Focus on Israel

Political Crisis, Democracy, Colonisation

With this “focus Israel”, Orient XXI is republishing a series of articles dealing with the consequences of Benyamin Netanyahu’s government’s justice reform project, provisionally suspended on 26 March 2023. Despite the actual vote on the reform in July, the anti-reform movement remains mobilised.

Tel Aviv, 26 March 2023. Rally against the reform of the Israeli Supreme Court
Ahmad Gharabli/AFP

The processions are impressive in terms of numbers, duration and the determination of those taking part. The order of the day is clear and agreed all round: to stop the constitutional reform promised by the extreme-right, Jewish-supremacist coalition currently in power in Israel. Some officers and soldiers joined the movement. Hundreds of air force reservists announced that they will no longer undertake the training courses that they used to do regularly. Veterans from the internal security services (Shin Beth) demonstrated outside the home of one of their former bosses, the Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter. Members of the army’s elite commando unit Sayeret Markal joined the protests. Even the workers of the IT industries, in which Israel excels, condemned the proposed reforms. And Benyamin Netanyahu was forced on the evening of March 26 to suspend his judicial reforms, not without granting fascist minister Itamar Ben Gvir the right to create a militia at his beck and call. But for the moment the movement continues.

Those who kill without remorse

What is not to be happy about in all that? Well, for anyone who stands back a little, what is also striking is the blindness of this movement and its refusal to see the causes of the authoritarian trend now under way, which did not start with Benjamin Netanyahu. Were these not the same pilots who bombed Gaza without remorse? The Sayeret Maktal distinguished themselves above all by the assassination of Palestinian figures abroad, like the three PLO leaders killed in Beirut in 1972, or Abu Jihad, the PLO number two, in Tunis in 1988. As for Shin Beth, it has for decades devoted itself to pursuing and “neutralising” Palestinian militants in the occupied territories and, like the army, covering up pogroms like the one that took place in Houara. [link to Vescovi] And what about the IT industry workers who fine-tuned instruments for controlling the Palestinians before exporting them to help dictatorships around the world?

If tomorrow the reform is definitively rejected, they would all be happy to continue to “do their duty” – in fact, even if Benjamin Netanyahu succeeds in imposing his views, one can well imagine that the vast majority would continue to do so. As for the Supreme Court, we should bear in mind that, while it is a guarantee for the Jewish majority, it basically stood alongside the authorities when it came to settlement activity and the rights of the Palestinians.

“What a tragedy for one people to enslave another”

Reflecting on the oppression of Ireland by Great Britain and on the fact that the British working class was sunk in chauvinism, Karl Marx wrote: “What a tragedy it is for one people to enslave another.” He noted that the liberation of the British workers would only be possible once Ireland was free and independent. What the great majority of Israeli protestors fail to see – and it is a blindness which also strikes the US and European governments – is that the current trend is just the logical consequence of decades of occupation, destruction and denial of Palestinian rights. But for the first time, this authoritarian trend turns against Israeli Jews. This is what happened during the Algerian war of independence: one can easily imagine what France would be today had the army crushed the National Liberation Front and if the Secret Army Organisation (OAS), in collusion with the army, had seized power.

To be sure, a small fringe minority of the movement in Israel is opposed to the occupation and waves the Palestinian flag, although it is forbidden not only by the authorities but also by the majority of the demonstrators. As long as one state alone in effect dominates all the land from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan and imposes its law – illegally in the eyes of international law – it is no longer possible to dream of a democracy for Jews alone, a democracy which would exclude half the population and which in reality is a synonym for apartheid, as already recognised by a number of human rights organisations.

Once again it is the editorialist for the daily Haaretz (23 March 2023), Gideon Levy, who has best understood the nature of the current movement. Addressing his fellow citizens, he urges them:

Keep protesting vigorously, do all you can to topple this bad government, but don’t utter the name of democracy in vain. You are not fighting for democracy. You are fighting for a better government in your view. That is important, it is legitimate and it is impressive. But had you been democrats, you would fight for a democratic state, which Israel is not – and which you are not.