Mondoweiss / April 21, 2022
American media and politicians give us little idea of how rightwing Israel actually is, out of a need to describe the country as a robust democracy.
One of our themes is that the American media and politicians give us little idea of how rightwing Israeli political culture actually is, out of a need to describe Israel as a robust democracy. Here’s a story that exposes the scary reality.
The one-year-old Israeli government is now in danger of falling because it is down to half the parliament, 60 seats, due to the abandonment on April 6 of one member, Idit Silman of the rightwing Yamina party. The press has said she left the government because she wants a more “national, Jewish, Zionist” government.
The press is leaving out the violent threats and physical attacks and “hate crimes” against Silman for being part of a center-right government.
Israeli reporter Tal Schneider of the Times of Israel explained to the Israel Policy Forum 2 weeks ago that rightwing attacks and threats likely forced Silman to “cave”:
She came under huge pressures from, in the last ten months she had her kids yelled at at schools, she had people attacking her on the streets, she had severe attacks online. She was complaining to the police about people who followed her car, threatening her on the road. This is, you know, really serious stuff. She was–from neighbors, from school friends, from the synagogue demonstrating against her everywhere she went. She was ridiculed, and– this is not just her, by the way. It’s all the members from the Knesset in the Yamina party, six of them, they all get that.
But she was at the front of getting all of this really hate crimes. Some of the things she complained about the people who attacked her were never caught. She complained about being attacked physically but because the people who attacked her were never caught, the entire right wing of Israel came out and said she is just inventing her stories and lying about it. She was under huge pressure for so long..
This may be one explanation. The politics here became so brutal… Things are really, really brutal on the right wing.
When Silman stepped down, the right “immediately embraced her and said how wonderful she was,” Schneider said. “They flipped very, very fast on her.”
Schneider related that another one of the Yamina legislators, Matan Kahana, wrote about the rightwing attacks on Facebook, saying:
People on the left, you don’t understand what a huge hate campaign we are going through. It’s enormous and Idit Silman was under huge pressure.
Kahana is an orthodox Jew, and Schneider said demonstrators showed up at his house with shrimps and pork to insult him.
The New York Times has not conveyed this atmosphere. It reported that Silman was leaving because she said it was time “to try to form a new national, Jewish, Zionist’ coalition” on the right. It left till the end of the story that protesters were “picketing her home last summer and bombarding her with offensive text messages.”
Nothing about hate crimes or physical attacks.
Now what does this mean to the unending occupation? It will never end. Remember that an Israeli Prime Minister was assassinated in 1995 for saying he wanted to give up lands in the West Bank. Recently, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett used the term West Bank instead of the biblical term, Judea and Samaria, and he came under attack from the right. Idit Silman said “she found this to be very, very offensive, and she said, If I am part of a government that is using that term, I had better be a part of [Yair] Lapid’s party” and not a right wing party, Schneider said.
Rightwing members of the government are now demanding that Israel connect more illegal outposts to the electricity grid, and the government is doing so, Schneider said. (Though it will also connect nearby Palestinian villages to the grid.)
So the Israeli government will keep building out the settlements, as it has for 55 years:
“As for announcing new settlements, [rather] enlarging existing posts or existing settlements, it should be noted that this government already announced thousands of them, and this is not anything that is different from former governments… They announce once in a while more units, they build more units and then maybe the right wing is mum for a couple of months until they demand more, and this has been going on for what, 55 years now? Unfortunately this is not new.
Schneider speculated that the left-Zionist members of the coalition (13 seats) will just go along with the settlement plans and “swallow” their opposition.
The problem this time is that we have Meretz and Labor [in the government] and they will have to make a choice, do they want this government collapsing on that? Labor governments in all Israel’s history have built settlements… so will they collapse everything on that, or will they just swallow that? I would guess that the other option would be what will happen [i.e., swallowing], because they haven’t been in power for so many years and they would rather sit in power than sit out and have another election cycle.”
Schneider is a partisan of the Bennett government — she believes it “saved the country” from fascistic rule of Netanyahu. But she offered no hope that any Israeli government is going to do anything to change policy. The left’s turnout is already very high. The country is rightwing.
“I think this country is mostly right wing by the majority. Most of the people here are right wing and… traditional… If you look at the population it’s more conservative, more rightwing and more religious.
And The Times of Israel reports that Bennett is now vowing to go more right wing. “Bennett is said to have explicitly pledged a more nationalistic direction… The report said that Bennett was also upset with some of the left-wing and centrist members of his coalition, who were refusing to tone down their positions….”
So once again the Israel lobby is just playing us; our media and political leaders never tell us about this rightwing Israel that can’t take a step back from the illegal settlement project. And if you even refer to it as the “West Bank,” you get physical threats.
In that Israel Policy Forum discussion with Schneider, the chair of the organization, Susie Gelman, helpfully noted, “One of the worst things you can be in Israel is a freier.” I.e., a sucker.
But the U.S. has been a freier for Israel forever. If we actually wanted to take on the Israeli government it would be like snapping a twig. We just don’t want to. Here is Gideon Levy, the Israeli journalist, speaking to the Israel lobby conference in Washington in March:
If it wasn’t for the international community, then the occupation wouldn’t last for one day. Imagine, Israel, being disconnected from SWIFT [international banking system]. I know it makes you laugh, but imagine yourself. Do you think that the occupation will last after 10 hours or 20 hours? That’s the only question.
Right. But it goes on 55 years because U.S. politicians won’t take nationalist rightwing governments on. Remember how revolutionary it was in 2016 when Bernie Sanders said in the New York primary that Netanyahu is “not always right”?
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006