Sacrificing Gaza to revive Israel’s Labor party
Smadar Lavie, The Electronic Intifada, 19 January 2009
On 27 December 2008, Israel initiated yet another heinous carnage of the Palestinian people because of its democratically elected Hamas government. It did so with the silent encouragement of the US, the European Union and their Arab subcontractors, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. I have spent the past few weeks talking on Skype with friends in Ashdod, an Israeli town about 30 kilometers north of the Gaza Strip. Several times, they have had to seek safety from the rockets by fleeing to Jerusalem. The background noise to our conversations has been the sophisticated newspeak oozing from the Israeli TV.
How cynical are Israeli politicians that they have chosen to sacrifice the lives of innocent Gazan families to seek political advantage in the elections that will happen on 10 February. Not only has the Israeli regime sent its military machine to commit genocide in Gaza, it has also endangered the lives of its own citizens and soldiers. This, without even once trying to negotiate in good faith with the elected government of the Palestinian people.
Most of Ashdod, like 50 percent of Israel’s citizens, are Mizrahim, the largest of the three groups who constitute the citizenry of the state. Mizrahim means “Easterners, ” in Hebrew. These are Jews whose origin is in the Arab and Muslim World, or in the former-Ottoman margins of Europe. The second-largest group, 30 percent, are the Ashkenazim, Jews of East and Central European origins. They are the ruling elite. The third group, 20 percent, are the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
It is mostly Mizrahim who have been hit by the Hamas missiles. From 1948 on, the self-proclaimed socialist Ashkenazi-Zionist regime purposefully settled them as cannon fodder in the border zones of the state they had carved out of Palestine. The regime planted the Mizrahim in villages from which it had expelled the Palestinians, in order to prevent their inalienable right of return home. Mizrahi communities resented the condescending paternalism of the Ashkenazi hegemon and its pretensions to socialism. No wonder they gave their support to the underdog — the right-wing bloc. In private, the leaders of the right-wing, who are also Ashkenazim, refer to the Mizrahim as “monkeys” and “Indians.” But, recognizing the need to retain Mizrahi loyalty, the Ashkenazi right-wing leaders have invested state funds in a revival of Mizrahi culture. This revival followed several decades during which the left-wing eradicated Mizrahi culture because they conceived of anything Arab as primitive. Cleverly, the right-wing has also provided safe-seats, both in local government and at national level, for a cadre of young Mizrahi politicians whose loyalty was not in doubt.
The left-wing pretends to accept the concept of a land-for-peace settlement but, in practice, perpetually stalls it by launching regional atrocities. The right-wing is more honest. It openly rejects the notion of relinquishing any land.
Paradoxically, just as the Mizrahi majority is engaged in an Arab cultural renaissance, this revival is stripped of anything that involves the politics of the Arab World. So Mizrahim shriek “death to the Arabs” in spontaneous demonstrations, at the same time as they sing Jewish liturgy in their synagogues to the melodies of Egyptian singer Om Kalthoun.
Israel’s “peace camp” is composed of Ashkenazim who can afford to portray themselves in the West as enlightened and progressive because they know they can rely on the Mizrahi demographic majority to protect them from the consequences of their own rhetoric. The hypocrisy of this rhetoric can be seen by noting that it is the leaders of the “peace camp” who started the present Gaza carnage and, before that, the 2006 Lebanon war. Do not forget that the perpetrator of the current atrocity is Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor Party, while the defense minister in 2006 was Amir Peretz, his predecessor in that post.
Their political ancestor was David Ben-Gurion, the orchestrator of the Nakba, the 1948 expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from what became the State of Israel. When the Israeli government collapsed in Summer 2008, polls predicted that in the consequent elections, due on February 10 2009, the Right Wing bloc, led by Bibi Netanyahu, would win 65-70 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Both the US and EU leaderships, as well as the Egyptian and Jordanian regimes, prefer to deal with the centrist bloc of Israeli politics — the bloc comprising Tzipi Livni’s Kadima and Barak’s Labor parties. The polls predicted a devastating failure for this bloc due to its almost complete exclusion of Mizrahi representatives. Kadima is a party founded by Ashkenazi Likudniks who were dismayed at the increasing Mizrahi influence in the party. They were joined by defectors from the sinking ship of the Labor Party whose fortunes Barak is now reviving.
Barak schemed for a vicious war in Gaza, proclaiming it was to protect Mizrahi communities against the Palestinians. Suddenly, the forlorn Mizrahim, for whom the government has repeatedly refused to build adequate shelters, are gaining status as full-fledged Israelis in the Western media that habitually focus on English-speaking Ashkenazim. It is the wailing of Mizrahim hit by rockets, rather than the massacre of Gazans, that is regarded as good copy. The resultant coverage is used to justify Israel’s claims of self-defense. The Ashkenazi regime often sacrifices its second-class citizens to justify its wars.
How benevolent it is of the Israeli European elite to hug the Jews of darker hue whom they imported to Palestine as a demographic shield against the Arab enemy. Now, when border zone Mizrahi lives are fraught with trauma, due to the Hamas-led national struggle, how could these poverty-stricken subordinates not cooperate? Finally, they are getting their 15 minutes of fame on global TV, moreover as the “true Israelis.”
Like all of Israel’s wars, this one will be followed by a post-war boom — an additional benefit for the Ashkenazi-controlle d economy. So, as well as trying to shift the Mizrahi vote from the Right to the Center, another goal of this war is to delay the impact of the global economic crisis on the Israeli economy, whose crux is the military-industrial complex.
If Hamas missiles had fallen on Israel’s central zone, where the Ashkenazi elite lives, the regime would immediately have nuked Iran or, alternately, sat down to negotiate with the Hamas leadership.
The Israeli “peace camp” has always prevented any possibility of dialogue, let alone coalition, between the Mizrahim and the Palestinians or other Arabs in our region. It has done so by criminalizing the Mizrahi leaders of such initiatives. Hizballah missed a window of opportunity for constructive dialogue that opened for a brief period after the 2006 Lebanon War. While the regime had endowed Ashkenazi left-wing kibbutzniks living in northern Israel with well-equipped air-conditioned underground shelters, it had failed to make corresponding provision for the neighboring Mizrahi agricultural cooperatives and development towns. After the war, the Mizrahim in the north publicly acknowledged, and with great bitterness, that they had been sacrificed for Israel’s military adventure. Hizballah could have addressed them over the heads of the Israeli regime. The present Gaza carnage is portrayed to the Israeli public as a corrective measure for the defeat by Hizballah in Summer 2006. As a result, Ehud Barak’s popularity has risen from 12 to 70 percent and any possibility for Mizrahi-Arab dialogue has been slammed shut.
Smadar Lavie is the Hubert H. Humphrey Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Islamic World and the Middle East at Macalester College.