Once again, the extreme religious right in Israel demonstrates its never-ending racism, violence and inhumanity towards the Palestinian people. Once again, the current Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrates that it is the direct political expression of the madness of religious extremism, which considers settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank an existential issue, and promotes criminal practices, the essence of which is the expulsion of Palestinians from their cities and towns and depriving them of their basic rights as a policy that serves Greater Israel.
The attacks on the Jenin camp and the ongoing settlement expansion practices are not surprising. Israeli police’s attacks on worshippers and those in seclusion in Al-Aqsa Mosque and their expulsion in order for groups of religious extremists to storm it was nothing but a crime that is repeated annually during the holy month of Ramadan and outside of Ramadan as well.
The killings in Jenin, settlement expansion and the attacks around Al-Aqsa are the reality of the organic alliance between the extreme religious right and the Netanyahu government. Continued settlement and the persecution of Palestinians are unquestionable, just as the “judicial reforms” (or the revolution as the right calls it) demonstrates the agreement of the two parties to give priority to the Jewishness of Israel over the liberal democratic nature of the political system that was established in 1948. It maintained a balance between the legislative, executive and judicial powers, and guaranteed Jewish citizens (not Arabs in the areas occupied in 1948) basic rights and freedoms.
While many Jewish citizens who fear that Israel is being hijacked by the extreme religious right have expressed their rejection of the “judicial reforms” through which the Netanyahu government is trying to abolish the independence of the judiciary, they did not show the same interest in condemning the racism and violence of the right-wing towards Palestinians and the government’s involvement in ignoring settler crimes (in Huwara, for example) or enabling them (the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque, for example). The citizens of Israel who protest in defence of democracy, the balance between powers, the rule of law, and in rejection of a state dominated by the religious right, those who gather in the squares and streets to protest against the policies and decisions of the Netanyahu government, do so in defence of their basic rights and freedoms, which they never seriously pressured the government to guarantee for the Palestinians within the borders of the areas occupied in 1948, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which have been occupied since 1967, or the Gaza Strip, which Israel has besieged. Instead, they are supporting democracy and the rule of law in the squares and streets of Tel Aviv is support for the rights and freedoms that the Jewish citizens have always enjoyed and that the Palestinians have always been denied.
It is the support of liberal values that the Netanyahu government is trying to get rid of so that the right-wing can do what they like regarding the Jewishness of the state and the oppression of Palestinians. It is also so Netanyahu can remain in power without repeated prosecution. In this contradiction between a desperate defence of liberal democracy inside Israel and an acceptance of racism, violence and persecution towards the Palestinian people who have long been left to the crimes of settlement, displacement and siege, lies the existential weakness of secularist, liberal and the progressive left-wing groups which protest against the “judicial reforms” of Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, and their allies and do not object to the crimes committed against the Palestinians.
Therefore, as soon as some rockets were launched towards Israel from southern Lebanon a few weeks ago, Netanyahu ordered the Israeli army to attack Gaza. The military attack on Gaza to ward off the “danger” of the Palestinian factions generally represents a meeting point between right-wing supporters and Netanyahu and his democratic and secular opponents. At the present moment, and after weeks of intense polarisation due to the “judicial reforms”, an optimal strategy is emerging to restore some societal consensus and salvage some of the popularity of the current government. Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and their allies are taking advantage of the democratic, secular and progressive left-wing that combines the audacity of defending the balance of powers and the rule of law and support for the attack on Gaza and the use of excessive force against it. It also combines the concern for the rights and freedoms of Jewish citizens and the acceptance of the complete abolition of the rights and freedoms of Palestinians inside the 1948 borders and in Jerusalem and the West Bank, where they are legally and politically marginalised in the former, and facing settlers and the crimes of expulsion and displacement in the latter.
In other words, as long as Israeli society, with its secularists, progressives and protectors of liberal democracy on the one hand, and its extreme religious right, settler groups and the traditional right-wing elite that are willing to join forces with the devil to stay in power on the other, accepts the continuation of the occupation, settlement, siege and the abolition of rights and freedoms of Palestinians, the right-wing will continue to rise and its efforts to push for the Jewishness of Israel and the crisis of liberal democratic institutions and the rule of law will continue.
Accepting occupation, settlement, assaults and storming of Al-Aqsa as normal matters creates a societal and political environment ready to accommodate extremist ideology and its various consequences. This includes abolishing the independence of the judiciary to changing school and university education systems, the exclusion of secular and progressive Jews and adopting apartheid as the sole policy towards all Palestinians whether inside the 1948 borders or in the territories occupied in 1967.
This article appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 4 July 2023
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.