Is the Coming Israeli Election Existential?

Is the Coming Israeli Election Existential?

I tend to push back against apocalyptic predictions.  Maybe because few of them ever come true.  So I think Israel will probably survive even if – as seems more likely than not – Bibi Netanyahu wins on March 17 and forms an ultra-right government to succeed the far-right government he broke up, after the hard-right government that preceded it (I think we’re running out of adjectives, but that’s a minor problem).

But I just read an article that made me at least briefly question that comfortable assumption.  It was from Ha’aretz, of course, but not by Gideon Levy or Amira Hass.  Rather, it was a long interview with that unaffected, undetected, well-connected warrior, former Prime and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The less-interesting part was that Barak sees himself as a possible Charles de Gaulle, whom the nation will summon from retirement to save it at a desperate moment.  That actually fits his image; Barak has never suffered from low self-esteem.  No, it is his description of his apparently habitual 6am chats with Bibi and Avigdor Lieberman during the 2009-13 government when Bibi was PM, Barak was Defense Minister, and Lieberman was, then as now, Foreign Minister.  

Back then, Lieberman played the somewhat buffoonish loose cannon who went around the world irritating friends and potential friends, before he started sounding like a born-again center-right moderate.  But it was Bibi and Barak who called the shots in that government and the shot they really wanted to call was an attack on Iran, which they both asserted (and Bibi still does) was the ultimate existential threat for Israel.

Barak, as a logical man, recognized that if Iran was clearly the most important issue, then even the Palestinian issue must be less important.  He (says he) passionately pointed out that if they Israel really wanted to bomb Iran, then they had to cut a deal with the Palestinians, which he seemed to find quite doable (as did and do I).  The world will only cut us some slack on Iran, he was saying, if we are willing to compromise with the Palestinians.

Bibi didn’t get it.  Or, according to Barak, maybe he did get it, but couldn’t swallow it.  He could not recognize that the world would not forget about the Palestinians, that in this day and age an occupation can’t go on forever, that Israel will eventually be regarded as South Africa.  This is what Barak – no bleeding heart dove he – says he sees now, and maybe he even told Bibi some of it then.  But Bibi – as most of the world sees now – couldn’t move on the Palestinians.  So – and this is the silver lining of his passivity – Israel never got a pass to attack Iran.  And now, it probably never will and – horror of horrors – it seems pretty likely that Iran and the West will reach an accommodation.

Remember, this is according to Ehud Barak, who likes to think of himself as the toughest Israeli of all, the (allegedly) most decorated soldier in Israeli history.  It is not Uri Avneri or Avraham Burg or some other peacenik.  This is what he says:  “The default goes like this: We will do nothing and we will wrap ourselves in our self-justification and we will find ourselves on the slippery slope of one state.”

I guess it’s at that point when the People of Israel call on Barak to save them.

Several things ring true to me in this long interview (not the previous sentence, though).  Bibi can understand the danger of not settling with the Palestinians but he can’t bring himself to do it.  Maybe it is the lessons he imbibed from his late father, who saw both history and the future as an endless and unstoppable series of persecutions of the Jews.  No compromise is possible.  Or maybe it’s just a character flaw; unable to close a deal.  Just keeping options open.  Or maybe it’s the ghosts of Revisionists past who warn him never to surrender any part of the Land of Israel.

The other part that rings true to me is Barak’s prophecy of the slippery slope.  Despite what the professional anti-anti-semites say, Israel built up a lot of credit among a lot of people.  Remember when Israel was David, not Goliath?  And Israel is truly amazing in many ways – at least I think so.  It has not been treated like South Africa or North Korea or Putin’s Russia, because it is fundamentally different from them.

But that may change.  An ultra-right government, in which Bibi accepts the ideology of Naftali Bennett and Danny Danon, in which his contempt for the rest of the world grows clearer, in which it perhaps is revealed even to John Kerry that Bibi will never sign a peace that any Palestinian could live with, may actually lead Israel into pariah status.  Maybe it could happen there.

So I’m thinking that this election is well along on the importance scale.  Herzog and Livni are not passionate battlers for peace.  But they, I believe, do recognize the real dangers of another rightwing government.  And with Meretz – and perhaps even the ‘Arab’ parties and others, perhaps they can avert, as the liturgy has it, the evil decree.

So despite all our cynicism, I think it’s essential that we do what we can to support the anti-Bibi forces.  I’ll support Meretz; you take your pick.  But the election could well be existential.  Go ask Ehud; I think he’ll know…

By | 2015-01-09T00:38:00-05:00 January 9th, 2015|Blog|7 Comments


  1. Mirel January 9, 2015 at 8:08 am - Reply

    “Is the Coming Israeli Election Existential?” the answer seems to be :NO. Israel will be not in a a situation that is existential for Israel; not to sign an accord with PA it’s not existential and the danger that Israel will be a pariah between nation is the very unpleasant, but in fact is what the Jews were for 2000 years excepting about 20-30 years after a Holocaust and a war of 6 days. Jews, a Pariah nation in Israel, a Pariah country. Also judging on the fact that after so many years then the last Jew left Gaza, the social media and (even) the mass media is full with claims that Gaza is occupied by Israel, a return to 67 (48) borders will not satisfy the world public opinion and Israel will still be Pariah and still in a war (from difficult positions!) against Palestinians.
    …Maybe I didn’t understand the question in the true context: “
    Is the Coming Israeli Election Existential?” Maybe the author thinks that we have make peace with the Palestinians in order to attack in Iran, as Barak suggested. So indeed , the election are existential…before the attack…

  2. Warren January 9, 2015 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    I find it fascinating that so much of the world is concentrated on the Israel/Palestinian conflict almost ignoring the horrendous murders in the name of Islam occurring all over the world. AND you gotta expand your source of information beyond Haaretz.
    Paul, I find your categorizing Netanyahu as “ultra- right” does little to advance the cause of peace. And your “tilt” to Barak ignores that Barak was heavily involved in the Oslo Peace process. The Palestinians were offered some 94% of what they wanted and still they refused. The result was the 2nd Intifada, even after Israel released some 1000 Palestinian terrorists from jail and came to an agreement over Jericho and Gaza. The lesson: One cannot compete in good faith when there is no evidence of good faith by the other side.
    I want you to ponder answers to the following questions:
    Why have the Arab nations and then the Palestinians been offered a muslim state six (yes, 6) times since 1922? Given that Israel is perhaps .1 % of the total Arab land mass, why is it that Israel has to trade land for an elusive peace? Given that non-muslims, Christians and Jews, have been forced out of Muslim lands, what would happen should there be a state of Palestine that initially has Jews and Christians within its borders? Paul, what is the “right” thing for Israel to do? Surrender all of Judea and Samaria? Establish a land corridor (a bridge, a road, a tunnel) connecting Gaza with Judea and Samaria, bi-furcating Israel?
    Where is the discussion of the Islamic aspects of the dispute where Abbas refuses to acknowledge and accept a Jewish state of Israel? Why are they insistent on being given eastern Jerusalem as their capitol? Was any part of Jerusalem ever part of any Muslim state in the region? What do you suppose would happen to the two most holy sites in Judaism and Christianity – The Temple Mount and the Holy Sepulcher. When you look at what is happening in every state where Muslims gain power, what do you find? Freedom of religion? Freedom of speech (Paris?)? What is being required of the Palestinians? Do they continue incitement to violence through the schools, news media and mosques? Do they stop world wide efforts at BDS? Would HAMAS become part of the PA? And what about Iran that supports Hamas and Hezbollah?
    It would be helpful for you to offer viable suggestions.

  3. Paul L. Scham January 10, 2015 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Dear Mirel and Warren,
    While the issues you raise could be addressed at great length, I’ll try to boil down in a few sentences why I fundamentally degree with your facts as well as interpretations.

    I don’t buy the assumption Mirel has that the world has always hated and will hate Jews and Israel. While there of course are forces that do hate Israel’s existence, the vast majority of criticism is directly spawned by Israel’s policies which are unacceptable in this day and age and which harm Israel itself.

    Warren, to say the world is ignoring massacres by Muslims is ridiculous. And on an immediate level they are of course exponentially worse than anything Israel does. But there are at least 2 major reasons for the continuing, if generally soft, pressure on Israel 1) The occupation has lasted 47 years now and is unique in many ways and 2) Israel is rightfully judged by a different standard than terrorist gangs and brutal dictatorships. That is a double standard Israel should celebrate because it is generally and automatically considered part of the enlightened world. It is not politically correct to say that but it’s true. And that club has certain rules that Israel is flouting, and thereby endangering its membership.

    You bring up a host of issues I can’t spend the whole day answering, bu one point that is particularly false is automatically conflating all Arabs and Muslims, past and present, and refusing to acknowledge that groups are very different and change over time. As I’ve written about extensively, of course the Palestinians (NOT the “Muslims”) turned down a Palestinian state till the ’70s. They felt, with some good arguments on their side, that they deserved all of Palestine. They lost and since 1993 (or ’88) their official position has been a 2 state solution, which they’ve endlessly repeated. It is irrelevant that Israel is .1 percent of the Arab world; that is what Palestinians consider home. It is very much like extreme anti-Israel types who say the Israelis all have foreign passports so they can all leave. Both are absurd.

    Again, as I’ve written about many times, the PLO recognized Israel in 1993. It is demeaning for Israel to demand that anyone else define what Israel is or isn’t; that is not how international law works. And it is pointless but for Pals. it means conceding they have always been wrong, just as Israel will not concede Zionists were wrong in coming to Palestine in the 19th and 20th centuries. Both have to accept each others presence; ideologies won’t be recognized by the other side

    Yes, of course I believe that Israel should withdraw from as much of the WB as possible and initiate swaps for the rest. And yes, when Israel blockades GAza along with its ally Egypt then the occupation is not gone (though of course some safeguards have to be put in place before Gaza is open.) And of course, peace will not satisfy Israel’s most hardline enemies but it will take the issue off the front burner for most countries, including most Arab and Muslim countries, who are sick and tired of the Palestinian issue and want it to be settled so they can forget about it and concentrate on their real enemies, mostly Islamist terrorists.

    I do not expect to convince you but these are my answers to your questions. We start with very different assumptions, so we’ll have to live with that.
    Shabbat shalom

  4. Warren January 11, 2015 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    You continually blame the Israeli “ occupation” as the major reason for the continuing conflict I’ve gone through this before and don’t seem to be able to make you understand that this line of thinking is dead wrong. How can a nation be considered an occupier of a land that is its own? How can a people (the Palestinians) claim that Israel has stolen their land when the vast majority are not INDIGENOUS to the land, based on the FACT that their fathers/grandfathers, etc., flooded into the then British Mandate in the 1930s to such an extent that the British could not count them. Arafat’s family came from Egypt. What land did they own so that Israel can be accused of “occupying” their Arab land? If you were familiar with both the Old and New Testament, you would discover that many towns in Samaria and Judea are mentioned many times. Heck, Jesus visited with Jews in many of these towns. Hebron was always considered a Jewish town, not a “settlement”. Schechem, now called Nablus, is where Joseph is buried, and on and on and on. The Ottomans controlled the area until the 1920s. Jews lived in towns in Samaria and Judea during their time and up till 1948 when Jordan invaded and drove out or killed every Jew and destroyed their towns, like those in the Gush Etzion bloc. Paul, I could go on forever, but your mind is made up and FACTS do not seem to mean anything. Yes, the word “settlement” has taken on a pejorative connotation, but people like you, allow this to perpetuate and yes, this does cause anti-Israelism.
    You do know that the word “Palestinian” was adopted by Arafat only in 1964 as the name of the Arabs living in the West bank and in so-called refugee camps in the area. There was never a state of Arab Palestine, no currency, no government, no court system. The point is that if there never was a country or a state, and never any record of the vast number of arabs owning land, then how can it be that Israel is “occupying “their land?
    You said: “they felt, with some good arguments on their side, that they deserved all of Palestine.” Would you mind defining why you make this absurb statement? WHY? Jews have an almost 4,000 year history in the land. These Pals. DO NOT. Jerusalem has been the capitol of the Jewish people for 3,500 (or so) years. Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran, never has been a capitol of any Arab occupier, etc., When Jordan control east Jerusalem, it was not made their capitol, so why do you continue to accept their claim to “all of Palestine” and to eastern Jerusalem? Cannot you see the hypocrisy of this?
    I think you have a hangup over Zionists returning, yes, RETURNING, to the Jewish homeland. If you want to use the word “occupied” , then be fair and consider the Jewish history of invaders driving out Jews over the centuries and occupying Jewish land. Or the 1929 Arab massacre in Hebron forcing Jews to flee? Would this be fair? Study the history of the area, (and include the some 800,000 JEWS driven out pf Arab countries starting in 1948), with most coming to Israel.

    More to follow !!

  5. warren January 11, 2015 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Paul, sorry to do this in two chunks. the following was part of the previous, but kept getting a reject that I exceeded 4096 letters.

    Just one last word regarding Gaza. I am shocked that you accept the anti-Israel charge that Gaza is “occupied” because of the blockade. Do you not realize that Hamas is doing everything it can to import rockets, weapons, cement for tunnel building, etc., as part of its charter and threats to wipe out Israel? Yes, Egypt is participating because they also face a terrorist threat from Gaza and have been destroying houses on their side, houses in which Hamas has built entrances to tunnels enabling terrorists to move from Gaza into the Sinai where Egyptian soldiers have been killed. I am just afraid your negative attitude about Israel is clouding you thinking ability to see the entire picture. Are you aware that Israel provides some 850,000 tons of humanitarian supplies to Gaza per year, their water, their electricity? What other nation in the history of the world has so supplied its sworn enemies in such a manner.
    Please Paul, I know where you are coming from, but, try to grasp the whole picture. And please answer some of the issues I mentioned previously, like what are the Pals giving up to achieve peace?

  6. Warren January 13, 2015 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Paul, here is another example of what Israel faces every day and keep in mind that Hamas is entrenched in the west bank.

    Hamas’ Islamic Block at Al-Quds University has produced a video promoting the murder of Jews. The video is an enactment of the murder of two Jews wearing prayer shawls. One is stabbed to death and the other shot by masked fighters.
    Palestinian Media Watch has documented that Abbas’ PA and Fatah have publicly glorified the murderers who recently slaughtered rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue. Even Abbas’ advisor posted on his Facebook page “pictures from the scene of the heroic operation,” showing the dead bodies.

    The song in the video encourages Palestinians to “open fire, have no mercy,” and “shoot the Zionists!”

    The video opens with the two Jews talking and praying near a model of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. A masked man stabs one of the Jews to death. Other masked fighters appear with rifles and shoot the second Jew. The video ends showing all the masked men kneeling down in prayer:

    Opening text on screen:
    “Islamic Block (Hamas) of Al-Quds University”

    “Load your machine gun and advance, son of proud Jerusalem
    Gird yourself with flames and capture the soldiers
    Open fire, have no mercy, shoot the Zionists!
    Advance with your men, O keffiyeh-masked one!
    The land of the Night Journey [Jerusalem] is our [first] direction of prayer
    Its liberation is our goal
    Palestinian, lead the attack and raise our flag.”

  7. Warren January 15, 2015 at 3:16 am - Reply

    I hope I have not worn you down with all the comments I have made. When you have a chance, would appreciate your response to the issues/questions I raised.

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