When I was a little boy, no more than ten years old, I steadfastly refused to go to sleep at night without first putting the theme from the movie Exodus, by Ernest Gold, on the old record player. The soaring chords, the majestic crescendos, the uplifting arpeggios were my introduction to the heroic sense of life, and to the Romantic spirit in the arts. To this day I cannot even think of that music without feeling a catch in my throat. The movie Exodus, of course, was based on the novel by Leon Uris that tells a highly romanticized version of the struggle to establish Israel, starring Paul Newman, and the opening words of Gold’s heroic anthem are likewise burned in my brain:
"This land is mine,
God gave this land to me!"
The untrammeled beauty of the music is sullied, these days, by the reality of what Israel has become and is becoming. For if recent political developments are any indication, that country is on the road to fascism, and worse. Far worse .
Whenever anyone invokes God, or His will, as a rationale for action, the specter of violence and bloodshed looms large. It’s only natural, therefore, that it should loom even larger in that part of the world designated "the Holy Land," most of which is today the nation of Israel. It should also come as no surprise to anyone that Israel is witnessing the rise of a politicized form of fundamentalism, what I have called Israel’s Taliban. Its political expression has been not only the meteoric growth of the Likud party, and of that party’s extreme right wing, which is now grasping for power, but also the development of a "settler" movement of right-wing extremists who are the successors to the outlawed Kach movement founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
If you thought Ariel Sharon was an extremist, take a look at his probable successor a man who, it seems, has already been promised the Prime Minister’s post in the not-so-distant future, if only he will agree to step in and save Sharon’s government from imminent collapse by accepting the Foreign Ministry for the time being.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the frantic maneuvering within the Likud party, only one man stands to benefit, and that is Benjamin Netanyahu. And that means trouble, and plenty of it, for the United States and the region. His prior stint as Prime Minister was marked by a consistent effort to undermine the Oslo agreements in every way possible. The settlements were rapidly and aggressively expanded; a housing complex for Jewish immigrants was built on seized land in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem; and, even more provocatively, a tunnel was dug underneath the Arab section of Old Jerusalem. At the end of the rioting, dozens were dead, and the prospects of a peaceful solution were shattered. When militant right-wingers occupied a house, in a different section of East Jersusalem, Netanyahu’s police stood by and nodded approvingly: it wasn’t long before the IDF was standing guard at the doorway, defending what the militants had won.
This underscores the ideological essence of the man, rooted, many believe, in the mindset of his famous father, Benzion Netanyahu, an Israeli historian. As a 1997 PBS News Hour profile pointed out:
"The elder Netanyahu has written that Israel owes its independence from the British in 1948 not so much to diplomacy but to the armed attacks, sabotage, and bombings carried out by Israel’s underground, called the Irgun."
Which brings us back to Exodus, the movie, wherein a subplot dealt with the internal struggle within the early Zionist movement between the two rival underground organizations fighting for a Jewish state in Israel. In the Uris novel, the Haganah, which practiced a policy of restraint and didn’t attack the Brits, were the good guys, and the Irgun was accurately depicted as a gang of homicidal nut-balls whose terrorism engulfed one-and-all and whose dominance would have proved a disaster for the nascent Israeli state. Paul Newman, in the lead role as Haganah chief, had to fight not only the surrounding Arab states, but also the internal enemies who practiced terrorism and discredited the cause. But the heroic theme of Exodus, the ebullient anthem of American support for Israel, has now been drowned out by the sour note of Netanyahu, who looks to the dark side of Zionism for inspiration.
It is, indeed, to the dark side that Prime Minister Sharon is turning, in desperation and also, it seems, heaving a sigh of relief upon the collapse of the Likud-Labor government of "national unity." What provoked the collapse of the government is often described as a disagreement over the budget, but and this is true, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth. For the particular budget item that provoked the Labor walk-out was about $147 million in subsidies for Jewish settlements. Naturally, the socialist Laborites wouldn’t dream of returning this money back to Israeli (and American!) taxpayers, and give a much-needed shot in the arm to their rapidly sinking economy: Instead, they proposed the money be doled out to pensioners, single-parent families, and students. Uncle Sam would still be picking up the bill and that’s what the push in Congress to get Israel $10 billion more in "aid" is all about.
To Israel’s defenders, I say this: billions for defense, but not one cent for settlements! Isn’t that a principle we can all agree on?
The Israeli budget crisis wasn’t over money, per se, but centered around the question of consolidation versus expansion. The Laborites were saying: let’s take care of the people who are already here. The Likudniks and their ultra-rightist sometime-allies replied: let’s push the boundaries of the nation and American patience by going on the offensive. The Right won the vote, and that’s when Labor walked out, leaving the rightists to quarrel among themselves.
Sharon’s first act was to meet with the representatives of the extremist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which consists of three ultra-nationalist factions: Yisrael Beiteinu, Molodet, and Tkuma, who constitute what I have called Israel’s Taliban. Their political program amounts to the Israeli version of national socialism, a full-fledged fascist movement lacking only the snappy uniforms: the forced transfer of the Palestinians out of the occupied territories, the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the creation of a "Greater Israel" as the dominant regional power.
That this is bad news for the United States, not to mention the peoples of the region, might go without saying: except that Israel’s amen corner in the U.S., which wields such influence in the halls of Congress, is bound and determined to whitewash the dark flower of evil taking root in Israeli soil. One could argue that the growing popularity of Israeli fundamentalism is but a consequence of Palestinian terror, although there are others who claim the roots of the expulsion idea have a long tradition in Zionist thought, and is implicit in the Zionist program itself. But whatever the origins of this noxious growth, the reality is that American aid and support is sustaining it, encouraging it, and enabling it to develop further. We unleashed Sharon, and now we are getting Netanyahu and a growing reaction to American calls for restraint that can only be called anti-Americanism.
Just as the Irgun attacked not only Arabs but also the British, so the hostility of the new Irgun-istas is equally ecumenical, aimed not only at the Arabs but also the Americans. While Sharon is quick to assure Washington that a narrowly-based right-wing government won’t change its foreign policies one iota, this kind of promise cannot be kept: Yisrael Beintenu pulled out of the government when Sharon, under pressure from the Americans, refrained from executing Arafat and annexing the West Bank. What happens the next time the IDF moves into Palestinian territory, and comes under pressure to withdraw? It all depends on whether the Americans come through with their expected invasion of Iraq.
Only Bush can save Sharon, now. Under cover of a regional conflagration, the ultra-nationalist dream of a Greater Israel could be quickly accomplished. While all eyes are on Baghdad, what is happening on the West Bank could be contained to the back pages, a sidebar, at most, to the main event. Pressure on the President to make war is increasing, with hotheads like Charles Krauthammer demanding to know why the President is "going wobbly" while others confidently predict the outbreak of hostilities sometime early next year, or perhaps even sooner.
Why war? Why now? For the answer, forget about oil Iraq’s oil isn’t going anywhere, but the Sharon government may not last out the year. Look to the internal political dynamics of the U.S., and specifically within the President’s own party, where a coalition of Christian fundamentalists and the neoconservative friends of Israel who rationalize a radical policy of expansionism as "self-defense" are beating the war drums for all they’re worth.
The idea of a Jewish state that is also a fascist state is an oxymoron, one that could only exist in the Bizarro World of our post-911 reality, in all its epic ugliness. And yet that is what is evolving, as the Israeli ultra-right mobilizes to seize power. Indeed, the present government has some of the tone of a military junta, with the new defense minister, General Shaul Mofaz, hot off the battlefield of the West Bank, where his ruthless tactics reaped a fresh crop of suicide bombers and the cheers of the right-wing.
Is this is how the dream evoked by the theme song of Exodus is fated to end: as a Yiddish version of the "Horst Wessel Lied"?
Israel is under attack, alright, and not just from Arab suicidal bombers. It is also under attack from the suicidal policies of its increasingly wacky leaders, who have done nothing but kill Palestinian teenagers, make demands on the Bush administration, and actively undermined the fight against Al Qaeda on the diplomatic-political front, as well as covertly.
When will Washington, and the American people, say: "Enough!"?
Postscript to my last column
In my zeal to make a point about the neoconization of the Left, I failed to mention a major counter-example. Alexander Cockburn is a columnist for The Nation who is the exact opposite of David Corn (whose article attacking The American Conservative, and trivializing my own contribution to the first issue, I answered in my column). Cockburn, our sometime columnist and a friend of mine, has steadfastly stood up for the intellectual and political integrity of a left-right alliance against the War Party, and I was remiss not to mention him.
My point, however, is that the social democratic left, of which Corn is an exemplar, is essentially hostile to Cockburns populist, anti-authoritarian brand of leftism. Its no coincidence that the left-social democrats and the neo-Stalinists of the International Action Center/A.N.S.W.E.R. group are hostile each for their own reasons to libertarianism. But I get too many letters from lefties who read me faithfully to believe that either Corn or the Workers World Party represents the rank-and-file of the American Left.