Israel’s new commandment: Thou shalt not love thy neighbour

A brilliant article by the Israeli journalist Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the national daily Haaretz, deserves to be widely read.

Haaretz (“The Land”) is that rare animal, a liberal newspaper published in a country whose image is politically hard-line and which has relentlessly moved to the right over the past fifteen years. The newspaper’s policy has always been to support peace initiatives, and to be a voice of concern for those who are exploited or discriminated against, such as sex workers, foreign workers, Ethiopian immigrants, and Israeli Arabs.

If the gloves were not off before, they are now. In “The End of the Old Israel: How Netanyahu Has Transformed the Nation” (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2016), Aluf Benn laments:

“Israel – at least the largely secular and progressive version of Israel that once captured the world’s imagination – is over. Although that Israel was always in some ways a fantasy, the myth was at least grounded in reality. Today that reality has changed, and the country that has replaced it is profoundly different from the one its founders imagined almost 70 years ago. Since the last elections, in March 2015, a number of slow-moving trends have accelerated dramatically. Should they continue, they could soon render the country unrecognizable.”

In an article that should be on the summer reading list of everyone concerned with justice and human rights in Israel/Palestine, Benn casts a spotlight on the Machiavellian intrigues that have consolidated Israel’s grip on Middle Eastern politics and raised the spectre of nuclear armaments being used for the first time since 1945. He notes in particular how Israel’s claim to democracy has been twisted into a kind of totalitarianism of the people in which only Jews need apply:

“Israel’s current leaders – headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who metamorphosed after the election from a risk-averse conservative into a right-wing radical – see democracy as synonymous with unchecked majority rule and have no patience for restraints such as judicial review or the protection of minorities. In their view, Israel is a Jewish state and a democratic state – in that order. Only Jews should enjoy full rights, while gentiles should be treated with suspicion. Extreme as it sounds, this belief is now widely held: a Pew public opinion survey published in March found that 79 percent of Jewish Israelis supported ‘preferential treatment’ for Jews – a thinly veiled euphemism for discrimination against non-Jews.”

In the face of universal condemnation of Israel’s harsh treatment of the State of Palestine and Palestinians, and in a move that is illegal under international law, the Israeli government has approved a further $18 million to pay for West Bank settlements. According to Haaretz, the amount is in addition to $88m already allocated to settlement-related spending.

With the usual smoke and mirrors, Netanyahu described the allocation as “an assistance plan to strengthen communities” in the West Bank, saying it would “strengthen security, assist small businesses and encourage tourism”. The world already knows this is a pack of lies.

There is no easy, clear-cut solution to the problems that have beset this part of the world since 1948, nor will there be until Israelis have the courage to come to terms with history and to see an alliance with Palestine as a measured step towards both nations’ coexistence and peaceful long-term future.

In Rebirth and Destiny of Israel (1954), David Ben-Gurion, founder of the State of Israel and its first prime minister, wrote that the State would be judged:

“By the moral character it imparts to its citizens, by the human values determining its inner and outward relations, and by its fidelity, in thought and act, to the supreme behest: ‘and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’. … The State will be worthy of its name only if its systems, social and economic, political and legal, are based upon these imperishable words.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and his cronies seek to destabilize the whole region under the guise of self-defence and are more than willing – it seems – to risk a nuclear holocaust that will only bring about what they most fear. Why does the world let them get away with it?



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