Is­rael’s moral de­cay

Arab News - - OPINION -

IS­RAELI so­ci­ety is con­stantly swerv­ing to the Right and, by do­ing so, the coun­try’s en­tire po­lit­i­cal par­a­digm is re­de­fined reg­u­larly. Is­rael is now “ruled by the most ex­treme right-wing gov­ern­ment in its history” and has grown from be­ing an in­formed as­sess­ment to a dull cliché over the course of only a few years. In fact, that ex­act line was used in May 2015, when Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu formed his thin ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment of like-minded right-wingers, re­li­gious zealots and ul­tra-na­tion­al­ists. The same sen­ti­ment, with al­most the ex­act word­ing, is be­ing in­fused again, as Ne­tanyahu has ex­panded his coali­tion by bring­ing to the fold the ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist, Avig­dor Lieber­man.

As of May 25, Lieber­man has also be­come Is­rael’s de­fense min­is­ter. Con­sid­er­ing Lieber­man’s rowdy and vi­o­lent pol­i­tics as demon­strated in his two terms as for­eign min­is­ter (from 2009 to 2012 and, again, from 2013 to 2015), be­ing a de­fense min­is­ter in Is­rael’s “most ex­treme rightwing gov­ern­ment in history” har­bors all kind of ter­ri­fy­ing prospects.

While many com­men­ta­tors rightly pointed to Lieber­man’s past provo­ca­tions and wild state­ments — for ex­am­ple, his 2015 state­ment threat­en­ing to be­head Pales­tinian cit­i­zens of Is­rael with an axe if they are not fully loyal to Is­rael; ad­vo­cat­ing the eth­nic cleans­ing of Pales­tinian cit­i­zens of Is­rael; his death ul­ti­ma­tum to for­mer Pales­tinian Prime Min­is­ter Is­mail Haniya and so on — his pre­de­ces­sor, Moshe Ya'alon, was spared much blame.

Worse, the for­mer De­fense Min­is­ter Ya’alon was re­garded by some as an ex­am­ple of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and moral­ity. He is “well-re­garded,” wrote Wil­liam Booth in the Washington Post, com­pared to the “po­lar­iz­ing mav­er­ick” Lieber­man. But “well-re­garded” by whom? By Is­raeli so­ci­ety, the ma­jor­ity of whom sup­port the cold-blooded mur­der of Pales­tini­ans?

Is­rael has ad­hered to its own def­i­ni­tion of po­lit­i­cal ter­mi­nol­ogy for a long time. Its early “so­cial­ism” was a blend of com­mu­nal liv­ing, fa­cil­i­tated by mil­i­tary on­slaught and sus­tained by colo­nial­ism. Its cur­rent def­i­ni­tion of “left,” “right” and “cen­ter” are also rel­a­tive, only unique to Is­rael it­self.

Thanks to Lieber­man who is con­stantly ral­ly­ing the roughly one mil­lion Is­raeli Rus­sian Jews around his ever-vi­o­lent po­lit­i­cal agenda — Ya’alon is now an ex­am­ple of level-head­ed­ness and moral­ity. In­deed, the quote that has been re­pro­duced nu­mer­ous times in the me­dia is that of Ya’alon stat­ing the rea­son be­hind his res­ig­na­tion is that he has lost con­fi­dence in “Ne­tanyahu’s decision- mak­ing and mo­rals.”

Mo­rals? Let’s ex­am­ine the ev­i­dence. Ya’alon took part in every ma­jor Is­raeli war since 1973, and his name was later as­so­ci­ated with the most atro­cious of Is­raeli wars and mas­sacres, first in Le­banon and, later, in Gaza.

His “moral­ity” never dis­suaded him from or­der­ing some of the most un­speak­able war crimes car­ried out against civil­ians, nei­ther in Qana, Le­banon (1996) nor in Shu­jaya, Gaza (2014). Ya’alon re­fused to co­op­er­ate with any in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­ducted by the UN or any other mon­i­tor­ing group into his vi­o­lent con­duct. In 2005, he was sued in a US court by the sur­vivors of the Qana mas­sacre in which hun­dreds of civil­ians and UN peace­keep­ers were killed and wounded in Is­raeli mil­i­tary strikes in Le­banon. In that case, nei­ther Is­raeli nor Amer­i­can moral­ity pre­vailed, and jus­tice is yet to be de­liv­ered. Ya’alon, who re­ceived mil­i­tary train­ing early in his ca­reer at the Bri­tish Army’s Cam­ber­ley Staff Col­lege, con­tin­ued to rise in rank within the army un­til 2002 when he was ap­pointed Chief of Staff of the Is­raeli De­fense Forces. He was in that post for nearly three years, as a re­sult of which he ordered the as­sas­si­na­tion of hun­dreds of Pales­tini­ans and over­saw var­i­ous mas­sacres that were car­ried out by the Is­raeli army dur­ing the Sec­ond In­tifada. His post was ter­mi­nated by then De­fense Min­is­ter Shaul Mo­faz in 2005. In this case, too, it was im­moral­ity, not moral­ity, that played a role in the conflict be­tween him and his su­pe­ri­ors. Ya’alon was — and re­mains — an ar­dent ad­vo­cate for the il­le­gal colo­nial­iza­tion of Pales­tinian land. In 2005, he ve­he­mently re­jected the so-called re­de­ploy­ment from the Gaza Strip, in which a few thou­sands il­le­gal set­tlers were re­lo­cated to Jewish colonies in the West Bank. His war crimes caught up with him in New Zealand in 2006 — over the as­sas­si­na­tion of a Ha­mas com­man­der, Saleh She­hade, to­gether with 14 mem­bers of his fam­ily and other civil­ians. An ar­rest or­der was is­sued but re­voked later, un­der heavy po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, al­low­ing Ya’alon to es­cape the coun­try. He re­turned to the helm of the army in 2013, just in time to carry out the dev­as­tat­ing war on Gaza in 2014, which killed 2,257 Pales­tini­ans in 51 days. The UN mon­i­tor­ing group, OCHA, es­ti­mated that over 70 per­cent of those killed were civil­ians, in­clud­ing 563 chil­dren. The de­struc­tion of Shu­jaya, in par­tic­u­lar, was a cal­cu­lated strat­egy de­vised by Ya’alon him­self. In a July 2013 meet­ing with UN Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral Ban-Ki-Moon, Ya’alon in­formed the UN chief that he would bomb the en­tire neigh­bor­hood in case of war. He did. In May 2015, he was still un­re­pen­tant. Speak­ing at a con­fer­ence in Jerusalem, he threat­ened to kill civil­ians in case of an­other war on Le­banon. “We are go­ing to hurt Le­banese civil­ians to in­clude kids of the fam­ily,” he said. “We went through a very long deep dis­cus­sion. We did it then, we did it in (the) Gaza Strip, we are go­ing to do it in any round of hos­til­i­ties in the fu­ture,” he said. He also spoke im­plic­itly of drop­ping a nu­clear bomb on Iran. He re­peat­edly gave the Is­raeli army the green light to carry out “shoot to kill” pol­icy against Pales­tini­ans to fight rising “ten­sion” in the Oc­cu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries. These are the words of Ya’alon dur­ing a visit to a mil­i­tary base in Gush Etzion in Novem­ber 2014: “It must be clear that any­one who comes to kill Jews must be elim­i­nated. Any ter­ror­ist who raises a gun, knife or rock, tries to run over or oth­er­wise at­tack Jews, must be put to death.” Hun­dreds of Pales­tini­ans have been killed in re­cent months in Oc­cu­pied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Many of those killed are stone-throw­ing chil­dren who are fac­ing Is­raeli army ve­hi­cles along with thou­sands of trig­ger-happy Jewish set­tlers. In his first pub­lic re­marks since his res­ig­na­tion, Ya'alon ac­cused a “vo­cal mi­nor­ity” in Is­rael of tar­get­ing the coun­try’s “ba­sic val­ues,” stat­ing that the coun­try’s “moral com­pass” has been lost. The odd thing is that many Is­raelis agree with Ya’alon. They see the man who has been ac­cused of car­ry­ing out war crimes for most of his ca­reer as an ex­am­ple of moral­ity and ba­sic val­ues. While Lieber­man has demon­strated to be a loose can­non and a po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity, Ya’alon has openly spo­ken of tar­get­ing chil­dren and re­peat­edly lived up to his prom­ises. When the likes of Ya’alon, a man with a blood-stained record be­comes the face of moral­ity in Is­rael, one can un­der­stand why the fu­ture of that coun­try brings lit­tle hope, es­pe­cially now that Lieber­man has brought his Is­rael Our Home Party to Ne­tanyahu’s ter­ri­fy­ing nest of po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

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