By Rupen Savoulian
An under-reported news development from late last year was the election of the new Netanyahu government in Israel. After a brief stint in opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu has re-emerged as Israeli prime minister. Fresh elections were held, and while no single party won a clear majority, Netanyahu’s Likud party has been able to cobble together support from across the ultra-nationalist Right.
The writers at Electronic Intifada have analysed the composition of the new Israeli government and found that Netanyahu, having won another general election – the fifth in four years – has assembled an extremist cabinet of racists and fascists. The coalition government includes the Religious Zionist party whose militants are from the group Jewish Power – an organisation that can accurately be described as an Israeli KKK.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Jewish Power group, is a far-right adherent of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – the founder of an ideological and political trend now known as Kahanism. Kahane advocated the expulsion of all Palestinians from the occupied territories, the building of settlements and the creation of a Jewish-supremacist state. Ben-Gvir is the new minister of national security.
Ben-Gvir’s appointment as national security minister is akin, in the words of the America’s Union for Reform Judaism, to appointing David Duke – former KKK chief – to the position of attorney general. Ben-Gvir is also known to idolise the late Baruch Goldstein, a Kahanist Israeli-American who murdered 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in February 1994.
There is criticism of the new Israeli government from its traditional supporters. Even the Biden administration has expressed its reservations about the appointment of racists and extremists to top positions. However, most of this criticism takes the form of handwringing about the rise of extremism and how Zionism has allegedly ‘lost its purpose’. Yet, the rise of Kahanism is not an aberration or a deviation from the norm. Rather, Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and his fellow fanatics, arise from the logic of Zionism itself.
From the foundation of the Israeli state, Zionism’s supporters portrayed Israel as a socialist project, the showpiece of which was the kibbutz. David Ben Gurion, the senior statesman of Labour Zionism, marketed the new state as one where the Jewish worker would be handsomely rewarded for their labouring efforts.
The collectivist tinge of the kibbutzes encouraged a false portrayal of Zionism as a labour-friendly project. Ali Abunimah points out that numerous European and American volunteers – some with a leftist outlook – worked on kibbutzes during the 1960s and 70s. Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the former EU ambassador to Tel Aviv, wrote glowingly about his time on a ‘socialist’ kibbutz in the 1970s.
Murray Bookchin, the late American social theorist and anarchist, went a long way towards supporting the Zionist state, regurgitating stereotypes of Arabs as backward, prone to violence and motivated by unhinged antisemitism. He helped to cultivate support for the allegedly collectivist project of Zionism.
The kibbutzim, hailed as a ‘socialist’ project, are actually a key part of the colonisation process. They helped to isolate the Palestinians, all the while encouraging foreign volunteers to position these mini-Davids as battling an ostensible Arab Goliath.
The David versus Goliath metaphor, deployed by Zionist activists, is not only a deliberate manipulation of biblical stories to support modern-day political objectives – it also misrepresents the unequal balance of forces between the Tel Aviv government and its Palestinian and Arab opponents. Not only does Israel possess one of the world’s most militarily and technologically advanced armies in the world, it exports its military technology and training to other sympathetic regimes.
The Palestinians are fighting at the most rudimentary level. This is not to suggest that the Israeli military is invincible, but rather to arrive at an accurate portrayal of the Israel-Palestine conflict. We have all seen the stereotype of the Arab terrorist hijacking civilian airplanes, but how many of us realise that the Israeli military has been bombing Arab civilian airports for decades?
It is highly ironic that myths of racial supremacy, highlighting the purported superiority of a ‘pure white European race’, are being deployed by the Israeli ruling circles to isolate and dispossess the Palestinian population. Professor Joseph Massad writes that Zionist advocates, such as Theodor Herzl, fixated on the notion of Jewish people as a distinct race, and thus, requiring the construction of a separate state under the guise of self-determination.
Netanyahu and his political allies have invoked ‘self-determination’ in order to disguise the settler-colonial origins of the Zionist project. Claiming Jewish supremacy over the entire land of biblical Israel, racial myths are currently being used to construct a modernised version of a Davidic kingdom.
If Adolf Eichmann were alive today – and not a murderous antisemite – he would have been quite proud of this new Israeli government.