It would appear that a part of the “old normal” has finally returned. Unfortunately, it is not the part where we all go about living our lives, being real families and neighbourhoods and communities and societies again instead of a pack of pathetic cowards so terrified by relentless media propaganda about a viral bogeyman that we willingly surrender all of this, along with the basic rights and freedoms of our friends and neighbours, and meekly accept massive government overreach in the hopes that the state, by preventing us from living our lives, might save them. No, instead it is the part where Jews and Arabs are killing each other in the Middle East and the newsmedia is obsessing about this again.
Even though Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and the Arab nations are a continent and an ocean removed from us, it has long seemed that we in North America are for some reason required to pick a side in this conflict. This is most likely a result of our unhealthy dependence on the new communications technology that, as Marshall McLuhan could see as far back as 1962, have turned the world into one big “global village”. It makes everybody’s business our own even when it ought not to be and it would be for the best of all involved if it were not. Consequently, everybody you speak to seems to believe either that Israel has the right to do whatever she wants and therefore is and always has been perfectly justified in everything she has done in her conflict with the Palestinians and her Arab neighbours or that Palestinian terrorists are all warm and fuzzy, cuddly innocents whose sole desire is to live in peace except the Big Bad Israel keeps huffing and puffing and blowing their houses down. Both positions are, of course, utterly ridiculous.
While some make the argument that the Israeli-Arab conflict goes back to Genesis, to the rivalries between Isaac and Ishmael and later between Jacob and Esau, there seems to be more of reading current events into the text of Scripture in this than sound exegesis. The personal and bitter rivalry between Jacob and Esau, while resolved upon the former’s return from Padan-aram, foreshadowed the later conflict between the post-Exodus Israelites and the Edomites. What was left of the Edomites were forcibly converted to Second Temple Judaism in the Maccabean period. Anyone descended from Esau today is far more likely to be a Jew than an Arab. The Arabs are traditionally regarded as having descended from Ishmael and there is simply no support in the Scriptures for the idea of a perpetual conflict between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael that would outlast that between Jacob and Esau and extend to the present day.
In actuality, the roots of the Israeli-Arab conflict can be found in the so-called Enlightenment in the early period of the Modern Age. Advocates of the “Enlightenment” characterize it as a revolt against superstition and embrace of reason but it was nothing of the sort. In actuality, it was the birth of a new superstition – a superstitious confidence in human ability to understand and explain the world through his own rational powers and to use that understanding to re-fashion the world into a Paradise of his own making. What was embraced in the “Enlightenment” was not reason but rationalism, which is itself fundamentally superstitious. Closely related to rationalism as a child of the “Enlightenment” was its twin superstition of scientism.
No, I have not forgotten my topic. The reason the “Enlightenment” was the source of the Israeli-Arab conflict is because of the influence of its pernicious superstitions, especially scientism, on both Jews and the adherents of the dominant religions of the societies in which Jews lived.
Between the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Jews, adherents of the religion Judaism, lived entirely as a minority religious and ethnic group in the larger civilizations of other people and other religions. For the vast majority of Jews, the civilizations in which they lived were the two that belonged to the other two religions that claim descent from the Abrahamic faith. Christendom was the civilization that was the successor to the old Roman Empire and which has in recent centuries, due to the influence of the “Enlightenment” and modernity in general, degenerated into what we know call Western Civilization. Its dominant religion, obviously, was Christianity. In the civilization of the Turkish or Ottoman Empire, Islam was the dominant religion. The relationship between the Jews and the adherents of the majority religions in these civilizations was marked by tension and often overt hostility that periodically erupted into violence. While historically a large degree of mistrust has been the unfortunate norm between people living in this sort of diaspora and those of the larger societies hosting them, in the case of the Jews in Christendom the nature of the theological and religious disagreement between the two greatly exacerbated the situation. The basic disagreement was one about which there could be no compromise. Either Jesus of Narazeth is the Christ or He was not. You cannot have it both ways. If Christians are right, and we are, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, then to reject Him as such is the ultimate rejection of God. If Jews are right, and they are not, that Jesus of Nazareth was not the Christ, then we who accept Him as such commit blasphemy. There is no middle ground here.
Those of a progressive bent, that is to say true believers in the “Enlightenment” superstitions of rationalism and scientism, who have all of the “Enlightenment”’s prejudices against orthodox religion, its authoritative texts and interpretive traditions of the same, would be inclined to seize upon everything I have just said as vindicating their cause. The traditional religious beliefs of Jews and Christians, they would say, caused the historical enmity between the two groups, so if you get rid of these and replace them with reason and science, the enmity will vanish and the two will finally establish peace and get along. History, however, tells a different story.
By the nineteenth century, while former Christendom remained churchgoing for the most part, faith in the teachings and beliefs of orthodox Christianity was in serious decline. Similarly, the spread of “Enlightenment” superstition had broken the virtually absolute authority that the Talmud and its rabbinic interpreters had held over Jewish communities since the destruction of the Second Temple. While many of the new non-believing “Christians” and secular “Jews” were willing to take a more liberal, in the better sense of open-minded and generous, attitude towards the other, many others sought new “rational” and “scientific” arguments to support their dislike of the other. Inevitably, those seeking such arguments turned to a concept then prominent in the biological and anthropological sciences, that of race, that is to say, groups distinguishable within mankind by shared characteristics passed down from common ancestral stock. When this concept is used to explain the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, however, it becomes an argument that they are natural enemies, biologically predetermined to hate each other, neither of which can ever trust the other, and who are incapable of peacefully co-existing within the same territory and under the same government. Clearly this kind of argument carried with it the potential for generating a conflict between Jews and Gentiles that would be far greater and more destructive than the old conflict between Jews and Christians over religious doctrine ever had been. Indeed, with the development of these arguments came a tide of publications purporting to document the undesirable and inferior racial traits of either Jews or Gentiles depending upon who was doing the writing and publishing.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century two new political movements arose, Zionism and anti-Semitism. Counter-intuitive as this will no doubt seem to those only familiar with the post-World War II usage of these terms, these movements were often allies rather than enemies, sharing many of the same ideas and even in some cases the same members. The goal of the Zionist movement was to establish a sovereign Jewish nation-state in a Jewish homeland. The goal of the anti-Semitic movement was to free Gentile countries from Jewish influence. It hardly takes a genius to see how these two ends coincide. At their best, both movements wished to avoid the ugly outcome to which the racialization of Jewish-Gentile conflict was leading. At their worst they were expressions of that very racialization. While pre-Zionist discussions had taken place earlier in the century, the Dreyfus Affair of 1894 was the immediate motivation that turned the discussion into active organization. Alfred Dreyfus, a Captain in the French artillery, had been accused of treason. He was arrested, convicted, and sent to Devil’s Island. The question of his guilt or innocence became a matter of hot dispute. There was evidence pointing to another officer named Esterhazy as having committed the crime but those who had convicted Dreyfus were reluctant to reverse their decision. Those who were convinced of his innocence long before it was generally acknowledged maintained that he had been railroaded because of his Jewish ancestry. There is little to no evidence that this was the case, although prejudices of this nature were incorporated into some of the commentary of those who took the “Dreyfus is guilty” side in the dispute. The advocates of Dreyfus’ innocence who made this accusation of anti-Jewish prejudice against the French military authorities and who would find their prophet in the novelist and playwright Émile Zola, themselves had the ulterior motive of driving from the Third Republic the last vestiges of the old, pre-Revolutionary, Catholic and royalist, regime, whose remaining base of strength was in French military. Whether intended or not, the controversy shaped the next generation of French literature. It is, for example, the single most important event in the historical background of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927), in which it emerges from time to time into the forefront of the main story. It was very early in the controversy that Theodor Herzl and his colleagues seized the opportunity it had created to organize their movement. For a good history of all of this see Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s The Controversy of Zion: Jewish Nationalism, the Jewish State, and the Unresolved Jewish Dilemma, Perseus Books, 1996.
The formation of the Zionist movement, obviously, eventually led to the creation of the modern state of Israel. It would never have been formed apart from the intellectual history starting from the “Enlightenment” summarized above. Apart from the dependence of Zionism upon post-“Enlightenment” thought for most of its ideas, the movement was primarily one among secular Jews and, indeed, was always opposed by the strictest of religious Jews on the grounds that it was an attempt to do what only the Messiah could rightly accomplish. This was why the movement was originally open to other options for the location of the Jewish homeland than the Holy Land and, indeed, when the movement finally settled on Palestine it was more for practical than theological reasons. The timing, however, while right for the ultimate success of the project, was completely off for establishing healthy, peaceful co-existence with their new neighbours.
When the Zionist movement began, Palestine had been part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Jews had always been present as a religious minority in the Ottoman Empire. Their relations with the Muslim majority of that Empire had historically been less marked by mutual animosity than their relations with Christians in Christendom. There are obvious theological and historical reasons why this would be the case. Islam and rabbinic Judaism had not started out together in first century Palestine, late in the Second Temple period, both claiming to be the true heirs of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Sinaitic religion of Moses, but dividing from each other over the crucial question of whether Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised by God through the prophets of ancient Israel or not, with the Christians rightly taking the affirmative and the Jews wrongly taking the negative, but neither being much inclined to a civil "lets agree to disagree" approach. Prior to Zionism, the most tense moment between Jews and Muslims was when Islam was just getting started. Muhammad, having been rejected and ridiculed in his own home town of Mecca, had fled to Yathrib which accepted him, and which he turned into his base of Medina. At the time, he expected that Jews and Christians would be more accepting of his self-proclaimed status as Prophet than the pagans of his home town, which is why the earliest verses in the Koran are generally positive towards the "peoples of the book". He was disillusioned when he discovered that the three most prominent Jewish clans in Yathrib rejected him. He ordered them expelled, and in the case of one of them later chased them down and slaughtered all the males. Apart from this nastiness, however, the relationship between the Jews and Muslims had been historically rather irenic. Another important reason for this, and the one which is most relevant for our purposes, is that the Islamic world for a large part of this period had been under the rule of the Ottoman sultan who had the civil interest of maintaining domestic peace between the Muslim majority and the religious minorities of his empire. When Zionism was born, Sultan Abdul Hamid II was still on the throne. He refrained from giving his support for the Zionist cause on the reasonable grounds that it would divide his empire but the First Aliyah still took place in his reign. In 1909, the revolutionary Young Turks who deposed him embraced the Zionist cause. However, as is often the case with revolutionary movements that overturn long established dynasties, the Young Turks split into rival factions, one of which seized total power over the Empire and formed a one-party state that was short-lived due to its disastrous policies which brought the Empire into the First World War, which led to the Empire being defeated and broken up.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire removed the power that, belligerent as it often had been to its neighbours, especially Christendom, had maintained order, domestic peace, unity and civilization in the region of the Levant for centuries. This created a vacuum. The conquering Allied powers, while they wanted order, peace, and civilization for the region, were unable to fill that vacuum. After the Armistice, the region was temporarily put under military government jointly administered by the British, the French, and the Arab armies that had rebelled against the Turks and fought alongside the Allies, and following the Paris Peace Conference and the formation of Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations, the region was divided, with Britain and France each holding mandates from the League to govern portions of it temporarily as they prepared the peoples of the region for self-government, while the old Arab dynasties that had long been regional powers such as the House of Saud and the House of Hashim consolidated their strength in preparation for independence. This may be beside the point, but I will point out here that the House of Saud proved more successful at this over the long run than the older Hashemite dynasty, successfully bringing more regions, including the Hejaz that had been the original realm of the Hashemites into its kingdom, whereas the House of Hashim began the post-World War I period reigning over several Arab kingdoms, but has long since been reduced to that of Jordan, the others having been turned into strong-man dictatorships that call themselves republics through the pernicious meddling of both the Americans and the Communists. Since the House of Saud began its rise to power centuries ago by forging an alliance with the Wahhabi movement within the Sunni sect of Islam, a movement that could be very roughly said to be the equivalent of the Puritan movement within Protestant Christianity and which is believed by many to be far more prone to waging jihad than other branches of Islam, and retained that alliance ever since, while the Kingdom of Jordan has long been one of the safest, most stable, and peaceful of the Arab countries, this is perhaps not that irrelevant after all. More importantly, however, the presence of the new Arab nationalism that had sparked the rebellion against the Ottomans in the absence of a single, long-established, power over the entire region, ensured that as the Zionist movement set about establishing an independent Jewish state it would meet a hostile reception from its would-be neighbours. The basic idea of Arab nationalism was that Arab peoples in Arab lands should be governed by Arab rulers instead of by others. Initially the target of Arab nationalism was Turkish rule, but free of this after centuries, nationalist Arabs were not about to accept the creation of a state in their own backyard in which Arabs would be governed by Jews.
All of this became Britain’s problem because it was to the United Kingdom that the League mandate to govern Palestine fell. Complicating matters was the fact that the United Kingdom had formally expressed its support to both the Zionist movement and the Arab nationalists during the war and was now expected to try and live up to her commitments to both. In the interwar period the Zionist movement kicked into high gear building the civil infrastructure of what would become the state of Israel. The Haganah, for example, was formed in 1920 to defend the Jewish settlements of the Yishuv against Arab attacks and it became the Israeli Defence Force after 1948. As the Zionists were preparing for statehood they naturally wanted and needed more people and asked the British authorities to open wide the door for massive Jewish immigration to Palestine. Britain, however, recognizing that this would be like striking a flint within a warehouse of gunpowder, slammed the door shut instead. The timing could hardly have been worse as far as ex post facto optics goes. It was the spring of 1939, the eve of the Second World War, a time in which the Jews of Europe, in anticipation of the conquests of Adolf Hitler who preached the most extreme form of anti-Semitism conceivable, were seeking to flee for their lives in droves (although most preferred the United States as a destination over settling in Palestine).
The Zionists in Palestine were understandably perturbed about this. The response of some of them, however, set an example that would come back to bite them decades later. Zionism, it needs to be noted here, was not a monolithic movement. While the goal of establishing a sovereign Jewish homeland was common to them all, Zionism consisted of several factions with radically different ideas as to what the Jewish state should look like, and, in some cases, the means acceptable to achieving it. The mainstream of Zionism in the period of the British Mandate wanted a Western European style liberal democracy, with some wanting American style capitalism, others, who would have been the majority at the time, preferring social democracy or even outright socialism. The revisionist Zionists, however, led by Vladamir or Ze’ev Jabotinksy, a Russian-born Zionist who in addition to being an activist was also a brilliant man of letters, being an accomplished journalist, translator, novelist and poet, wanted to establish Israel as an ethno-state, and to extend its boundaries well beyond what mainstream Zionists wanted, and even beyond the limits of the territory controlled by both kingdoms in the Old Testament. Like the mainstream Zionists, Jabotinsky was furious when the British restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939, but he took it much further, calling for the Jews of Palestine to take up arms against Britain and seize their independence by force. He even had a private army at his disposal with which he made serious plans to put this into practice. His follower Avraham Tehomi, originally a member of the Jerusalem Hagenah, had grown disillusioned with what he saw as that organization’s half-measures to protect the Jewish settlers from Arab violence, and had formed an alternative, underground, paramilitary group that he originally called Hagenah Beta, but soon renamed Irgun Tzeva’i Le’umi (National Military Organzation), more commonly called just the Irgun or “Etzel” (from the acronym IZL) that had far fewer compunctions about the kind of violence to which it was willing to stoop. To put it bluntly, it was a terrorist organization.
When World War II broke out, Jabotinksy, who had been named Supreme Commander of the Irgun in 1937 following a re-organization after half the group had defected back to the Haganah, set aside his plans for an insurgence against the British because he believed that the war against the Nazis took priority. The more extreme among his followers thought differently. Around the time that Jabotinksy died in 1940, Avraham Stern founded a splinter organization that he called the Lohamei Herut Israel (Fighters for Israeli Freedom), which like the parent organization was better known by the acronymic Lehi or simply “the Stern Gang”. The two terrorist groups divided precisely over Jabotinsky’s policy, continued by the Irgun after his death, of prioritizing the war with the Third Reich over the war with independence. Stern of the exact opposite opinion. I mean that quite literally. He insisted that the British were the only real enemy, and in early 1941 sent emissaries to Hitler offering the German dictator his friendship, alliance, and support in his war against the British Commonwealth if he, that is Hitler, would assist in repatriating the Jews to Palestine and support Israeli independence there. In this alliance proposal from the most extreme of Zionists to the most extreme of anti-Semites, the original convergence of these two movements became the ultimate caricature of itself! What, exactly, the German tyrant thought of this, we don’t know. There is no record of any response.
When the war ended, of course, with the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis and the Pyrrhic victory of the British (the real victor was what Evelyn Waugh dubbed “the Modern Age at arms”, which originally looked like the Nazi-Soviet alliance, but ended up being the American-Soviet alliance) the source of the disagreement between the two organizations was eliminated and the Irgun joined the Lehi in waging a war of terror against the British, consisting of high profile assassinations and bombings, that ultimately proved successful when the United Kingdom declared that its mandate had come to an end and handed the matter over to the United Nations, which portioned the land into Israel and Palestine, most of the latter of which ended up being absorbed into the former when the league of Arab nations, most of which had attained their own independence only a few years earlier, teamed up to invade Israel upon her day of independence, and had their arses dramatically handed to them.
The Arab countries were slow to learn the lesson of 1948, which was, of course, that they could not win in a direct war against Israel. They fought against Israel again in the Six-Days War of 1967 – although in this case Israel had begun the hostilities with a pre-emptive airstrike that took out the Egyptian air force – and in 1973 when the Syrian-Egyptian alliance attacked Israel on Yom Kippur. No such war was ever attempted again, probably because the Americans made it clear in the 1973 war that they would intervene on Israel’s behalf should anything of the sort happen again. The Arabs should have been able to guess that things were heading in that direction as far back as 1967, for in the course of the Six-Days War Israel deliberately attacked an American naval research ship, the USS Liberty, and got away with it because the American government refused to conduct a proper inquiry into the incident. See James M. Ennes Jr., Assault on the Liberty, Random House, 1979. Anyone wishing to understand why need look no further than the remarks of Barry M. Goldwater, the long-serving Republican Senator for Arizona, in his second autobiography co-written with Jack Casserly. He said that as an American Senator he “was never put under greater pressure than by the Israeli lobby” and that said lobby “is the most influential crowd in Congress and America by far.” (Goldwater, 1988, p. 21) As he described the pressure, the lobbyists would bring old Jewish friends of his from Arizona to Washington, whenever a vote that somehow affected Israel came up, in order to pressure him to vote in what they saw to be Israel's interest. According to Goldwater, who despite his last name was not Jewish himself (his father was Jewish but he was raised in his mother’s Episcopalian faith), he always firmly told them that he would vote what he believed to be in the interest of America and her constitution, which were the things that he lay awake worrying about at night, rather than Israel’s. Other American Congressmen and Senators have testified to having put under a lot more intense pressure than this by the same lobby, including tactics that most people would call bullying or intimidation. Plenty of examples can be found in They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, Lawrence Hill, 1985, by former Republican Congressman for Illinois, Paul Findley.
Long before the Arab countries learned this lesson, they had learned a different lesson from the experience of the Irgun and Lehi. When, therefore, the initial Arab-Israeli War of 1948 ended in their being routed, most of the territory allotted to the Palestinian Arabs being annexed by Israel, and thousands of Palestinian Arabs being driven into exile, rather than comfortably re-settle the refugees in their own countries, they kept them in miserable refugee camps in order to turn them into embittered radicals willing to wage a proxy war on behalf of the Arab powers conducted by means of terrorism against Israel. In 1964, the Arab League formed the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which would wage just such a war against Israel for decades. The tactic worked for them as it had for the Zionist terrorists in the 1940s. In 1993, Israel signed the American-brokered Oslo Accords with this organization, in which they granted it official recognition and the foundation for establishing the Palestinian Authority was laid.
Before that happened, however, the Israeli government had committed the most boneheaded move in all of its history. The PLO was a secular organization. Its ideology was informed by the secular Arab nationalism discussed earlier. Its commitment to the destruction of Israel, therefore, had no underlying basis in immutable religious dogma, and therefore was open to negotiation, as history bore out when the organization acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. The Israeli government, however, latched on to the idea that the influence of the PLO among Palestinian Arabs could be countered by promoting an Islamic revival among the same. So, after the Yom Kippur War it began supporting and funding the charity that Ahmed Yassin had founded on behalf of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which had already begun a mosque-building campaign throughout the Occupied Territories, especially Gaza. They realized their mistake in 1987, when Sheik Yassin organized the large following he had developed into Hamas, and declared the First Intifada. Hamas’s war against Israel is built upon Islamic doctrine. To weaken a foe that it would soon thereafter negotiate a sort of peace with, Israel had assisted in the creation of a much more enduring enemy.
Had Israel been governed by people who took theology, their own and that of others, seriously they would have been less likely to make this mistake. They would have informed themselves about Islamic theology and perhaps learned that to allow territory that had been part of Dar al-Islam, as all of Palestine including Israel had been under Ottoman rule, to fall under non-Muslim control and leave it that way is completely unacceptable to the orthodox of all Muslim sects. The leadership of Israel, however, like that of the Zionist movement that created her has been hopelessly secular right from the beginning. The only difference from the days of David Ben-Gurion to today, is that Israel has shifted from the left-secularism, committed to liberal democracy and socialism, that was dominant in the three decades that the Labour Party controlled the Knesset to a form of right-secularism in the decades since in which the Knesset has most often been controlled by the Likud. While under almost any other circumstances I would call that an improvement the situation in Israel is far from normal.
The Likud was founded by Menachem Begin who served as the party’s first Prime Minister in Israel. Begin was the unrepentant former terrorist – he led the Irgun in the period in which it joined the Lehi in waging terrorist war against Britain – who as Prime Minister persecuted Christians in Israel, began to institute the “Greater Israel” expansionist policies of his mentor Jabotinsky, and ordered the brutal invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Margaret Thatcher, whose premiership in the United Kingdom began shortly after Begin’s in Israel, told the French president of those days, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with.” When you consider that Captain Airhead’s father, Pierre Trudeau, was the Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada at the time, this was saying a lot. Begin’s successor, both as leader of the Likud and Prime Minister of Israel was Yitzhak Shamir, another unrepentant former terrorist. He was one of the triumvirate who had taken over the leadership of the Lehi after the death of Avraham Stern and who led it in the same period in which Begin led the Irgun and in which most of its crimes and atrocities were committed.
When Shamir was defeated by the Labour Party in 1992 and Yitzhak Rabin returned to the premiership, Shamir resigned the leadership of the Likud which was then taken up by Benjamin Netanyahu. Since Netanyahu is the current leader and the current Prime Minister of Israel I shall postpone saying anything about him until I have discussed the fourth Likud leader and Israeli Prime Minister. This was Ariel Sharon who took over the party leadership in 1999 and became Prime Minister in 2001, resigning the leadership in 2005 to form the Kadima party, shortly before a stroke ended his premiership in 2006. Before entering politics, Sharon had been a career military man. He had served in the Haganah in 1948, rather than the terrorist groups, and had fought with the IDF in all of Israel’s major wars. In his controversial military career he early earned a reputation for slaughtering civilians. The most notorious atrocities associated with his name, however, are from 1982 when he was Begin’s Defence Minister. In that capacity, he had been the mastermind behind the bombing of Beirut and invasion of Lebanon, in which the IDF laid waste to civilian neighbourhoods in the name of taking out PLO based. The biggest atrocity of that conflict was not directly perpetrated by the IDF but the Phalange, a milita of Lebanon’s Maronite Christians, who slaughtered the residents of the Sabra neighbourhood of West Beirut and the refugee camp of Shatila that was located nearby. While the Phalange committed the massacre they had been trained and armed by the IDF, which had surrounded the neighbourhood, allowed the militia in, were fully aware of what they were doing, and prevented the victims from escaping. The Israeli commission that investigated the incident, found Sharon responsible, and insisted that he be removed from office (in 1983 he was shifted to a different portfolio). In his memoir, An American Life, Ronald Reagan, who had been president of the United States when all of this was occurring, gave his impression of Sharon as “a bellicose man who seemed to be chomping at the bit to start a war”. It is very rare, by the way, that Reagan mentions anyone in his autobiography about whom he could not find anything positive to say.
It ought to be observed, at this point, that it took thirty years after Israel achieved independence, before they became so fed up with their neighbours’ refusal to accept their existence, periodic attacks, and constant funding of terrorist harassment against them, that they started electing a party led by terrorists and war criminals because it promised to be ruthless with their enemies. By contrast, the moment the Palestinian Arabs were able to vote for their own government they elected Hamas. If anybody really feels the necessity for picking a side in this ridiculous conflict, that is something to consider.
As leader and Prime Minister Sharon was initially embraced by the hard core support base of the Likud and they remained confident in his leadership as he ordered the IDF to crush the Second Intifida in 2002 and began erecting a spite fence around the West Bank, but by the end of his premiership they regarded him as a traitor for ordering the unilateral disengagement of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and voiced his support for a Palestinian state. What they had apparently overlooked was that unlike Begin and Shamir, he had never been an ideological follower of Jabotinsky. He was a military man, and military men, even ruthless and nasty types like Sharon, tend to be practical.
Which makes it very interesting that the Likud opted to return the leadership to Netanyahu after Sharon resigned. Netanyahu, who had begun his first term as Israeli Prime Minister around the time that Bill Clinton was seeking refuge from the hen-pecking of his harpy and harridan wife Hilary in the mouth of White House intern Monika Lewinsky, was no more of a Revisionist Zionist ideologue than Sharon had been. Too young to have served in either the Haganah or its terrorist rivals – he was born the year after Israel attained independence – Netanyahu had by the time he was thirty, established a reputation for himself as an intellectual expert on anti-terrorism. It was around the same time that he first became involved in diplomacy and politics. What he actually is, if truth be told, is the first real politician to lead the Likud party. His vices are not those of ideological terrorists or hardened military war criminals but the old-fashioned vices of the ordinary politician. Early in his fourth term as Prime Minister – he is now in his fifth – the Israeli police began to investigate charges of corruption against him and in 2019 he was formally indicted for the same.
That he has managed to remain in power seems almost miraculous. Shortly after he has formally charged with corruption, the World Health Organization handed him what must have seemed like a dying man’s reprieve. They declared the Wuhan bat flu to be a pandemic and recommended that the countries of the world prevent its spread by putting into practice Red China’s experimental new universal quarantine, which has since been dubbed “lockdown”. Netanyahu, seizing the opportunity, locked down Israel faster and harder than most if not all other countries. Indeed, he earned himself the dubious distinction of being the world leader who has done the most to suppress Jewish observation, practice, and religious freedom since Adolf Hitler. He imposed the second wave of extreme lockdown right before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah and timed it to extend through Yom Kippur, the festival of Sukkot, and basically all the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. In one bizarre incident that would almost seem to suggest a novel reinterpretation of the Greater Israel concept along the lines of Germany’s arrogant claim to the right to boss Germans around even in other countries, his top health official called up the president of the Ukraine and asked him to close his borders to Jews seeking to make their annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman in Uman. For what it is worth, when angrily confronted about this by non-Israeli Jews who were refused their pilgrimage, Netanyahu later denied being behind this strange act on the part of his health commissar.
If the idea had been to use the lockdown to escape from the bad publicity of the corruption charges it failed. Netanyahu’s popularity began to tank and the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations over the corruption charges grew as their numbers were swelled by the addition of defiant Orthodox Jews who did not take kindly to having their synagogues shut down and their festivals cancelled and by an Israeli government no less. Kudos to them. The Orthodox Jews similarly stood up for their rights against the Governor of New York, holding a non-socially distanced street party where they embraced and burned their masks. I was reminded of this the other week when I watched a news show in which members of the Muslim community here in Winnipeg were being interviewed about the end of Ramadan. They expressed sadness that they could not have the usual big family gatherings but took a “what can you do” attitude towards it and talked about how they had adjusted the celebration to accommodate the fascist health restrictions. I guess they just don’t make Muslims the way they used to. Where were all the fatwas? Sir Salman Rushdie had one pronounced over him for less than this. Somebody owes him a big apology.
Had Israel been a religious Jewish country rather than a secular Jewish country Netanyahu would be long gone by now. As it was, Operation Save My Arse With a Lockdown had proven to be a total failure. As he was faced with the imminent collapse of his government, his fall from power, disgrace, and quite probably a long prison sentence, the fairy godmother of Likud Prime Ministers, Hamas, came to Bibis rescue. From their base in Gaza they resumed their favourite pastime, hurtling primitive rockets at Israel. It is a mostly harmless pastime as far as the Israelis are concerned. On the rare occasion that a rocket makes it past the Iron Dome defence system it can do some damage, depending upon where it lands, but for the most part it is mainly a fireworks display. For the Israelis, however, it is a casus belli, and a goldmine for Likud Prime Ministers because there is nothing more guaranteed to boost their popularity then when they hammer down hard on the Palestinians in retaliation. The most ill-kept secret of the Middle East is that Likud Israeli governments and Hamas each rely upon the other to maintain their popular support among their own people. The Palestinians expect Hamas to keep on harassing Israel. The Israelis expect their government to brutally punish the Palestinians. Each, therefore, provides the other with the excuse to do what they need to do to play to their own crowds. So we come to May of this year. On the sixth the Palestinians hold a protest in East Jerusalem, on the seventh the Israelis crack down and storm the al-Aqsa mosque, on the tenth Hamas issues an ultimatum which Israel naturally ignores and the rockets start flying, on the eleventh the Israeli Air Force begin several days of bombing the hell out of Gaza. On the twentieth, having given their fans the show they were looking for, Netanyahu and Hamas agree to a ceasefire. Bada bing, bada boom, it is all over in a fortnight, mission accomplished, everyone is happy, high fives all around. Too bad about all the people who had to die, but didn’t someone somewhere at sometime say something about an omelet and eggs?
Remind me again why we are expected to pick one side or another in this deranged circus?