There have been several published pieces lately that have given reason to worry about the future of the state of Israel. As someone who believes the biggest threat to Israel is the decay of democracy caused by an unending and ever-expanding occupation and repression of Palestinians, I find it disturbing that Israel is actively pushing itself further into the abyss by encouraging the shift to the right of its entire populace – particularly of the youth in the country. While there are Israeli’s who are able to see past the state’s promotion of hatred and racism towards Arabs, the outlook that indiscriminately and for no other reason for race favors Jews to Arabs is widespread. If there is not a shift away from the racist views that are prevalent in Israel and that are officially represented in the government, Israel’s future will be one of self-ruin.
When the country was formed in 1948, Ben-Gurion’s labor party was the conservative alternative to the parties on the left. Today, the Labor party exists only in name, and party that was created in 1973 to act as a more conservative Labor – Likud – is seen as the liberal cog in the current ruling coalition. Meanwhile, the only relevant party to the left of Likud is Kadima, a party that broke from Likud due to disagreements over the disengagement from Gaza. When a party like Kadima is seen as the left and when a party like Likud is the least conservative in the ruling coalition, it is time to worry. Unfortunately, the shift to the right has only accelerated in recent years.
Importantly, this territory on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum is rather unexplored for a country that was created on the backs of the communist kibbutzim. It is not the right of fiscal responsibility, a limited government, or a fundamental belief in free markets; the far right of racism and unyielding nationalism has evolved into, simply, the popular right. Along with banning any type of commemoration of the Nakba – and thus strictly limiting the freedom of speech of the country’s minority – the current Knesset also passed a bill allowing small towns to prohibit people from moving in on the basis of race or religion – according to Human Rights Watch, these two bills promote discrimination and stifle free expression. Likewise, the most popular politician in Israel is perhaps Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister who lives in a settlement in the West Bank that banned non-Jews and encourages population transfer. Racist rabbis are openly encouraging Jewish people to not rent apartments to Arabs; anti-Arab incidents are continuously rising; and Arab spouses of Israelis are denied the same rights as Jewish spouses. In other words, the shift to the right has been accompanied by an increasingly institutionalization of racism.
Of course, none of this includes the inherent racism and inequality that is ever present in the lives of every Palestinian in the West Bank – who are forced to watch the uninhibited growth of settlements while being unable to build or expand themselves – and the Gaza Strip – who are collectively punished for the sins of Hamas and denied the most basic of goods. In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel rules with an iron fist of racism, where Palestinian lives are meaningless, human dignity does not exist and every law, decision and policy is based on a carefully planned foundation of separation, inequality and dispossession.
But let us forget for a moment about the injustice of the occupation and focus on Israel proper. And let us also call the present a forgettable era defined by immorality and look at tomorrow in hopes of seeing something brighter. Unfortunately, Israel’s tomorrow will likely be led by those determined to continue the occupation and further push Israel into the dark extreme right. In a recent poll, only 43% of 16-29 Jewish Israelis said that all Israeli citizens should have equal opportunities and equal access to state resources. Asked if they would support a peace deal in a national referendum, only 37% of the Jewish youth would support the deal. Of those who are responsible for the current push to the right – the demographic group above 55 – 61% would agree to a peace deal. This discrepancy demonstrates a greater desire of the youth of Israel to deny the rights of Palestinians.
In yet another poll, over 60% of 15-18 year-olds and 21-24 year-olds defined themselves as right-wing in a political system where Kadima is center. Likewise, around 60% of respondents admitted favoring a strong leader over the rule of law and an overwhelming number of youth expressed pessimism that a peace deal could be made and were content with the status quo. This shift to the right among the youth in Israel is not accidental either, it is an artificial social evolution carefully sculpted and by those who are unable to see the tragedies that will befall an Israel that is defined by hatred. When high school students are encouraged to use targets wearing Palestinian keffiyehs and are prohibited from hearing the Palestinian narrative, it is hardly surprising to see a future as bleakly racist as Israel’s.
This attitude that favors repression and racism to justice and equality and is prevalent among young Israeli Jews will have very damaging consequences for the future of Israel. It is this attitude that has prolonged the Occupation and adopted the laws threatening Israeli democracy. It is this attitude that will eventually bring down the state of Israel. Last year, marking Israel’s birth and the Palestinian Nakba, Bradley Burston wrote a compelling request to save the state of Israel from the jaws of the permanent occupation of Palestine being pushed by the right:
What will permanent occupation mean for Israel? Not only that the nation will cease to be a democratic state, disenfranchising millions of Palestinians. In the end, permanent Occupation will see to it that Israel will cease to be a Jewish state as well. Israel will have delegitimized itself out of existence.
It will have knowingly opted for and adopted apartheid, and, in the end, either through democracy or through fire, and, thanks to the Occupation, the world community will see to it that an Arab-ruled Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River will finally come into existence.
Permanent occupation, in other words, means the end of the state of Israel. Avoiding permanent occupation, and perhaps saving Israel, requires a forward-thinking leadership that can see Palestinians as equals. It requires looking at the occupation not through the lens of nationalism or religion and seeing Palestinians not as targets, but as equals with the same basic rights as anyone. By entrenching the occupation and relegating Palestinians to second class citizens, the current generation of leaders has only demonstrated that the ability to view life in this way is firmly to their left on the political spectrum. Unfortunately, there are very clear and troubling signs that the next generation of Israeli leaders has not learned anything from the failures of today.
Photo from Electric Intifada