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The Best Writing on Israel/Palestine I’ve Seen


I don’t know how many of you subscribe to the New York Review of Books, but let me support Cheryl’s position that the NYRB has improved dramatically in the last couple of years. Hell, I’ve even had friends who have had their book reviewed in it!

Related to this, while most of the coverage of Israel and Gaza is terrible, NYRB has been publishing the astounding analysis of David Shulman, a pro-Palestine Israeli who puts the lie to the idea that Israelis naturally would at least acquiesce to this war if not actually support it. His work has been really great in fighting against settler violence and then telling the world about it. His latest essay really sums up the horrors and evil of Netanyahu and I wanted to excerpt it here.

Reading the news these days is like watching a horror film, with the nontrivial difference that the horror ends when the film is over. For the last fifteen months, since this government was sworn in, we have watched the accelerating disintegration of the state and its institutions. No one, not even the most optimistic of our enemies, could have predicted this swift decline. We have a prime minister whose main talent is to contrive ever more unscrupulous schemes for his own political survival; an army bogged down in the dust and mud of Gaza with no exit strategy and subject to constant attack by Hamas guerrillas; a society hovering on the brink of civil war; a sick economy impoverished by unimaginably vast transfers of citizens’ tax money to the ultrareligious factions and their yeshivas; a civil service that has been gutted by the appointment of political hacks and sycophants in place of professionals; a legal system, once more or less functional, in danger of being destroyed by the minister of (in)justice, Yariv Levin; the once-banned, violent Kahanist extremists, relegitimized by Netanyahu, in the Knesset and high-ranking positions in the government; and in the occupied territories, the marauding gangs of Jewish settlers. This is the short list. I won’t ruin your day with the long one.

Were he not so incompetent, and if he had at least an iota of integrity, Netanyahu could almost be a tragic figure—an intelligent or at least cunning man who sold his soul to the devil. In a sense, he is a sinister accident of history. He had no business being in politics. At first his one credential was being the brother of Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed in the 1976 raid on Entebbe, in which Israeli commandos freed the hostages who had been hijacked to Uganda by Palestinian and German terrorists. In his six terms and more than sixteen years as prime minister, his record is, in a word, abysmal. His singular achievement has been resuscitating the existential threat to the state that had more or less disappeared since the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan decades ago. But he has won several elections with a noxious blend of antidemocratic, racist-supremacist, and ultranationalist populism; it’s clearly a winning formula. Over a million Israelis voted for him in the last election in 2022, enabling him to cobble together the present government of thugs and thieves. At least a quarter of the electorate are “Bibists,” hypnotized by Netanyahu, whom they think of as a king; and they are filled with hatred for the secular liberals they see as a privileged elite.

By now there is no need to rehearse Netanyahu’s failings. They are evident to anyone with eyes. It is, however, relevant to the current debacle to state clearly that he bears responsibility for what has happened, and that he characteristically refuses to acknowledge that responsibility. He fomented profound internal divisions in Israel with his attempt to undermine the supreme court and, in effect, the entire legal system, which provoked mass protests and created the conditions for the Hamas attack—since Hamas correctly noted that Israeli society was unraveling. Netanyahu also chose to ignore urgent warnings from the highest echelons of the army and the security forces that such an attack was imminent.

He is now pursuing a deadly war that probably cannot be won, and there is good reason to think that every decision he makes—including in the negotiations for an agreement to release the Israeli hostages in Gaza—is tainted by his personal interests, namely his survival in power and his ability to evade the criminal charges he is facing. According to recent polls, roughly half the Israeli population thinks he is prolonging the war because of those interests. To make matters worse, he has bonded with Ben-Gvir, whose very presence in the government is the most shameful appointment in the entire history of the state. It is as if the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan had been appointed head of the FBI. But although deposing Netanyahu is a matter of utmost urgency, he is not the only problem we have. We need to look deeper.

If Israel is to survive, physically and spiritually, it needs to undergo, collectively, a sea change in its vision of reality—a change on the order of what the South African apartheid regime experienced, with much bloodshed, as it began to collapse. Israelis will have to face unpleasant though rather obvious facts:

Palestinians are human beings, no different from the Jews or anyone else. (They have a rotten political system, but so do we.)

They are not going anywhere.

There are two national movements in the territory west of the Jordan River, with their own legitimate claims and bloody record of atrocities; the two populations are now equal in size, some seven million each.

Israel cannot suppress Palestinian and other Arab resistance by force alone. (The foundational axiom of the Israeli polity has always been that only brute force works.)

Survival depends on sharing the land between these two peoples.

The settlement project in the West Bank has to end.

The barbarian extremists on both sides, as if colluding together, will, given half a chance, kill us all.

I could not agree more.

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