With elections looming again after the failure of Benjamin Netanyahu to form a majority coalition, The Times of Israel reports on the prime minister’s latest promise intended to seduce extreme right-wing Zionist nationalists: “[W]ith the help of God we will apply Jewish sovereignty to all communities, as part of the Land of Israel, and as part of the State of Israel.” The Times highlights the radical significance of his words: “It was the first time Netanyahu used the phrase ‘Jewish sovereignty’ in that context, having thus far used the term “Israeli sovereignty.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A theoretical notion defining the principle of independence for a group of people established in a circumscribed territory, which begs the question of what is meant by “people” and may be complicated by historical disputes concerning the territory and its boundaries. Particularly true in the case of the state of Israel.
Making claims about sovereignty for a specific group of people in a land whose status has never been legally stabilized could be regarded as an act of supreme hubris, the moral failing of human being assuming the authority of God. By claiming that the stability he has promised through annexation will be achieved only “with the help of God,” Netanyahu doesn’t indicate how God will help. Perhaps like George W. Bush, Bibi gets the occasional direct order from on high. But the deity’s messages since the delivery of the 10 Commandments have never been easy to interpret… unless if by “God” Netanyahu means Donald Trump, who some Israelis believe to be the Messiah or “the second coming of God.” This is according to radio host and conspiracy theorist Wayne Allyn Root, an authority echoed by Trump himself in one of his recent tweets.
Steve Rabinowitz, writing for The Jerusalem Post, calls Root’s and Trump’s claim to spiritual and political leadership of the Judeo-Christian civilization, now actively promoted inside a right-wing Catholic populist fringe led by Steve Bannon, “a new Jewish — and Christian — heresy. Even for the Chosen One.” (Chosen by the Electoral College, of course).
Whether or not Netanyahu believes that Trump has a link to God that separates him from the rest of humanity, he seems to recognize that when Trump’s will is done — such as moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights — it corresponds very neatly with the prime minister’s own interpretation of God’s will. More significantly, it means that Netanyahu can count on the full military and economic force of the US to cover his own hubristic actions.
The Times of Israel correctly suspects a dangerous slide from “Israeli sovereignty” to “Jewish sovereignty.” This attitude reflects not only the refusal to comply with a long series of resolutions of the United Nations concerning occupation, but it also goes much further. It in effect defines Israel as an apartheid state. If the Jewish religion constitutes the basis of sovereignty rather than the state, with its constitution and laws, this very idea would take the wind out of Israel’s oft-repeated claim that anti-Zionism is synonymous with anti-Semitism. Netanyahu’s affirmation clearly seeks to use religious identity to define absolute privilege for one group of people in a context where the idea of a two-state solution has also been rejected.
The working definition of anti-Semitism, which has recently been used to accuse critics of Israel of being anti-Semites, begins with an “example” of what anti-Semitism looks like: “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” But if the prime minister speaks of the state as a “Jewish collectivity,” the confusion should be attributed not to the critics but to the nation’s leader.
Propaganda campaigns from the right have intensified, targeting politicians on the left — from Jeremy Corbyn in the UK to Ilhan Omar in the US — accused of using the pretext of political criticism to express their deep-seated anti-Semitism.
In a recent live debate organized in London by the company Intelligence Squared, Einat Wilf, a former member of the Knesset and one of the speakers who defended the motion that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” summed up her argument in these terms: “Anti-Zionism has become the respectable shiny way of being anti-Semitic.” She added a simple explanation to clarify why all critics of Israel should be branded anti-Semites: “And in times of crisis we desperately crave certainty and there are few greater certainties in this world to grab on than that the Jews are to blame.” One of the opponents of the motion, journalist Mehdi Hasan, pointed out that this effectively brands Jews critical of Israel such as Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein as anti-Semites.
The simple democratic truth should be evident to everyone: Sovereign states and more particularly their governments at a specific moment of history may be and indeed should be criticized. A general rule of civilization holds that one must always be careful when criticizing religions, out of respect for people’s sincere faith and most intimate values, which doesn’t mean one should remain silent on history or even theology. But criticizing individuals and groups simply because of their religion and mistreating them because of their religious identity violates a basic principle of democracy. So does elevating one group of people above any form of criticism, for whatever reason, including their persecution in the past.
The Times of Israel points out that “Jewish sovereignty” is not a new idea. Though it has no internationally sanctioned legal basis, it has inevitably become an expanding feature of Israel’s recent history. The Times notes that on September 1, Netanyahu “vowed to extend ‘Jewish sovereignty’ to all settlements in the West Bank — a move tantamount to annexation — seeking to shore up right-wing support some two weeks ahead of the September 17 Knesset elections.”
The spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, described Netanyahu’s promise not as something new, but as a “continuation of attempts to create an unacceptable fait accompli that will not lead to any peace, security or stability.” As the world continues to await what has once again been announced as the imminent revelation of Jared Kushner’s “deal of the century,” which is expected to propose consolidating all the annexations, past and future, thanks to a slave-driver’s promise of investment in profitable businesses for the Palestinians, the long-term realization of a series of faits accomplis will define the future, once the Palestinians have definitively rejected the Trump plan.
In an interesting parallel, Jeremy Corbyn — the main target of the campaign to impugn the Labour Party as an anti-Semitic organization because it has dared to express sympathy for the Palestinians — has found the perfect expression to describe Netanyahu’s policies: “a smash-and-grab raid on… democracy.” Of course, he wasn’t referring to Israel, a subject he has learned to avoid in the interest of self-protection.
In an op-ed for The Guardian, Corbyn offers that phrase as his description of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s maneuver to prorogue Parliament. After lamenting the “smash-and-grab raid on our democracy,” Corbyn reminds The Guardian’s readers “that sovereignty doesn’t rest in Downing Street, or even in parliament, but with the people.” He didn’t say the Anglican people or the Christian people or the English people (which Britain may someday be reduced to after the exit of the Celts). He said, “the people.”
Democracy can only be about “the people,” a notion that implies inclusion but too often in history has been defined in terms of who it wishes to exclude.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.