Arab News / September 18, 2023
From its very onset, Israel constructed a brand for itself — a powerful gimmick that was predicated on two main pillars: democracy and stability.
The main target audience for this brand has been powerful Western states that have wielded disproportionate political, economic and military power. These Western governments, along with their influential mainstream corporate media, played their part by polishing Israel’s image — as democratic and stable — while tarnishing those of its Arab and Palestinian enemies, or anyone else who dared criticize Israel.
It mattered little whether Israel was truly a beacon of democracy and stability because these terms are often conjured up and used to conveniently fit the interests of those in power. To maintain the charade, Israel’s task was fairly straightforward: maintaining a facade of democracy at home — even if this democracy was racially oriented and exclusionist — and providing enough supposed stability to allow foreign companies to trust that their investments in Israel were safe.
The actual, verifiable truth in these kinds of situations is hardly relevant. All that matters are slogans and clichés — and enough people in power who are willing to repeat those slogans and even believe in the clichés.
But this pseudo-reality can only exist in relative terms. For Israel to be elevated, the Arabs had to be tarnished and demeaned, despite the fact that it was Israel that illegally occupied their land and waged repeated wars on Palestinians and other Arab nations.
The perfect illustration, until recently, of the successful Israeli model was a statement made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sept. 13, 2012, 11 years ago last week. Toasting top military commanders at the Israeli army’s General Staff Forum on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, Netanyahu summed up Israel’s sense of triumphalism in a few words. “We live in a volatile and stormy region. Its explosions and storms are increasing. The strength of the IDF has helped ensure that we remain an island of stability amidst the storms,” Netanyahu said.
Two facts may have escaped Netanyahu back then. One is that many of the “explosions and storms” in the modern history of the Middle East were Israel’s own doing, such as military invasions, occupation and other destabilizing factors. And two is that, in the words of Heraclitus, “the only constant in life is change.”
More than a decade on from Netanyahu’s declaration, Israel is now learning that it is no longer isolated from the “volatile and stormy region.”
It is important to underscore that the long-perceived Middle Eastern “chaos,” as juxtaposed with Israel’s “stability,” are not inherent values in history. The Middle East — in fact, much of the Global South — has remained a victim of Western former colonial powers for many decades. Rarely has a coup, revolution, political crisis or economic collapse experienced in this part of the world taken place without Western involvement, direct or otherwise.
Arabs, the architects of one of the greatest and longest-lasting civilizations in human history, are not innately chaotic, as Israel and its Western benefactors maintained through their relentless propaganda. Such a conversation is outdated anyway as Israel itself now epitomizes political instability and social chaos.
A viral video dating Sept. 7 showed dozens of Israeli soldiers from the “elite” Golani Brigade destroying their own military base. The leaked video could be dismissed as an isolated incident if it were not for the fact that at least 10,000 Israeli army reservists have declared that they will not join their military units if Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms are confirmed. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Israelis continue to occupy the major squares of all Israeli cities, demanding an end to what they perceive as a far-right coup.
Israeli military analysts and highly regarded journalists are now engaging in political and moral questions that would have been considered inconceivable only a few years ago, such as what if the army turns against the people? What if the people overthrow the government? What if Israel is no longer a democracy? In fact, many Israelis agree that this scenario has already been actualized. They include two former heads of the powerful internal security service, the Shin Bet.
In a letter made public last month, they urged US President Joe Biden not to host Netanyahu at the White House. Such a visit would be seen as “legitimizing the government coup,” they wrote, accusing the Israeli leader of “causing severe damage” to Israel, particularly the “strategic relationship between the US and Israel.”
The task of marketing Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East” is no longer an easy sell.
With the democracy pillar crumbling, the stability pillar is also falling apart. And without stability, investors simply run away.
The rush to escape the Israeli market has already begun. The flight of capital, by Israel’s own estimation, is so extreme that it took many market analysts by surprise. Foreign investments in Israel in the first three months of 2023 totaled a meager $2.6 billion, a drop of 60 percent compared to the years 2020 and 2022, according to a recent report issued by Israel’s Finance Ministry, which excluded 2021.
Certainly, what is taking place in “democratic” and “stable” Israel is truly unprecedented. Its current vulnerability is accentuated by the massive and rapid changes to the political maps of the Middle East and the world. As the US-Western stranglehold over the region and other parts of the world weakens, Israel’s once-powerful geopolitical position is increasingly compromised.
This should present Palestinians with the opportunity to expose Israel’s failing brands of false democracy, social instability and outright apartheid.
Israel must now be pressured to acquiesce to international law, which guarantees, in principle, justice and freedom for the Palestinian people and the inalienable right of return for their refugees.
Without Palestinian freedom, Israel’s future is sealed as an unstable country with undemocratic institutions, permanent apartheid and perpetual chaos.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle; his latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out