Middle East Monitor / October 1, 2020
Recently, I conducted a long interview with former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone for an upcoming project. He told me a number of interesting things.
Right-wing commentator Charles Moore once described Livingstone as: “The only truly successful left-wing British politician of modern times.” He certainly lives up to that reputation in person.
Still sharp and insightful, Livingstone was at the top of his game, and was generous with his analysis of how and why Boris Johnson has failed to get a grip on the coronavirus crisis. In a nutshell, the prime minister has no long-term plan. Instead, he focuses on telling people what he thinks they want to hear, and on responding to events as they occur.
Margaret Thatcher, on the other hand, had a long-term plan, Livingstone argued. That plan, of course, was to destroy the unions, emasculate the state and sell off its assets to private corporations. In this, she largely succeeded. Why? Because she had a vision, along with the will and the means to carry it out.
Israeli politicians could also be rightfully accused of blundering from crisis to crisis while responding to events. But the relative success of Israel in carrying out its settler-colonial project has relied over the decades on having a cohesive vision and ideology.
That ideology is Zionism – the idea that Jews should abandon their native countries to found a Jewish colonial state in Palestine.
The World Zionist Organisation was established late in the 19th century, founded by Theodor Herzl.
Within half a century, thanks in large part to the British Empire, the Zionist movement had achieved its goal of founding a Jewish state. They did this through extreme violence: the mass expulsion of 800,000 of the indigenous people.
It is for this reason that almost all Palestinians are uncompromisingly anti-Zionist – they oppose Zionism because Zionism opposes their very existence.
Since the Zionist movement achieved its primary goal, it has expanded its vision further and further.
One politician who could not fairly be accused of lacking vision is Tzipi Hotovely – Israel’s incoming ambassador to the UK.
Hotovely is one to watch in terms of Israeli politics. At only 41 years of age, in my view, it’s quite possible that she could be a future Israeli prime minister.
Popular with the most extremist elements of the West Bank settler movement, Hotovely has been a rising star in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party for some years now.
She was personally recruited by Netanyahu to the Likud party during his years of opposition. Entering the Knesset in 2009, she promised to do things differently from Israel’s secular establishment.
As a religious Zionist, Hotovely believes in a certain interpretation of sacred texts: what fundamentalists usually describe as the liberal truth of scripture as revealed by God (which is, in fact, often hopelessly littered with internal contradictions).
At the centre of her faith, is one unerring belief: that the entirety of historic Palestine (what she, in common with Zionist tradition, terms the “Land of Israel”) belongs to Jews – and only to Jews. In her view, the indigenous people of Palestine are reduced to “minorities”. In reality, the Palestinians in historic Palestine have, for some time now, again outnumbered Jews.
In a 2010 speech to a group of settlers in the illegal Israeli colony of Revava (near the Palestinian town of Salfit), Hotovely stated that “the main struggle is against the creation of a Palestinian state” – a common Likud talking point.
But she didn’t stop there. Even a decade ago, Hotovely had a vision. “We need Israeli sovereignty and jurisdiction in all territories which we have settled… The response is placing Israeli jurisdiction over the areas where our towns are today in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].”
Her speech continued with a distinctly religious Zionist tone. She claimed that when Jews “look up through the roof to the heavens”, they remember who the real owner of the land is. “We look towards God and remember that we are a believing nation and whoever believes does not fear. Not from Obama, not from the Palestinians, not from anybody.”
The idea of Israeli “sovereignty” over the West Bank should be more accurately termed what it is: annexation of an illegally invaded and occupied territory – a war crime under international law.
But Hotovely should not be dismissed as some wild-eyed extremist relegated to the margins of Israeli political life. Over the last decade, she has gone from strength to strength and is a genuine political player.
Serving in several junior and, latterly, senior ministerial positions, Hotovely’s latest appointment as ambassador to the UK should in no way be interpreted as a demotion. In fact, it is quite likely she is being sent here with a very specific mission determined by Netanyahu, who has dispatched this loyal protege to London – which, due to its strong Palestine solidarity movement is one of the main “hubs of delegitimisation”, according to Israeli planners.
Hotovely’s last ministerial role before the recent Israeli elections was as the deputy foreign minister, where she served for four years. Due to the fact that for most of that period Netanyahu was the foreign minister too, Hotovely was, in effect, the acting minister.
During that period, she led what she has boasted was a “revolution” in the ministry.
At a Jerusalem Post conference last year, Hotovely explained: “It was the most amazing four years at the foreign ministry. It was the years that Israel got the team of dreams,” she gushed, praising US President Trump due to his support for Israeli settlements and for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
“When I walked into the foreign ministry, I said: ‘I want to have a plan of moving all the embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem’ and everyone looked at me and they said: ‘It’s not gonna happen.’ I said: ‘Why not?… Jerusalem was just the first step… I think next is Judea and Samaria.’”
But a video of an old speech by Hotovely shows that her vision does not end there. In 2012, she even advocated for “expanding” Israel’s borders on both “banks of the Jordan” – in common with the old claim by right-wing “revisionist” Zionism.
“We must not settle for preserving what exists,” she urged. “We must always look forward… we must present a vision.”
Is this right-wing religious extremist Israel’s future? That seems to be the country’s direction of travel.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East