February 12, 2009


Israel and the new politics of insecurity: The Israeli elections confirm the death of grand Zionist visions and the rise of new forms of fearful separatism. (Nathalie Rothschild, 2/12/09, Spiked)

Despite various Israeli politicians’ Obama-inspired rhetoric of change , the real shift in Israeli society, which this election has brought to the fore, is the decline of left-wing Zionism, and the prevalence of a politics of insecurity, which inspires defensive patriotism rather than ideological zealotry. The fall of the centre-left Labour party, which came fourth with only 13 seats, and the rise of the right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our Home), which got 15 seats, encapsulate these two defining features: the death of grand-vision Zionism and the rise of a new politics of hiding behind walls. [...]

Avigdor Lieberman’s political language has little of the PC, US-pleasing rhetoric of other Israeli politicians, such as Barak. With his Russian-accented, hard-line, straight-talking approach, Lieberman looks and sounds like change. He has proposed a mandatory loyalty oath to the Jewish state and has said that ‘Arab Knesset members who collaborate with the enemy and meet with Hamas heads should be dealt with sternly’ (6). On the two-state solution, Lieberman has asserted: ‘Israel needs to explain that the demand for a Palestinian state and the refugees’ right of return is a cover for radical Islam’s attempt to destroy the State of Israel.’ (7) By comparison, the heads of the mainstream parties sound like broken records, stuck in the old dichotomies of ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’, and regurgitating worn-out attitudes to the peace process.

However, while ‘Liebermania’ may have upset the intelligentsia and liberal commentariat in Israel and beyond (8), with a closer look it becomes clear that Lieberman’s anti-Arab rhetoric and attitudes to a two-state solution largely mirror the approach of the mainstream parties, not least the centre-left Labour party which initiated the peace talks under Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s. In demanding clear and implacable separation between Israelis and Arabs, even if that means giving up some of Israel’s current land, which Lieberman is prepared to do (in fact, he has said he is prepared to give up his own home), he is actually remaining true to the partitionist, separatist logic of the recent peace talks themselves.

Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, has been portrayed as a collection of right-wing, Arab-hating lunatics, but the rise of Lieberman primarily encapsulates the rise of a new politics of insecurity, rather than a politics of security, in Israel. Lieberman plays into the existential fears of Israelis and seems to present clear solutions to external threats. The fall of Labour, meanwhile, embodies the death of left-wing Zionism. The demise of the party that once had a grand vision for a land of Zion alongside the rise of a right-winger who is willing to give up bits of land if it means permanent separation from the Arabs captures the defining feature of contemporary Israeli society: a post-Zionist desire to batten down the hatches and hide from ‘externalities’.

...just nationalism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2009 9:32 AM
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