Israel’s genocidal political culture

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes part in an annual memorial service in Israel’s parliament for Rehavam Ze’evi, a slain minister who advocated the expulsion of Palestinians, 13 October 2015.

Amir Cohen Reuters

On 11 October 1994, Israeli lawmaker Rehavam Ze’evi and his wife Yael sent a brief letter to Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara congratulating the couple on the birth of their son Avner.

Netanyahu was at the time the head of the Likud Party and the leader of Israel’s official opposition.

“Dear Sara and Bibi,” the letter begins. “Many Jewish children and the transfer of the Arabs are the answer to the demographic problem. Mazel tov!”

The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz found the letter in the archives of Ze’evi, who was also known as “Gandhi.”

But the late general espoused anything but the peaceful politics with which his namesake is associated.

Lived and died by the sword

Ze’evi was a founder of Moledet, an Israeli party espousing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians – euphemistically known as transfer – in order to maintain Israel as a Jewish state.

It also emerged last year that Ze’evi was a serial rapist, a cold-blooded killer and an associate of organized crime.

Ze’evi died as he lived. He was assassinated by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 2001, while serving as tourism minister, in order to avenge Israel’s killing of that group’s leader, Abu Ali Mustafa, 40 days earlier.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, a group of lawmakers representing Palestinian citizens of Israel in Israel’s parliament, commented on the letter, noting that Ze’evi is “the man whose legacy Netanyahu does not want you to forget.”

Odeh might have been referring to the fact that Netanyahu, along with much of Israel’s ruling establishment, still honors Ze’evi as a national hero.

Since 2010, Israel’s education ministry has required public schools to dedicate one day a year to honor Ze’evi. But the adulation is not universal. This year, the principals of Tel Aviv’s schools defied the order.

Netanyahu’s incitement

Haaretz notes that while it found Ze’evi’s letter in his estate archives, “unfortunately the collection does not contain Netanyahu’s response.”

But there’s little reason to think Netanyahu would have objected to Ze’evi’s violent anti-Palestinian views.

This week marks the anniversary of the 4 November 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, an Israeli Jewish extremist who opposed the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Rabin’s widow Leah blamed Netanyahu for his role in inciting the murder of her husband.

This week Peace Now tweeted out notorious video footage of the hate rallies preceding Rabin’s murder, in which the prime minister is called a Nazi and a traitor.

Netanyahu can be seen in glimpses of the video.

Rabin’s killing paved the way for Netanyahu to win power, becoming prime minister in an election the following year.

In a tweet, Eli Valley, the American Jewish cartoonist, suggested that the video of “Netanyahu at rallies comparing Rabin to a Nazi/calling for his murder should be shown in every Hebrew/Jewish day school on earth.”

Valley might have meant that as a challenge to how normalized the culture of violence and ethno-racial hatred embodied by the likes of Ze’evi and Netanyahu has become in Israel and among its supporters around the world.

Myth of peace

Today, Israeli politicians and public figures who espouse expulsion of the Palestinians to deal with the so-called “demographic threat” are increasingly confident and their ideas enjoy considerable public support.

The kinds of rallies inciting Rabin’s murder are commonplace in Israel, though the cry is more typically “death to the Arabs.”

As for Rabin, he is still lionized as a man who gave his life for peace by the so-called international community and what still passes for an Israeli left.

The myth has taken hold that had Rabin not died, the “peace process” would have stayed on the rails and ended in a two-state solution.

But as Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister and negotiator, told Democracy Now more than a decade ago, this is wishful thinking.

Ben-Ami called Oslo “an exercise in make-believe” whose ambiguities allowed the parties to clinch a deal in the short term, but only stored up for the future the irreconcilable differences that would and did bring the whole thing apart.

For one thing, the Oslo accords failed to make any mention of Palestinian self-determination. This suited Rabin, who according to Ben-Ami, was only willing to consider granting the Palestinians a “state-minus.”

“He never thought this will end in a full-fledged Palestinian state,” Ben-Ami said.

In other words, Rabin’s ultimate goal was little different from that of Netanyahu, the current prime minister still accused of helping put his predecessor in his grave: to unload the political burden of ruling over the Palestinians, while maintaining real, permanent control of their land and their lives.

“Force, might and beatings” … and ethnic cleansing

For Palestinians, Rabin will always be remembered as the officer who oversaw the 1948 ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of people from Lydda and Ramle.

And he will be remembered as the defense minister who tried to put down the first intifada, which began 30 years ago next month, with “force, might and beatings.”

The video images of Israeli soldiers deliberately breaking the bones of young Palestinians on Rabin’s orders are an indelible reminder of that time.

There are no heroes in Israel’s genocidal political culture.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.