Mondoweiss / April 4, 2023
Israeli analysts say the Biden administration thinks Netanyahu “has lost his mind,” there is a growing likelihood of Jewish inter-communal violence, and the country is losing its ability to fight the apartheid label.
Joe Biden took the “unbelievable” step of telling Benjamin Netanyahu he’s not welcome in Washington last week because Netanyahu had accused Biden of paying for the demonstrations that have rocked Israel, according to two Israeli analysts, in comments to pro-Israel organizations.
“[The Americans] are thinking somebody has lost his mind out there,” one said.
Briefings by pro-Israel groups in the last tumultuous week provided other insights from Israeli Jews: Israel is out of control to a degree that befits Hassan Nasrallah’s prediction that Israel will fall apart like a spider’s web; there is a growing likelihood of Jew-on-Jew violence; the massive demonstrations in Israel are indifferent to discrimination against Palestinians; but the country is losing its ability to fight the apartheid label because of the powers that Netanyahu has given to Jewish extremists in the West Bank.
Here are some of those comments.
Biden acted because Netanyahu accused him of funding the demonstrations
Yossi Alpher at Americans for Peace Now:
The administration was also reportedly furious after Netanyahu’s extreme-right son Yair tweeted that the US State Department was conspiring to topple his father’s government through CIA financing of mass anti-Netanyahu demonstrations–a libel reportedly endorsed by the prime minister in a briefing to Israeli journalists.
Tal Schneider of the Times of Israel expanded on the sequence in a Democratic Majority for Israel webinar. She said Biden’s statement that Netanyahu is not welcome in Washington as “unbelievable” and said that Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the libel during two briefings to Israeli reporters in Rome and London after which they quoted “the most senior official you can think of, no one is higher” — an obvious reference to Netanyahu.
In those two briefings he said the U.S. administration– the current administration is out to topple me. They are financing the demonstrations, they are sending money. Stuff like that– conspiracy theories that some of them are portrayed out in the open by his son [Yair]. But I never expected the prime minister to say it in a briefing. It blew my mind off, really to hear that.
I don’t know what were the specifics that brought Biden to say he is disinvited, but I would not be surprised if those two briefings were a big part of it. Because you cannot go around in Israel and say things like that to an American president, that’s unheard of… Some of the things that he did and said in the last couple of weeks seemed to us Israelis, as if he is detached from reality. I mean, firing your defense minister in a text message to reporters without giving any explanation to the reasons you are doing so?…
When you look at the American administration… they are thinking somebody has lost his mind out there.
Israel is imploding, just as Nasrallah said
Yoni Shimshoni, an Israeli army reservist general, told the Israel Policy Forum that the country is out of control, and Israel’s neighbors see it.
What they’re seeing is an inability to control the country…. There’s a regime there that can’t control what’s going on… The army’s coming apart, the society’s coming apart. [Hassan] Nasrallah has said, What I said several years ago in the famous cobweb speech– it’s working out, this country is imploding.
The Hezbollah leader, Nasrallah, said in 2000 that he was confident of victory because “Israel is weaker than a spider’s web.”
Tal Schneider said that she believes that both Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, and son Yair, who lives at home, are making important decisions and are engaged in political negotiations.
“The man who was supposed to be the protector of Israeli security– he is today the greatest threat to Israeli security,” author Yossi Klein Halevi said of Netanyahu on that Democratic Majority for Israel briefing.
Halevi said he does not think the negotiations between Netanyahu and the opposition have any chance of success. The government’s “red line” is that it can control the appointments of Supreme Court justices, and the opposition has a redline of judicial independence. He said, “We will be back on the streets as soon as the negotiations fail.”
More violence is likely – against Palestinians and by Jews against other Jews
Halevi described “runaway settler violence,” and admits that he ignored it “for years.”
I simply turned a blind eye for years to settler violence and attributed it to an irrelevant fringe. Well that irrelevant fringe is now controlling the Israeli police, the Finance Ministry, has a deep foothold in the Defense Ministry. The pogromists who burned dozens of Palestinians’ homes… have backing within the government. We’ve never experienced anything like this before. We are angry, we are galvanized, but most of all we are terrified. Every day we wake up to an impossible development…There is growing violence on the streets. If you heard Netanyahu’s supposed reconciliation speech where he called for an end to violence…[it was directed at] the opposition– which has not behaved violently. It is his own hardcore followers that have produced the violence.
Alpher on civil strife:
[C]ivil strife is likely to continue and even escalate. That means growing involvement by the security community–police, striking reservists, a defense minister warning of major conflict, conceivably a vigilante ‘national guard’.
Lior Amihai, executive director of the Israeli organization Peace Now, describes “very violent” pro-Netanyahu demonstrators in a briefing with Americans for Peace Now:
Those who demonstrated were two groups. One group was what we call the La Familia group. It’s like a violent group, a very small group, I must say in figures, but violent citizens who are supporters of Netanyahu, who are on the fringe and the margins of society that had been neglected by Israeli society, been dismissed by Israeli society. They’ve become very violent, and they don’t see themselves as part of society. And this is one this is a very small minority within the demonstrators and the right wing demonstrations. And 95% of the right wing demonstrations are settlers…. My take on yesterday’s demonstration– it was a majority of settlers from the settlements who came on buses financed and organized very well to demonstrate. And my prediction is, if we’ll start seeing right wing demonstrations, it will actually be settler demonstrations, because they’re very organized.
The danger to the relationship with American Jews:
Shimshoni says that Netanyahu is oblivious to Israel’s most important international alliance with the “global Jewish community.”
From a political science point of view, What’s your most important global alliance? That’s our most important alliance. we see that we are straining that particular relationship around shared values if we pull off in this direction.
Alpher said Netanyahu has lost his touch with Americans:
Something very fundamental is amiss in Israel’s understanding of America…. Some Israelis, of the sort who tend to be outspoken and not nuanced, apparently don’t know how to read between the lines. Netanyahu and his emissary to America Ron Dermer, who purport to know the United States like the back of their hand, have been living in a bubble.
Halevi, a longtime apologist for Israel (and Netanyahu voter in earlier years), said that it is time for American Jews to be “grownups” and give Israelis advice about “democratic ethos.”
This moment is an opportunity for a much needed reset in Israel-diaspora relations, time for us to start relating to each other as grownups, who trust one another… I understand Israelis who have reservations about diaspora criticism of Israeli security policy, especially in times of war. Though in principle I believe that Diaspora Jews are shareholders in the Jewish state and have the right and responsibility to express their opinions even during war, even though that’s personally painful to me– in this case, there is no minority anywhere in the world that is as sophisticated on the democratic ethos as American Jewry. We need your input especially on this issue… I not only tolerate diaspora criticism, I invite it and welcome it…. We need you as partners in helping shape the nature of Israeli society, the nature of the state.
Zionist identity battle between the religious and the “liberals”
Halevi called himself a “militant centrist” and said the Israeli center is now galvanized against the religious right — “the state within a state that we have allowed the ultraorthodox to create” — over questions of Zionist identity:
What do we mean by a Jewish state, and a democratic state? Two camps have emerged. The liberal definition of a democratic state… protects the rights of a minority. The main debate we have with the ultranationalist right, is, the liberal Zionist idea of a Jewish state is a state of the Jewish people, whoever we are. This [Netanyahu] coalition– their idea of a Jewish state is the state of Judaism, the state of orthodox Judaism, a much more narrow and exclusivist understanding the mission of a Jewish state. These are the two issues that Israel is divided on, and liberal Israel is galvanized.
That religious state is bringing “total chaos” to the West Bank
Shimshoni said there are now conflicting Israeli authorities in the occupation because Netanyahu has given portfolios to fascistic partners Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the police minister, who was promised his own militia:
What’s been created now is total chaos. If I’m a commander now in the West Bank I don’t know who I’m supposed to listen to, to Smotrich, to the [army] chief of staff, to Ben-Gvir, I dont know who I’m supposed to listen to. This idea of a dedicated force, a militia [for Ben-Gvir], a personal army– if it happens he will probably recruit… the more violent young settlers, the hilltop youth, and we’ll end up with a private army like some mafia chief. And then there will be security events and the IDF will show up and this private army will show up…. Is this a setup for him having a force in what he hopes will be total Armageddon?
The government has hugely advanced the apartheid discourse
Lior Amihai tells Americans for Peace Now that awarding civilian authority to Smotrich in the West Bank has further undermined Israel’s claim that it does not practice apartheid.
The fact that Smotrich has now authority over this is like really an annexation move an unparallel annexation decision that the government made which went really almost under the radar, and it’s unheard of…. They took parts from the military regime, and then made it civilian… It’s hard to argue in any legal terms that there aren’t two different legal regimes, you know, could have argued this before, but now it’s also legally speaking.
Hadar Susskind of Americans for Peace Now said the arrangement “unequivocally fits” the apartheid definition:
Just to be clear, when you have you know, two different legal regimes under the same power under international law that has a name, it is called apartheid. So whether we any of us choose to use that word or not, or whatever people may think about that, that unequivocally fits the the international legal definition. ..
Amihai says the right wants apartheid.
It’s a territory with two different legal systems and the purpose of maintaining it this way to get one group, ours, over the other to discriminate in a systematic way. This is what they want.
Shimshoni told the Israeli Policy Forum that Israeli soldiers and reservists might no longer be able to travel abroad because they could be charged with war crimes at the International Criminal Court. “Because our status in the West Bank becomes de facto annexation instead of a temporary, security-driven occupation which is military in nature.”
Anti-Palestinian discrimination at ‘liberal’ demonstrations
The massive Israeli demonstrations are indifferent to the occupation, and the demonstrators are for systemic discrimination against Palestinians, Amihai said.
You also have to be frank that the liberal camp in Israel is failing in addressing Palestinian issues… They are preventing in many degrees Palestinians to participate in speakers demonstrations, and to state their authentic agenda. So you don’t hear issues about the occupation. You don’t hear issues about discrimination, the Nation State law, for example [an apartheid law from 2018]– is accepted by the majority of demonstrators. The liberal camp in Israel is still very, very blind to the discrimination against Palestinians in Israel. And even when you see the the political parties, they’re not including the Palestinian Arab parties, in their discussions they’re not taking them seriously. They’re thinking of them as a political actor that could help them or could not in toppling down Netanyahu but it’s not a sincere equal sort of participants in the political game…
Palestinian flags are all but excluded from the demonstrations.
If you go to the demonstrations, which are really hopeful and optimistic, and so many levels and you still don’t see the Palestinian factor, and if you will see a Palestinian flag that will mostly be either where we demonstrated– the pro-peace, anti-occupation groups– or it would cause frustration for the majority of others.
Palestinians don’t feel that the Supreme Court is anything to fight for, Amihai said:
You have to be frank and [while] the Supreme Court… helped Palestinians citizens of Israel in many, many issues, in many issues it didn’t, and discrimination against Palestinians citizens in Israel exists today, despite Israeli democracy… In so many different ways, there’s so much discrimination inside Israel, that they just don’t feel that Supreme Court is theirs.
American author Peter Beinart reported similar tensions from a solidarity rally for the Israeli demonstrators that he attended in Washington Square Park, in New York, when he got booed off the stage for talking about fighting apartheid:
[T]he point that I made was that if this is gonna be a real movement for democracy, it can’t be a movement that champions liberal democracy for Jews but accepts apartheid for Palestinians. And that it can’t be a movement to return to a status quo of the kind that Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid oversaw when they criminalized Palestinian human rights organizations and oversaw the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh…
[P]art of the reason that the Israeli right has been so successful, has been hegemonic in Israel for decades, is because you can’t have a successful movement for democracy that’s just a Jewish movement. That no great movement for equality can simply be the province of one ethnic or religious group. That all great movements of the left, great movements for equality, have to broaden and include all the people, be movements for democracy for all, that include people across ethnic and religious and racial divisions. And that if you wanted to move this protest movement—as impressive as it has been—from hundreds of thousands to millions of people, your best allies, the people who most thirst for freedom, the people who would be most important and valuable in a freedom movement, are the people who are most denied freedom today: Palestinians under Israeli control…
But there were some people who were pretty upset, and they were upset enough to basically pretty much shout me down. I mean, I just couldn’t keep speaking because people were booing and yelling so much that they wanted me to stop.
Fears of economic collapse
Last month I reported the fears expressed by Israelis to the Israel lobby that the Israeli economy will fall apart and Israelis’ high standard of living collapse. In a more recent webinar, Shira Efron of the Israel Policy Forum fretted that “one thing after another is almost unraveling” in Israel, and she fears for the “prowess” of the Israeli economy, which has given Israelis a GDP per capita of $53,000– higher than the European Union.
Shimshoni echoed that Israel is now “staring at the cliff.” The social fabric is “precarious.” The orthodox are growing demographically but not doing their part in the economy.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006