That racket you can hear coming from the general direction of liberal Zionists is the sound of lamenting and wailing at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu’s election victory.
They are not upset at the prospect of Netanhayu leading Israel into a more entrenched system of anti-Palestinian apartheid, more entrenched colonial policies that seize more and more of Palestinians’ land, or even at more wars of massacre against the devastated civilian population of Gaza. No.
After all, the opposition Zionist Union, led by the supposedly “leftist” Israeli Labor party, agrees with Netanyahu on all of those policies. The Israeli Labor party never met an Israeli war it did not like. Most the main historic wars of massacre and ethnic cleansing were led by the Labor party.
The 1967 war in which Israel attacked all the surrounding Arab countries and illegally occupied the remaining Palestinian led left behind from historical Palestine was led by a Labor government. The 1948 war of ethnic cleansing which expelled some 750,000 Palestinians by force was done under the watch of Labor party leader David Ben Gurion.
So no. The liberal Zionists are not bothered about Israeli war crimes. They are only concerned that Israel’s international reputation may be deteriorating to the extent that even its most solid political allies in the US and in European governments may start to get slightly uncomfortable. The prospect of those leaders doing anything other than continuing to solidly back Israel is still vanishingly remote.
But this is in part thanks to Israel’s allies in the liberal press in the West, who would continue to back Israel even if it were led by outright fascists like Avigdor Lieberman. There was a pretty grotesque example of that this week, after Netanyahu’s anti-Arab racism got too explicit for even the White House to ignore it without comment.
In the election campaign, it looked like Netanyahu’s main challenger, the Zionist Union could have a strong showing in the polls. In the end, his Likud party won easily. But it seemed touch and go for a while, with exit polls predicting a near tie.
So to save himself at the last minute, Netanyahu engaged in an activity sure to be popular with the vast majority of Israeli Jewish voters: anti-Palestinian racism and incitement.
“The right-wing government is in danger. Arabs are advancing on the ballot boxes in droves,” Netanyahu said in a video message posted on his Facebook page.
Even aside from the racist and dehumanising terminology referring to a group of human beings as a “drove,” as if they were insects, the choice of words was interesting: “advancing on the ballot boxes”. The image he was going for was explicitly military one, as if this were not a democratic process, but a war. And indeed, that is how Israeli racists like Netanyahu see all Arabs as: an existential threat. “We have Order Number Eight,” he continued in the video, referencing the order that calls Israeli citizens up for army duty. It was voters’ duty to cast their ballots for Likud, he was saying.
After Obama – very mildly – criticised this racist language (although he is not going to do anything about it) Israel’s powerful defenders in the liberal press in the West forgot all about their brief love affair with the Zionist Union and went to bat for Netanyahu.
The spin was that Netanyahu “apologised” for these racist remarks in a speech to “community leaders from the Arab sector” (in fact they were a hand-picked gang of collaborators who literally chanted “Bibi, Bibi!” — Netanyahu’s nickname – as if it were a Saddam Hussein rally).
The Guardianclaimed that “Netanyahu, has said he regrets saying during last week’s elections that that ‘Arab voters are heading to the polls in droves’ in an attempt to mobilise voters.” The New York Times had a long and awful article by liberal Zionist reporter Jody Rodoren which did its best to exonerate Netanyahu and criticise Obama even for his mild and useless lip-service.
But in fact Netanyahu did not even apologise for his comments as claimed in the headlines. If you check the actual quote, it’s clear that what he said was that he was sorry that Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens took offence at his racism: “I know that my comments last week offended some Israeli citizens and offended the Arabs of Israel … I’m sorry about that”.
This quote is a more accurate translation (provided by Israel expert Dena Shunra) than the one The New York Times provides in the subtitles to the video of the short statement they’ve uploaded onto their website as part of Rudoren’s article. (Netanyahu certainly did not use the word “apologize”.)
But translation nuances aside, Netanyahu’s “apology” was nothing of the sort. He is only sorry that his comments were widely picked up on in the west and that many people in the world were disgusted by it. He is only sorry his racism was criticized.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.