Mondoweiss / March 9, 2022
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Moscow last Saturday, had a 3-hour meeting with Vladimir Putin and offered this report:
[Putin is] not conspiracy theorizing or irrational, nor is he suffering from rage attacks…
It’s quite comic. I wonder what Bennett would have said if Putin had claimed “I have killed many Ukrainians in my life, and there’s no problem with that”.
That is of course Bennett’s own line about “Arabs”, which he uttered in 2013, which he has since then tried to sanitize (with the help of Israel-apologia groups) when it became uncomfortable.
Imagine if Putin had said during their meeting: “When Ukrainians were still climbing on trees, we already had a state here”.
That could be something that might alter Bennett’s assessment – he appears to be calling Ukrainians sub-humans. But that is of course Bennett’s own line about Palestinians, thrown at Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi in 2010.
If Putin said that Ukrainians were like “shrapnel in the butt” (like Bennett said about Palestinians), then Bennett might have come out thinking that Putin has some serious anger issues, and might not be that stable after all.
Bennett and Putin share an eerie amount of conspiracy theories, and at root, are very similar in their denial that their assumed foes – Palestinians and Ukrainians respectively – are a real people deserving of real statehood. As Peter Beinart wrote yesterday in his exquisite article “Justifications for Destroying a People” in Jewish Currents:
The arguments Russia’s government deploys to dehumanize Ukrainians are strikingly similar to the ones Israel’s government uses to dehumanize Palestinians.
Given, there is a crucial difference between the Israeli and Russian thinking on Palestinians and Ukrainians respectively. Beinart:
Official Russian and Israeli discourse differs in at least one important way. Putin argues that Ukrainians are really Russians, who must be dominated and absorbed. [Golda] Meir and [Benjamin] Netanyahu never argued that Palestinians are really Israelis or Jews. They argued instead that Palestinians are generic Arabs, who Israel could thus encourage to resettle elsewhere in the Arab world. This difference notwithstanding, Israeli leaders depict Palestinian identity as not merely fake, but manipulated by Israel’s enemies, which is what Putin says about Ukrainian identity.
So, what was Bennett doing with Putin for three hours, besides supposedly assessing whether Putin’s mental state was stable or not? Apparently, not much. The Times of Israel reports:
A diplomatic source quoted in the report said that Bennett was being cautious with Putin, due to the Russian leader “not being interested in a ceasefire or humanitarian corridors.”
Yes, well, you don’t want to push a person into agreeing to humanitarian corridors, that can be quite radical…
In a separate report, The Times of Israel cite two Russia-experts voicing concern that Putin is using people like Bennett to buy time for regrouping. Uriel Epshtein from Gary Kasparov’s Renew Democracy Initiative says that there is just “no place, none”, for Israel to help end the war, and that “the idea that Israel is going to be the linchpin in Putin’s decision-making and somehow come to an arrangement between Russia and Ukraine, or Russia and the West, is self-delusion.”
Anna Borshchevskaya, a Russia expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a spinoff of the AIPAC Israel lobby group), is also cited there. Putin “does not consider Ukraine to be a real country,” she said. “It’s pretty clear that Putin really is committed to his war in Ukraine. In fact, even despite the announced ceasefire corridors, Russia continues shelling civilians… It’s hard for me to see how Israel mediation is going to work in practice right now, at this stage”.
The two experts agree upon the two reasons for Putin’s diplomatic game, as Times of Israel summarizes: “buying time for tactical regrouping, and buying legitimacy from world leaders.” As to legitimacy:
“One of Putin’s ultimate goals is legitimacy. He wants to be perceived as legitimate. That’s like one of his ultimate insecurities,” said Epshtein.
And that brings us to Israel, because Israel also wants legitimacy, and that’s also one of its ultimate insecurities.
Israel also seeks legitimacy
Bennett is dedicated to the denial of Palestinian statehood, he is very clear about that. His statement about the “shrapnel in the butt” was made back in 2013 when he was Minister of Economy and Trade in Netanyahu’s government, speaking to the Judea and Samaria settler council. It went like this:
I’ll tell you a quick story. I have a friend called Yoav. He served in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] Golani Brigade and in a clash, shrapnel got stuck in his butt. I came to visit him in the hospital, and he told me, ‘Look, I have this shrapnel. … According to the doctors, I have two options: either to have an operation to remove the shrapnel, running the risk of becoming handicapped, crippled for life, or to leave it there, although from time to time, at the change of seasons, it may hurt a bit.’… So, he decided to continue living with it. … There are situations where deceptive striving for perfection is liable to cause a disaster.
And if the moral wasn’t clear, he added:
The attempt to establish a Palestinian state in our homeland is over; it has reached a dead end.
Bennett’s crass assessment is a clear admission that he stands by, now as Prime Minister: he “strongly rejects” the creation of a Palestinian state. The leftist satellites that adorn Bennett’s coalition are in no illusion, there is no such prospect with Bennett.
But Bennett is also a staunch Zionist, so he wants a Jewish state at all costs. And what is the result of governing people but denying them national rights? You guessed it, Apartheid. That’s part of the logic that has brought such a host of human rights organizations – both Palestinian, Israeli and international– to assess Israel as an Apartheid state.
And Apartheid states want legitimacy for their Apartheid. Nowadays Apartheid is not considered legitimate, since it is a crime against humanity second only to Genocide, so Israel mostly tries to deny that it is Apartheid, even if it walks like it and talks like it.
So now, Israel tries to play the double-game – of being an aggressive Apartheid state, and yet portraying itself as a force for enlightenment and peace.
Thus, the ‘liberal’ centrist Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who in the past had advocated for extrajudicial execution of Palestinians even if they just held “a screwdriver” and advocated for “maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”, now stands up to condemn the Russian invasion:
Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a massive attack on world order… Wars are not the right way to resolve conflicts. We can stop this (attack) and return to the negotiating table for a peaceful solution.
Israeli Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy called this “comic relief” in his article “The Israeli Kettle and the Russian Pot”, wondering further: “Could it be that [Lapid’s] self-awareness has run so low, or perhaps it’s cynicism, hypocrisy and double standards that have reached new heights?”
Lapid reportedly appointed Deputy Ambassador to the UN Noa Furman to carry forth his message, in order to avoid having it spoken by the actual ambassador Gilad Erdan, a Likud Netanyahu supporter who is known for a more hawkish stance. Furman echoed Lapid’s ”serious violation of the international order” and urged Russia “to heed the calls of the international community to stop the attack and respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”
Israel has been playing the double-game also in the UN, something which has seriously annoyed US officials. Israel refused to sponsor a US resolution against Russia’s invasion to the UN Security Council (on the pretext that Russia would veto it anyway), but later went along with the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion, so as to not be seen as standing with Russia (141 countries voted for the resolution, 5 against, and 35 abstained). The UNGA resolutions are of a more symbolic meaning than UNSC resolutions, where the latter are considered more as law.
Israel’s strategic alliance with Russia is largely to do with Russia permitting Israel to bomb targets affiliated with Iran in Syria.
But it may be that Israel will not be able to hold up this double-game much longer, since its bigger patron is after all the US, and officials there are getting seriously annoyed. Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen (a Republican) said:
Now it comes down to: Are you with the Russians or are you with the United States and the West? They do have to make a decision here.
Israel not only has a strategic alliance with Russia on Syria, Israel has also been providing Syria with cyber-weapons by which to carry out attacks on political opponents within, as Eitay Mack reports in Haaretz yesterday, a piece titled “Ukraine War: How Israel Is Helping Putin Crush Anti-war Protests in Russia”. It took immense pressure from Israeli human rights activists just to get the sales to stop, but the products continue to do their work. Mack:
After 80 Israeli human rights activists petitioned against both the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Cellebrite to revoke Cellebrite’s export license to Russia, the company announced in March last year that it would stop providing services in Russia but refused to commit to disabling all its equipment already handed over to the (Russian) Investigative Committee.
Israel has always been playing this double-game – its nature as a settler-colonialist, Jewish supremacist Apartheid state naturally place it among the most regressive regimes on the planet. Alas, it tries to portray itself as an “advance post of civilization against barbarism”, as Zionist founder Theodor Herzl wrote in his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896). The means by which this supposed “barbarism” is to be rebuffed is always excused as a perhaps unfortunate yet necessary means of violence in order to preserve the enlightened west, of which Israel is an “outpost.”
These propaganda tricks are now being blown out of the water when it comes to Putin, with his “denazification” claims as a pretext for the invasion of Ukraine. The “west” is not buying it.
And this leads to another concern for Israel – that the Israeli Hasbara propaganda, designed to rebuff criticism as well as condemnation of the state, may come to be seen in a similar light to Russia’s. If that happens, there’s also the danger, for Israel, that the campaign for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions meant to take Israel to task for its systemic violations, may receive legitimacy from the Ukrainian case. With Ukraine we are speaking of the west not only showing understanding for blanket boycotts, divestments and sanctions, but even understanding for Ukrainian civilian armed resistance with Molotov cocktails and all, and we are speaking about direct arming of Ukraine. Even Israel’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan of Israel”, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is criticizing Israel for not getting on board the weapon delivery campaign:
They asked Israel – no bigger fan of Israel than Lindsey Graham – for Stingers [anti-aircraft weapons] and apparently Israel said no. So I’m going to get on the phone to Israel – you know, we stand up for Israel with the Iron Dome, and Putin is a thug, he’s a war criminal, he’s destroying a sovereign nation.. And if we don’t get Ukraine right, the Chinese are going to move on Taiwan and the Iranians are going to break out for a bomb so it’s in everybody’s interest.
Graham, in his supposed grand perception of possible international ramifications, is of course not seeing that there’s an obvious parallel between Ukraine and Palestine in the sense of Ukraine being invaded, occupied and subject to expansionist imperialist aggression. But many others see that. Israel is now walking a tightrope above very unpredictable waters in terms of public opinion in the west, because this wave of opposition to Russian aggression has caught many by considerable surprise, including myself. If Israel comes to be seen as too Russia-friendly, it may come to cost it in ways that are hard to imagine, to measure and to predict. Israel is now in a very insecure place.
But Prime Minister Bennett is now playing Dr. Freud, assessing the mental state of Putin, about which he can report to the west. The unhinged, expansionist, racist Israeli Prime Minister Bennett is checking out whether Putin is stable. And he thinks he is, so let’s be measured and rational. Let’s be cool and enlightened, no need to call people monkeys or shrapnel in the butt or shoot many of them, even if there’s no problem with that. Dr. Bennett is trying to secure world peace. And you know what, I’m sure Putin is also laughing.
Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark