To support Israel, must be like supporting Collingwood in a final these days, watching through the fingers of the hand. ‘Oh f- …don’t do that. What are you thinking?’
Yet, whatever the horrors of the IDF raid on the Gaza flotilla, it has certainly brought a brutal government, indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians, to account.
I speak of course of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt.
The problem for Gaza has never been the closure of the Israel-Gaza border, but the closing of the Egypt-Gaza one, something applied by Mubarak both to keep Israel sweet, and to limit the influence of Hamas in Egypt, which provides direct competition to the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.
By contrast, Mubarak will now be under great public pressure to leave the border open – both the current pedestrian one, and a larger one capable of taking trucks. Should that occur then the Gaza flotilla has won.
The importance of the Gaza-Egypt border goes well beyond letting in dangerous items such as painkiller and roofing materials that the Israelis apply such procedural sadism to. It gives the Palestinians a non-Israeli border and turns the stateless no-zone of Gaza into a quasi-state. Indeed….
….it reverses the relationship between the West Bank and Gaza, since it is the former which remains a sequestered bantustan, as Jerusalem is gradually turned into an Arabfrei themepark.
Yet in defending the flotilla, as one does and must, it would be pretty foolish to give a simplistic account of the events, which appear to be wreathed in bad faith from both sides. Chief among these is a single narrative conspired in both sides, suggesting that Israel is unitary and strong, the Free Gaza, and the entire Palestinian movement, a well-regulated non-violent movement. All of that is nonsense.
If this crazy raid made anything clear, it is – as suggested earlier by the 2006 Lebanon invasion and Cast Lead – that Israel is a country whose leadership is fractured and quasi-hysterical, with many of these provocations (including the Dubai assassination) more likely to be a product of elite disunity in Israel than of any firm or collective sense of purpose of decades earlier.
Zionism has always (minor strands aside) been a chauvinist ideal, but the way that has been expressed has changed across its history. The Labour leadership from 1948 to 1977 asserted Israel’s identity as a Jewish state by the simple act of building it (and simultaneously demolishing most of Arab Palestine). The victory of the post-fascist Likud party in 1977 brought to power a terrorist (Begin), a war criminal (Sharon) and a pro-Nazi war criminal terrorist (Shamir), who simply picked up the policy of 1948 – ethnic cleansing (via housing and settlements) for the creation of a fictional greater Israel. Nevertheless, as brutal as these men were, they were capable of trading and realpolitik, veterans of the 20th century.
Now the country has made its third turn, with the drawing of the Beitenu party into the coalition. With a base of East European Jews, Beitenu has significant control of foreign policy, a manic need to assert a Jewish identity politics, and a shedload of ressentiment at the gross anti-semitism they suffered in the southern former USSR nations – a ressentiment they appear to be dealing with by applying it to Arabs inside and outside the 1967 borders.
That would be bad enough, but Israeli society and politics is becoming increasingly coloured by a specific fundamentalism coming in with immigrants from the US – people fleeing not pogroms in New Jersey, but the anomie of American life, and bringing a cloddish, historically fictional fundamentalist Judaism owing less to Orthodoxy and more to the style of US Christian fundamentalism.
Under this style, your faith does not suffer from being an absurd contradiction with your secular knowledge – the more absurd, the more you feel an achievement of faith by believing it. Under that rule, you can even falsify the present to serve the higher truth of the past.
Take the ‘heritage trail’ that Jerusalem’s lunatic US-born mayor is currently foisting on the city, prompting the demolition of a couple of hundred Palestinian houses. This is effectively a semi-fictional reverse Judaisation of a city that has been polycultural for millennia.
Its object is to take a living city and turn it into a dead thing – its callousness to living Palestiinians, its soft negation of them, has less in common with Sabre and Chatila, or the wall, or security roads, than it does with Disneyworld or Creationist Theme Parks in Kansas. It is a pathetic political narcissism, which must invent a past to enforce a right without acknowleding the suffering or even the real existence of others.
Such hysterical narcissism – hysterical in the sense that every form of opposition no matter how formal or pitiful is taken to threaten one’s whole existence – appears to be spreading to a degree in the army, the secret services and elsewhere. Avigdor Lieberman’s attempt to make it illegal for Israeli Arabs to commemorate the national day as one of mourning for the ‘nabka’/catastrophe is an example of this, as was the soundbites given by one US West Bank settler when asked whether they would leave: ‘where should we go – Auschwitz?’.
Zionism was a eurocentric nationalist (or pseudo-nationalist) politics. This new version is an identity politics, quite a different thing. As an identity politics, it becomes increasingly bound in spectacular, rather than effective action. Everything becomes an imitation of earlier, more effective action. The Dubai assassination, caught on more cameras than any given scene in a James Cameron movie, was an imitation of the post-Munich assassinations of Black September – indeed it was in effect an imitation of the Spielberg version of Munich, Mr Simulacra all over again.
The Gaza flotilla? The Entebbe raid of 1977 redux, when nihilistic post-RAF terrorists had separated Jewish passengers on a hijacked flight, protected by (former Israeli client leader) Idi Amin. The difference? Entebbe was meticulously planned by a unified and purposeful government acting in a situation of utter moral clarity. The flotilla raid was a farce hurridly perpetrated while the country’s prime minster was out of the country, retrospectively justified as a raid on a ‘terror’ fleet, leaving poor old Aussie boy Mark Regev – who now looks about 14 years old, even as his hair thins under the stress – to front the world’s media,and spin like a greased top.
It’s a measure of such spectacular identity politics that it will always sacrifice real benefit for imaginary gain. Had they intercepted the flotilla in daylight and slowly, the militants on the boat favouring direct confrontation would have been over-ruled by the vast majority favouring nonviolence. But whoever authorised the raid – and Regev was evasive about whether this was Netenyahu, which it probably wasn’t – wanted to avoid that one thing: any notion that the encounter might be one of negotiation, of right meets right. To preserve the simultaneous sense of power and victimhood that Israel lives off, an event was required that rendered the other as purely terroriistic and criminal.
The imaginary gratification has been achieved, but the real loss- the final sundering of the Turkey-Israel accord, a cold war relic that would only have survived through careful maintenance – is extraordinarily inept, one with actual strategic consequences for the country.
The pro-Israel right a la Greg Sheridan and the National Review, is already spinning this as somehow Turkey’s fault, which is nuts. Turkish PM Erdogan’s EKP government has its extreme fringe – but that is all the more reason why Erdogan and others were eager to maintain its secular and western connections, ultimately leading to EU membership.
It’s also why Turkish anti-americanism – at least until the Iraq war – was so muted, especially in the country’s metropolitan West. Israel’s actions over the past 5 years have boxed him into a corner. This was an alliance so important that Israel was the only country in the world that officially took the position that there had been no Armenian genocide – even though that event spurred Hitler on to believe that a Holocaust would be achievable, with global acquiescence.
Why would Israel act so crazily? That gets us to the final part of the riddle. Israel’s actions make sense only if much of it is in fact mere reflection and projection of an internal struggle – between the old Likud elite, now swamped by corruption and cynicism – and chauvinist and fundamentalist elements within, relentlessly focused on futile confrontation with the world.
Such futile exercises are premised on the notion that Israel is independent and strong.In fact it is dependency on steroids. Created by a UN partition fostered in a colonial mandate and designed as a continuation of it, its independence fight rendered successful by international recognition, it returns again and again to the western court of opinion to legitimate its acts – and then claims victimisation when it (rather than North Korea) is judged by those standards. Its relations with neighbouring states are in fact with the imposed elites of those states, who may not be there for ever, or even for long ( and it is those states, such as Egypt, and their accommodations as regards the land issue, that must bear a responsibility for the Palestinian predicament). If it is still in a position to be unthreatened by sanctions or a real change in US policy, its vulnerability to those possible actions is that much clearer.
True, there is bad faith on the other side as well. To defend the flotilla does not require a blind insistence that it was all hippies and novelists. There may well have been an Islamist faction aboard, so why deny it, or that they put up resistance to a raiding party in international waters? Or even that they were spoiling for a barney? It was the IDF’s chaotic raid that made such possible – a raid that may have been mounted by the IDF unilaterally, forcing the government into restrospective responsibility for it. Who knows?
Whatever can be said, two things are certain: a victory, at terrible cost, has been achieved, and Israel will fuck up again worse very soon. The collywobbles take a lot of shaking.