As I scanned the menu at a Japanese restaurant on Sunday, I overheard the word “Palestinians.” I turned my head and spotted a few men at the end of a long table jabbering away, about 20 feet from my table. They were with a dozen others who appeared to be family members.
Sounded intriguing. I wondered how “Palestinians” related to the subject matter. Who were these people? They spoke in accents and appeared to be from a foreign country. Soviet Jews who lived nearby in Northeast Philadelphia? An Arab-American family?
Soon they spoke derisively about “Netanyahu.” One said the prime minister was indicted for corruption and should have been arrested for “terrorism.” They dreaded the incoming administration that Benjamin Netanyahu will lead.
Their conversation did not upset me, though other Jews would be. I heard all of this before in writings and videos. I wanted to hear what they said when they were with their own and felt more comfortable. By this time, I presumed they were Arab-Americans. Their conversation reflected what other Arabs in America and Israel and its territories feared, that Team Bibi (the prime minister’s nickname) will tighten the screws.
Consider that they blamed Israel. They were even shocked that hard times – harder times, that is – are likely coming. They said nothing about their leadership or themselves.
What I heard in the restaurant conforms with the written words of Diana Butti, a former adviser for Palestinian negotiators: “We are made to feel we are interlopers…Israelis blame Palestinians for the rise in extremism and racism, rather than look at how racism has become normalized in Israeli society. It is blaming the victim rather than the aggressor.”
In her New York Times commentary published last week, Butti leaves unmentioned positions she has espoused in the past – such as accusing Israel of apartheid, homophobia, “illegal behavior” and setting “policies on the minimum number of calories needed to prevent malnutrition,” according to Wikipedia of attributed comments. She claimed that Palestinian rockets lack explosive warheads and denied that Hamas (which controls Gaza) makes human shields of its citizens.
In all their elections, Netanyahu and prime ministers before him had no need to organize campaign teams. They already had the champion of campaign teams in their corner: the Palestinians.
More than two decades ago, the notorious Yasser Arafat rejected a plan proposed by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak that would give Palestinians an independent state encompassing Gaza, most of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. A costly Arab uprising ensued, and in subsequent years Palestinians launched rockets from Gaza, murdered West Bank Israelis in their homes and in drive-by shootings along the highways, and rioted at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. On the day before Thanksgiving, they killed two Israelis by setting off bombs at two bus shelters, also in Jerusalem.
Did the Arabs expect Israelis to re-elect Barak, the prime minister willing to turn over land in a plan that many Israelis were sure to oppose? Did they believe that future prime ministers would accede to all their demands?
Israeli voters were hardened by these atrocious, fanatical and delusional tactics. In close elections, they voted in parliamentary majorities that increasingly reacted with tough measures, with few breaks in the leadership. Netanyahu and other leaders might have been wrong, but that is the reality.
Finally, Netanyahu returned to power after his coalition won the fifth parliamentary election to be held in three years, on Nov. 1. He was ousted as prime minister in the fourth election after serving a record tenure that exceeded David Ben-Gurion’s years in the post, Israel’s iconic first leader.
At this writing, Netanyahu is expected to appoint Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads the Otzma Yehudit party, to control Israel’s police forces in the newly created post of national security minister, and Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, who could assume a new role in the defense ministry to oversee the government’s actions in the West Bank.
Both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich amount to patients running the asylum. Ben-Gvir has in the past urged expelling all Arabs from Israel and has frequently incited political violence, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports. Former ministers and police chiefs predict that he would turn Israel into a “police state” under such powers.
Smotrich’s party urges more construction of Israeli communities (commonly known as settlements) in the West Bank; he seeks to end Israel’s recognition of non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism; and he has compared same-sex marriage to incest.
Most American Jews and possibly almost half the Israeli electorate would concur with my neighboring diners that Ben-Gvir and Smotrich could be disasters waiting to happen. I do not sympathize with those diners or Palestinians as a society, though I certainly fear for peaceful, rational Arabs caught in the middle.
Nonetheless, the pending appointments of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich should not happen. Unfortunately, it appears to be inevitable.
“Ben-Gvir would easily be able to weaponize these agencies against the Israeli and Palestinian populations,” writes Thomas L. Friedman in last Sunday’s New York Times.
Friedman, who has spent most of his journalism career covering the Middle East, says in essence that Israel continues to walk a tightrope – one that is fraying fast. “A variety of long-developing demographic, technological, political and social changes are reaching tipping points,” he writes, “that are stressing all the balances between Jews and Jews, Jews and Israeli Arabs, Jews and Palestinians and Palestinians and Palestinians that have kept this place reasonably stable.”
With the anticipated arrangement in the Knesset, he expects “a total mess that will leave Israel no longer being a bedrock of stability for the region and for its American ally, but instead, a cauldron of instability and a source of anxiety for the U. S. government.”
Friedman reinforces the prospect that American Jews will be aghast if Netanyahu so empowers Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. He points out that a plan to weaken the judiciary led Abe Foxman, former director of the Anti-Defamation League here, to tell a Jerusalem Post reporter: “If Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it,” adding, “If Israel becomes a fundamentalist religious state, a theocratic nationalism state, it will cut Israel off from 70 percent of world Jewry.”
Foxman’s attitude toward Team Bibi was assailed by Zionist Organization of America officials in a written statement issued by national director Morton A. Klein and Liz Berney, director of research & special projects, saying, “…Foxman has revealed that he is the ‘attack dog’ of the thought police’ by demanding that Israel will not have his ‘love’ and support unless Israel’s new democratically elected government adopts Foxman’s left-wing prescriptions.”
Klein presents disturbing positions that Foxman has taken on Israel, and I have qualms about Foxman’s performance as ADL’s director, some of it derived from personal experience. But does this mean that American Jews cannot criticize Israel when it is deemed necessary?
Would there ever be an Israel if not for American Jews? A Jewish Kansan named Eddie Jacobson connected his friend Harry Truman with pro-Israel advocates who convinced the 33rd president to support the creation of Israel. American Jews have since lobbied the government on behalf of Israel, paid taxes and donated to Jewish charities to aid our homeland and endured abuse from opponents of Israel.
Yet if we suggest that Israel may be in the wrong, does what we say make us “attack dogs?” The ZOA is barking up the wrong tree.