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Israel's Urgent Existential Threat Is From Within

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Israel is facing an "acute" existential threat from reactionary elements within as "a profoundly anti-democratic, even racist, political culture has become endemic among much of the Jewish population in the West Bank, and jeopardizes Israel proper," The New Yorker magazine asserts in its March 12th issue.

"An intensifying conflict of values has put its democratic nature under tremendous stress. When the government speaks daily about the existential threat from Iran, and urges an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, it ignores the existential threat that looms within," the magazine notes.

"The political corrosion begins, of course, with the occupation of the Palestinian territories---the subjugation of Palestinian men, women, and children---that has lasted for 45 years," the magazine's David Remnick writes.  He points out that two former Israeli Prime Ministers---Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert "have both warned of a descent into apartheid, xenophobia, and isolation."

The number of Jewish settlers on the West Bank has spiraled from 12,000 in 1980 to more than 300,000 today. This expansion, Remnick said, has been encouraged and subsidized by both Labor and Likud governments and "has led to a large and established ethnocracy that thinks of itself as a permanent frontier."

One of those settlers is Israel's "wildly xenophobic" Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has "advocated the execution of Arab members of parliament who dare to meet with leaders of Hamas." What's more, Remnick writes, "His McCarthyite allies call for citizens to swear loyalty oaths to the Jewish state; for restrictions on human rights organizations, like the New Israel Fund; and for laws constricting freedom of expression."

These days, emboldened fundamentalists in Israel are displaying "an increasingly aggressive medievalism," Remnick observes.  For example, Dov Lior, who heads a West Bank rabbinical council has called the fanatic who in 1994 machine-gunned 29 Palestinians "holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust."

Lior has also endorsed a book that discussed "when it is right and proper to murder an Arab," Remnick reports, "and he and a group of kindred rabbis issue a proclamation proscribing Jews from selling or renting land to non-Jews."

Such men are scarcely embittered figures on the irrelevant margins of society, Remnick writes. Rather, they are ultra-orthodox supporters indispensable to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition.

Unfortunately, he continues, "poll after poll reveals that many younger Israelis are losing touch with the liberal, democratic principles of the state." And a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 51% of Israelis believe people "should be prohibited from harshly criticizing the State of Israel in public." Netanyahu encourages the notion that any such criticism "is the work of enemies," Remnick adds.

With an attitude towards free speech like that, liberal voices speaking out for a fair deal for Palestinians are liable to be muted.  #

(Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant and director of the Anti-War News Service. )

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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