Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jeffrey Goldberg gets Beinertized

I had to check what blog I was on this morning as it sunk in that Jeffrey Goldberg seems to have fully internalized Peter Beinert's fears regarding the rightward drift of Israeli society:

I've had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I'm speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees:The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim -- Jews from Arab countries, mainly -- whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister and leader of the "Israel is Our Home" party.

This (apparently unconscious, i.e., unacknowledged) Beinertization of Goldblog extends to fears about the likely reaction of American Jewry (my emphasis):

Let's just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister Lieberman's government (don't laugh, it's not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let's say that Lieberman's government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won't be voting in Israel. What happens then? Do the courts come to the rescue? I hope so. Do the Israeli people come to the rescue? I'm not entirely sure. There are many Israelis who value democracy, but they might not possess the strength to fight. Does American Jewry come to the rescue? Well, most of American Jewry would be so disgusted by Israel's abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment. 

Now, this is not a gotcha.  After Beinert published his Jeremiad, Goldberg posted an exhaustive three-part dialogue between himself and Beinert in which he acknowledged that there was a good deal of truth in Beinert's portrayal of the current state of Israeli politics and sociology.  But he maintained persistently that Beinert's emphasis was wrong, that Israel's rightward turn was mainly a political response to Palestinian betrayals of the peace process and the depredations of Hamas and Hezbollah, and that the antidemocratic, theocratic and racist elements in Israeli society were not dominant:
But I'm asking you something else: Are Israel's failings, in fact, so terrible, especially given the line-up of enemies Israel is facing? I'm asking you to confront reality, not your Utopian vision of what a Jewish country should be. The reality is that there are organizations and countries trying to physically eliminate the Jewish state. Even with this existential problem, Israel still manages to be the freest and most democratic state in the Middle East, and one that even grants its Muslim citizens the right to build minarets and wear burqas, unlike many countries in Europe. Again, I'm asking about proportionality. Another way of asking this is, what has changed for you? Except for the appointment of a very unpleasant and right-wing foreign minister, very little (the settlements, etc.) is actually that different than it was five or ten years ago, except that Israel removed its settlements from Gaza and got rockets in return. So what has changed for you, except the adoption of the apartheid narrative by the far-left? (Part 2).

Beinert's response outlines in political terms precisely the "swaths of Israeli society" that Goldberg worries about today:

But what has changed since his last stint in office is the coalition around Netanyahu. Because they have been bribed by housing and other subsidies, Shas and the Ashkenazi haredi parties are now invested in the settlement project as well. That wasn't the case in the 1990s. Nor had Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu emerged as Israel's third largest party. So what is new politically is the emergence of a coalition of three parties (three of Israel's five largest): Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud, all basically devoted to foreclosing a Palestinian state and with a pretty fundamental disregard for democratic values. I genuinely believe that the more impossible a Palestinian state becomes, the more mainstream ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians--and perhaps Israeli Arabs--will become.
Goldberg is a first-class Jewish worrier.  Going forward, will his "worry" emphasis shift from external to internal threats to Israel's existence?

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