Last week, the Jerusalem Post published an Op-Ed in which the author, who proudly announces his affiliation to the Betar Revisionist Zionist Movement, criticizes the protest by All That’s Left (an anti-occupation collective I am a member of) that interrupted Naftali Bennett at the Masa Israel closing event. In the piece with the wonderfully condescending title, “Think before you act”, the author uses a set hackneyed tropes to argue why Jews should not criticize, fails to say a single word about Naftali Bennett’s authoritarian and racist policies, and focuses nearly entirely on the medium of the protest. But perhaps the absence of substantive critique should be expected from someone who professes his love for Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
The author’s first reason why Jews should not criticize Israel is that they benefit from Israeli industries. “When Jewish people across the world benefit from Israeli technology, medicine, agriculture, and education,” he writes, “and then attempt to side with policies of people who are determined to seek Israel’s destruction, it is very hypocritical and unfortunate.” This is a common claim used to portray any dissent or critical discussion of Israeli policies as betrayal of the Zionist project. It ignores the diversity of opinion in the Jewish community and enforces rigid party line of unthinking support. It also strangely assumes that you cannot benefit from a country’s industries and also criticize its policies. It seems unqualified, without any mention of either the politics of the protesters or of Naftali Bennett’s annexation plan – both of which were mentioned in the piece I wrote for the Times of Israel. While he cites the article I wrote, it does not appear that he actually read it.
Naftali Bennett has outlined clearly, and countless times in both the American and Israeli press, his plan to annex Area C in the West Bank. If enacted, Bennett’s “Stability Plan” would turn the West Bank into a series of isolated Palestinian bantustans (something the author, being a South African, might know something about) with minimal autonomy. Anyone who has ever looked at a map knows that Bennett’s plan is in effect a one-state solution – and a deeply unjust one. The author wrongly equates protesting Bennett’s plan with trying to destroy Israel when the protesters who interrupted Bennett’s speech (Diaspora Jews deeply involved in Israel) were acting in the interest of making Israel a more democratic place. The argument against Bennett’s annexation plan is anything but an attempt to bring an end to the Jewish state.
The author’s second reason why Jews shouldn’t criticize Israel is that they should focus on the human rights abuses being carried out in other countries. “I fail to understand why these people feel it is important to demonstrate against a democratic state like Israel,” he writes, “than against the mass human rights violations that occur in other parts of the world.” There are two faulty assumptions here. The first is that Israel is a democratic state. There are more than 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. From 1948 until 1966, Arabs living within Israel lived under military occupation. And while Arabs living west of the Green Line can now vote in Israeli elections, the rest of the Arab populations that live under Israeli rule are completely disenfranchised. The second is that Jews unfairly single out Israel when they should worry about other countries. No country other than Israel claims to represent me as a Jew on the world stage. When Israel articulates its policies as in the interests of the Jewish people, it perpetrates human rights abuses in my name. I am therefore obligated to speak out, to protest, and to criticize. Failing to do so is to shirk my obligation as a Jew.
Based on his ideological affiliation, the author likely supports Bennett’s annexation and systematic discrimination against Palestinians. There is not a single sentence in the Op-Ed that mentions Nafali Benett’s policies. The author isn’t interested in beginning any kind of debate about his politics. Instead, his critique of the protest is steeped in the authoritarianism that characterizes the movement to which he belongs.
The Betar movement was founded by Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky, best known for insisting on an exclusivist Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. Jabotinsky was an admirer of dictator Benito Mussolini and even created a Jewish naval academy under the auspices of the Italian fascist regime. The Betar movement’s territorial-maximalist fight song, “Two banks has the Jordan: This is ours and that is as well”, can still be heard at right-wing gatherings today in Israel. The fans of Betar Yerushalayim, a soccer team which takes its name from the movement, are known for their violently racist behavior. After the team hired two Muslim players, the fans attempted to burn down the team headquarters. None of this seems to bother the author of the article, who signs off with “Tel Chai” – another one of Betar’s battle cries.
It is unsurprising, then, that he devotes most of his article to criticizing the interruption itself for being impolite. “If one believes in generating discussion,” he remarks, “one should engage with it in a proper manner and should adopt the appropriate methods to get their opinion across.” This is typical of those who, like Jabotinsky, advocate a colonialist Zionism. He demands that the oppressed and their allies resist only in a manner approved by the oppressors. Chauvinistically he writes, “to express different opinions is deeply important…but it needs to be done in the correct manner.” He requests that dissent be carried out politely, so that it does not endanger the power structures that exclusively benefit him as a Jew. In contrast to the urgency of the Palestinian people who have lived for decades under oppressive military rule, he has no interest in ending the occupation. The status quo benefits him, and he wants it to stay that way. In his attempt to delegitimate forms of dissent or protest that do not conform to the standards of the ruling caste, he reveals his role in actualizing the Revisionist Zionist vision. Jabotinsky, who the author quotes admiringly twice, wrote in The Iron Wall:
Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs.
The author of the Op-Ed in the Jerusalem Post is committed to a vision of Israel built on colonial domination – a vision of a state that does not afford non-Jews the same rights as Jews. His criticism of the protest is less of an attempt to challenge dissent and more of an attempt to silent it. His article is more proof of the inextricable link between Zionism and racism. I’ve tried to argue for a long time that Zionism need not be an ideology premised upon injustice. But after reading his article, I’m worried I may be wrong.