Israel has recently been under intense criticism on the world stage. Some of it, like the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (BDS) campaign, is a campus movement to destroy Israel masquerading as a political critique. But a lot of it is also driven by Israel’s desire to destroy itself – thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s steady elimination of any possibility that Israel will separate itself from the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Netanyahu is a man who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never crossing it, always teasing you (“I’m coming your way – I’m going to make a decision”), only to remain right where he is, balancing between all his rivals, so that he alone survives. Meanwhile, Israel sinks ever deeper into a de facto binational state controlled by Jewish extremists.
Soon, this newspaper will have to call Netanyahu what he’s made himself into: “Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine.”
I raise this now because Israel under Netanyahu has gone from bad to worse. He just forced out Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. Yaalon, a former army chief of staff, is a very decent man – a soldier’s soldier, determined to preserve the Israeli army as a people’s army that aspires to the highest standards of integrity in the middle of a very dangerous neighborhood.
Netanyahu plans to replace Yaalon with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman, who boasts he could not care less what American Jews think about how Israel is behaving and a man whom, Haaretz reported, was only recently dismissed by Bibi’s team as “a petty prattler,” unfit to be even a military analyst, and whose closest brush with a real battle was dodging a “tennis ball.”
Lieberman, when he has not been under investigation for corruption, has mused about blowing up Egypt’s Aswan Dam, denounced Israelis who want Israel to get out of the West Bank as traitors and praised an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, who fatally shot a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head as he was lying on the ground awaiting medical attention.
Describing Netanyahu’s dumping of Yaalon for Lieberman, Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea wrote, “Instead of presenting to the world a more moderate government ahead of the diplomatic battles to come in the fall, Netanyahu is presenting the most radical government to ever exist in Israeli history.”
Yaalon himself warned, “Extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.” Former Labor Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “What has happened is a hostile takeover of the Israeli government by dangerous elements.” Former Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens wrote in Haaretz that Bibi and his far-right cronies “insulted not only Yaalon, they insulted the IDF 1 / 8Israeli army 3 / 8. It’s a people’s army.”
This whole episode started March 24 when Azaria, a medic, was caught on video shooting the wounded Palestinian. He was one of two Palestinians armed with knives who had stabbed an Israeli soldier, lightly wounding him. Azaria just decided on his own to kill him.
Yaalon and the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, reacted swiftly, saying this is not how the Israeli army behaves. Azaria was charged with manslaughter and inappropriate military conduct. At first Netanyahu, too, said the killing violated the army’s values, but when his settler base came out in favor of the killing, Netanyahu shifted, urging the court to take a balanced view of what happened. Lieberman actually went to the court to show support for Azaria.
All of this deeply troubled Yaalon and the army leadership, and it erupted on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day when the army’s deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, speaking to the nation, said, “It’s scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here.” Yes, you read that right.
Netanyahu slammed Golan, but Yaalon, in an address to the army’s top generals, said, “Keep acting in accordance with your humane conscience and moral compass, and not according to which way the winds are blowing.”
So Netanyahu, who only acts the way the wind blows, purged Yaalon. With that move, said the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal, we are witnessing “Israel’s ruling party being transformed from a hawkish nationalist party that used to have a humanitarian and democratic base, into an ultranationalist party that is now defined by turning against the ‘enemies’ from within – the courts, the NGOs, the education system, the Arab minority and now, the army – anyone who stands in the way of their project of permanent occupation of the West Bank. Having failed to deliver a solution for the enemies on the outside, so now Likud is focused on the enemies inside. This is a major transformation in Israel and should be looked upon with great concern.” The army’s leadership, added Halbertal, “is trying to transcend this war of all against all and impose moral order on chaos rather than inflame it for narrow political gains.”
Netanyahu does just the opposite. For those of us who care about Israel’s future, this is a dark hour.