Say what you may about Israel’s ruling fanatics but listen carefully to what they say. Unlike their coalition partner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they are blunt about their racism and bigotry. These straight-talking maniacs say what they think and do what they say. Their vision may be disastrous, even catastrophic, but their candour is refreshing in the way it exposes the myth of a secular, liberal and enlightened Israel.
One leading fanatic is Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the Religious Zionism party and Israel’s new finance minister. After a recording of him admitting to being a fascist became public in recent days, he retorted sardonically: “I may be a far-right person, a homophobe, racist, fascist, but my word is my bond”. True that. And more. He and his fellow zealots believe that: first, Israel cannot and should not be both Jewish and democratic; second, Israel has the exclusive right over all of what they call “the Land of Israel”, i.e. historic Palestine; and third, Israel should beware the ways of the liberal West, and reject American dictates or overtures.
Let us take these gems one at a time. Today’s fanatics lament the early Zionists’ failure to rid the “Jewish State” of all its Palestinian inhabitants. They believe their forefathers were right to evict hundreds of thousands of Palestinians back in 1947-1949, but wrong to allow for a small minority to stay behind, or allow it to grow in numbers and influence. So, what to do? Rabbi Meir Kahane, the departed guru of many of today’s fanatics, argued in a 1980 book with the telling title, They Must Go, that the Palestinians are a “cancer” in the body of the “Jewish State” that must be removed by whatever means necessary.
His present-day disciples, like the minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, also believe Israel is better off without its Palestinian citizens, but they reckon if Palestinians must stay, then can only be second or third-class citizens, vowing total loyalty to their Jewish masters. Unlike their political and ideological partner, Netanyahu, who helped pass the racist law “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” in 2018, but continues to peddle the debunked “Jewish and democratic state” cliché, Kahane’s followers boast of Jewish supremacy in the “Jewish State”. Indeed, as Kahane himself put it, “Those who refuse to give the Arab that right but tell him he is equal think he is a fool. He is not.”
Indeed, he is not. Unlike the Jewish fanatic who believes Israel must be a theocracy or the foolish and delusional liberal who is convinced Israel could be Jewish and democratic, the Palestinian Arab knows Israel must be a true democracy in order to be at peace with itself and its neighbours. This brings me to the second point. Like all other religious fanatics, Israel’s fanatics believe “the end justifies the means” when fighting for the almighty. This includes the forced reconsecration or Judaisation of Jerusalem and its holy sites, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, regardless of its catastrophic ramifications, peace and coexistence be damned. Needless to say, there is “nothing novel about the victorious Jews’ takeover of sites sacred to the Muslims”, in the words of former deputy mayor of West Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti. If anything, the new fanatics are simply picking up where their Zionist elders left off, but with more religious zeal.
Combining messianic Judaism with Israeli chutzpah, these fanatics are determined and they are dangerous. They are upfront about deepening the occupation, multiplying the illegal Jewish settlements, and eventually annexing them altogether, regardless of the consequences. Unlike Bibi, the spin doctor, they feel no need to lie or justify their disinterest in diplomacy and peace with the Palestinians. Many wish for an apocalyptic end to this age to pave the way for the advent of the “kingdom of heaven”. It is no surprise then, that they reject international law and the entire peace process jargon about the two-state solution, which Israel’s Western backers continue to peddle, either foolishly or dishonestly.
Which brings me to the last point. Unlike mainstream secular Israelis who are passionate about the American style of life, the religious camp rejects the influence of liberal America on Israel and its way of life. These fundamentalists wish for a kingdom, not a republic. They want Israel to live according to Jewish law and tradition, not Western liberalism or universal values on issues of gender, sexuality and family. Although they get enormous financial and other assistance from the United States, they believe Jewish redemption in the land of Israel must be biblical, not American or liberal. They also insist on subjugating the country’s rather liberal Supreme Court to the whim of the parliamentary majority they are part of. No wonder, then, that secular and liberal Israelis oppose the fanatical forces in power, who, they believe, are “turning Israel into an insular, suspicious, and chauvinistic Sparta” – to quote Israeli journalist Ari Shavit’s book, My Promised Land. But most of them focus only on the government’s domestic agenda while ignoring the violent occupation.
That is selfish and shortsighted – indeed foolish. Israeli fanaticism is the culmination of decades of war, occupation, and colonisation. Israel’s fanatics and fascists draw their force and fervour from their messianic mission in the occupied Palestinian territories, where they have expanded their power base at the expense of the Palestinians. To stop the fanatics, concerned Israelis, Americans and others must do all to end the colonisation of Palestine, first and foremost. It’s the occupation, stupid.