Related to my recent article on the fanatics who support Netanyahu and the Right in Israel, Philip Weiss notes that Labor candidate Yitzhak Herzog did not raise the Palestinian issue in a meaningful way during the election campaign for fear of his life.
Why did Herzog fail? I believe he was afraid of his own people. A week ago I was in Rabin Square for a rally by the Netanyahu forces, and they were terrifying. The people I met in the street said racist and foolish things about Arabs, both Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett made religious statements bordering on lunacy about the Jewish right to the land, and they were preceded on the dais by Daniella Weiss, a settlement leader who has supported “pricetag attacks,” Jewish violence aimed at deterring the Israeli government from uprooting settlers. …
Sam Bahour explained today that Netanyahu had succeeded by cultivating “radical” elements in Israeli society. Those radical elements joined by Netanyahu are the very same mix that incited against Rabin when he spoke of giving up land 20 years ago– and then was assassinated on the site of that rally I attended. The lesson is surely not lost on the leaders of Zionist Camp. Israel is a violent society, and right-wing assassinations have played an important role in its evolution. … Herzog ran scared because he was afraid to take on these elements in his own society.
Israel is not a normal state capable of making rational decisions. The winning coalition was successful not because of rational arguments on negotiating the future, such as the argument on the strategic necessity of controlling the West Bank (as often heard from American politicians), but because of emotional appeals to sacred land promised in the Old Testament. The fanatics are in charge in Israel and there is simply no way for any Israeli government to give up meaningful chunks of the West Bank without provoking a cataclysmic upheaval in which assassinations of leaders would be the least of it. I foresee nothing less than a full-scale civil war if that were to happen — a war in which fanatics would be all too willing to die as martyrs rather than accommodate to the Palestinians or to the demands of the international community. The theme of Jewish martyrdom is part of the Jewish self-image in which martyrdom preferable than, e.g., being forcibly converted to Christianity. I discuss Jewish martyrdom in Chapter 1 of Separation and Its Discontents where I link it to extreme ethnocentrism so characteristic of Jews throughout history.
Many authors have noted the religious fanaticism of the Jews in the ancient world and their willingness to die rather than tolerate offenses to Israel or live under foreign domination. For example, Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian and apologist, stated that
[we face] death on behalf of our laws with a courage which no other nation can equal. (Against Apion, 2:234) And from these laws of ours nothing has had power to deflect us, neither fear of our masters, nor envy of the institutions esteemed by other nations. (Against Apion, 2:271)
Although not all Jews were willing to die rather than betray the law, “story after story reveals that this generalization is true” (Sanders 1992, 42). “No other nation can be shown to have fought so often in defence of its own way of life, and the readiness of Jews to die for their cause is proved by example after A Social Identity Theory of Anti-Semitism 19 example” (Sanders 1992, 239). Jewish political activity against the Romans often included threats of martyrdom if external signs of Roman domination were not removed from Jerusalem and the Temple (Crossan 1991, 103ff). In recent times, the members of the Zionist Stern Gang who fought the British for control of Palestine “conceived of the final battle with the British as an apocalyptic catharsis out of which they could expect only death” (Biale 1982, 101). (Chapter 1 of Separation and Its Discontents, 18ff).
And of course, there’s always the Samson Option. Israel as it has evolved is a problem for the entire world.