socially conservative but primarily focused on their own communal interests. If they join Prime Minister Netanyahu’s next coalition, as they are likely to do, the governing center-right-religious bloc will have a majority of some 56%. It will have even more if Yesh Atid, a vaguely left-leaning center party, also joins the coalition.

The reality beneath the numbers is less clear-cut. While it is probably correct to say that the bulk of the center-right is united on the issue of a Palestinian state (they’re opposed to it,) there is no pro-Palestine state consensus on the center-left. Both Zionist Union and Yesh Atid have been nebulous when it comes to the Palestinians, preferring hackneyed and imprecise statements (e.g. “Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital”) to taking a clear stand. It’s probably fair to assume that close to half of the center-left voters do not accept the internationally-defined basis of an agreement with the Palestinians (’67 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both states etc.,) meaning that only a quarter of Israeli voters actually support the establishment of a Palestinian state. continue reading…

There’s an eerie sense of dé·jà vu about the western bombing campaign against the Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

Had we not been there before, we might conceivably be persuaded by the grave commander-in-chief pose of Obama, the grainy black-and-white videos of direct hits on what look like Lego blocks and the war hype dished up by the fatally gullible American media.

But we have been there before  – and we know how it ends. The cruise missiles are the same cruise missiles and the bombers the same bombers. The global security and western values that the campaign is supposedly defending are the same ones that were left in tatters the last time around.

Not even the enemy is new. The jihadist group calling itself Islamic State is nothing more than the mutant offspring of America’s rape of Iraq and Afghanistan (with a grope of Pakistan in the process) a decade-plus ago. Like Hamas in Palestine, Islamic State is nature’s way of saying:  You fucked up. continue reading…

The fighting in Gaza seems to be over. Whatever the military or political pretensions of either side, it seems like the civilians have had enough. The Palestinians, certainly, have been battered beyond endurance.

For the next while, at least, attention will turn to the diplomatic arena, though there is likely to also be intense political maneuvering, both in Israel and among the Palestinians. Neither leadership can claim victory with a straight face, so there is bound to be controversy on both sides regarding the profit/loss ratio of the war. It is already raging in Israel; I assume the same is true of Gaza, though it’s probably more muted.

The question now, after seven weeks of wanton killing and destruction in Gaza and higher-than-expected loss and dislocation in Israel, is what comes next?  Has the experience been sufficiently traumatic for Israelis and Palestinians to change tack and finally embark on serious peace-making? Is that even possible, given the anger and hatred generated – entirely understandably – on the Palestinian side?

To look into the future, we first need to understand the past; to dispel the fog of propaganda, bombast and outright deception that accompanies every war. To truly understand why it happened.

The latest war occurred because the Palestinians have been occupied by Israel for over 47 years. It happened because Israel has kept Gaza under a hermetic blockade for the past seven years and done everything in its power to prevent a reconciliation between the two main Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, while complaining loudly that peace can’t be made with a divided enemy.

The immediate trigger of the war was Israel’s decision to cynically leverage the kidnapping – and subsequent murder – of three Israeli youths in the West Bank to embark on an operation aimed at crippling Hamas in the West Bank. The response of Hamas in its stronghold, the crowded and besieged Gaza Strip, was to fire rockets at Israel.

Israel’s contention that the rockets were unprovoked is rubbish. Every rocket was propelled by 47 years of provocation. One may not like Hamas – there is much to dislike about the undemocratic, fundamentalist and socially conservative regime that currently rules Gaza – and one may have genuine concerns about Hamas’ willingness to live in peace with Israel, but those concerns don’t alter the fact that the penal existence imposed by Israel on that woebegone strip of land was both brutal and unsustainable.

History will tell whether Hamas’ approach of armed resistance to the Israeli occupation is smart. There are now over 2,000 Palestinian bodies arguing that it isn’t. But I have no patience for arguments that it is not justified. Whatever means of resistance the Palestinians choose is justified. It is for the Palestinians themselves to answer whether the price they are paying justifies the means.

Netanyahu’s constant refrain during the war was that he wanted to “return quiet” to Israel. The more radical members of his coalition wanted to see the eradication of Hamas in Gaza, but the prime minister did not have the stomach for the Israeli casualties that such an operation would entail. Perhaps he also understood that suppressing deeply-entrenched popular resistance by force requires killing of near-genocidal proportions. If that was part of the calculation that persuaded him to step back from the brink, there is perhaps a glimmer of hope for Israel’s future.

For the Palestinians of Gaza, the war was a humanitarian catastrophe. In additions to the estimated 12,000 dead and wounded, the place has been devastated. Refugees are camped out among the ruins, raw sewage runs through the streets and fresh water is in short supply. The economy, such as it was, is shattered. It will take many years and a massive aid effort to get Gaza back to even its unenviable situation before the war.

It’s difficult to see what Hamas got out of the war except for pride. But perhaps that’s not a meager accomplishment when one’s history of defeats and insults at the hands of Israel is as desperate as theirs is. By all accounts, Hamas and its smaller partners fought well – and they kept on fighting long after the Israeli leadership thought they would stop. Israel certainly didn’t have everything its own way. That will no doubt be the subject of Israeli investigations into the army’s performance.

The new-found reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah survived the war, though the position and authority of West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas were severely weakened. The fighting highlighted precisely how little influence he has over events and how irrelevant he is when Israel decides to ignore him. It may well be in Israel’s interests to maintain him as a fig-leaf in the post-war period, but it’s clear to all that he rules – if that is what he does – entirely at Israel’s behest.

So, once again, it’s all up to Israel; specifically, up the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  When Netanyahu says he wants “quiet” that’s exactly what he means: the status quo.

He wants to keep Gaza in a state of penal servitude, build settlements to his heart’s content, spend billions preparing for a war with Iran – on which his heart has been set for years – transform Israeli education into a pseudo-religion of Holocaust remembrance and dismantle any social welfare institutions that still exist in the country – all that, without any resistance from the pesky Palestinians and with the full support and admiration of the world community.

That is the definition of “quiet” in the Netanyahu lexicon.

Some Israeli pundits have written recently about a discernable shift in Netanyahu’s attitude to the Palestinians in the wake of the war. In the future, they say, he will be more amenable to negotiations about an end to the conflict and possibly even prepared to compromise.

I can’t see it. Netanyahu’s ideological world view is too monolithic and deep-rooted to tolerate the type of concessions and changes that are needed if there is ever to be peace in this region. He is too much of a believer in the Land of Israel and too convinced that force can solve any problem for him to accept Palestinian sovereignty and equality. And without such acceptance, there will never be peace.

In a normal democracy, one’s attitude would be: OK, we’ll throw the bastard out. But the bastard, unfortunately, speaks for most of the country. Many of them are unhappy with him right now, but that’s because they wanted him to finish off Hamas for good. There are probably more 20-year-old virgins in Israel today than there are believers in peace – and I’m reliably informed by my daughters that virginity is in very short supply.

All of which means that what the future holds is a lot more of the same. The fighting may have stopped for now, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a cheap holiday home in one of the communities along the border with Gaza that were denuded of their citizens in recent weeks. There is no peace on the hazy horizon.