Zeev Sternhell :Apartheid under the law
In the past, a story was famously told in Israel about a clash between Golda Meir and Justice Minister Haim Tzadok, who disagreed with her in a cabinet meeting. At the end of the meeting, she went over to him and told him she thought they were friends. Yes, he replied, but I’m also the justice minister of Israel.
His words reflected the governmental culture of yore, a culture that current Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and her post-fascist party deem infantile. But the crude violence she propagates is much more dangerous than the primitive vulgarity of Likud’s Miri Regev, David Amsalem or Oren Hazan.
This is all nothing new. What’s new is the way the attorney general is kowtowing to the will of the justice minister and her party. Shaked wanted Avichai Mendelblit from the beginning, apparently because she knew from what cloth the former cabinet secretary was cut regarding issues critical to the government – the occupation, the settlements and Palestinian rights.
And now he’s supplying the goods. How is the heir to Haim Cohen, Aharon Barak and Yitzhak Zamir not embarrassed to revoke his professional opinion concerning the “illegal outposts” – as if the rest were legal – while brazenly sanctioning the minister’s request to steal Palestinian land, both private and public, for the “public need” of the settlers; i.e., to pave roads for Jews only? This is what the rule of law has come to in Israel.
Based on the figures reported by Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth last Friday, an extensive amount of territory is to be expropriated and, for the convenience of the occupiers, construction will be prohibited “only” on some of it. This isn’t the first intolerable act of an apartheid system that receives a legal seal of approval. High Court petitions against the move will surely be filed, but they may not be enough to bring this policy to an enduring halt. Settlement advocates dominate in the government and the army, so there’s no real way to stop it.
So there is no recourse but to call on public opinion, the media and the universities to apply pressure. There is an urgent need for a broad campaign on American and European campuses, and in EU institutions, against this apartheid. The Israeli public is an equally important target, and in the absence of an active opposition party, the social justice organizations must reach this audience.
If a genuine opposition existed in Israel with a worthy leader, it would be shouting from every possible platform that the policy of theft and dispossession is destroying whatever remains of the possibility of separating from the Palestinians via the establishment of a Palestinian state. Who will fight this government? Certainly not someone who thinks that groveling and ideological kowtowing to the right are the recipe for getting elected.
It’s important to stress that there’s a big difference between appealing to groups that, for historical reasons, can’t identify with Labor, and signing on to the right’s crude nationalism. This nationalism is a violent and destructive European phenomenon that has nothing to do with the culture of North African Jewry, any kind of Jewish identity or the Jewish religion. To win the hearts of the people who live in the country’s outskirts, it’s not necessary to support the occupation and settlements, which does nothing to redress social injustice – just the opposite.
Thus a party that wants to replace Likud in power must first convince people that it has an alternative national policy. This goal will not be achieved by making foolish statements about how peace can be reached with the Palestinians without evacuating a single settlement, or by being complicit in turning Judaism into a means of control and oppression of people who had the misfortune not to be born Jews.