Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has created a culture of fear throughout his tenure. Benjamin Netanyahu relies on the false narrative that he is the only hope for the survival of the Jewish state, and by extension, the Jewish people. He has propagated this myth to maintain domestic and international support. He requires unrest to stay in power, and he’ll do nearly anything to ensure that happens.
When former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was close to securing an agreement with the Palestinians (albeit a dubious one), Netanyahu branded him a traitor, telling Israelis that their leader was putting their interests and survival in jeopardy. When Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, it was one of Netanyahu’s supporters, Yigal Amir, who pulled the trigger.
When rockets are fired into Israel, Netanyahu declares that Palestinians want all Israelis dead. This most recent escalation of violence—perpetrated overwhelmingly by Israeli forces—is a calculated move in Netanyahu’s never-ending political game. Facing unrest at home and a loosening grip on power, it is his desperate attempt to maintain control of the far-right coalition that has kept him in power since 2009.
With each escalation, Netanyahu’s coalition solidifies and opposition shrinks. Seasoned politicians know military engagement is a surefire way to score political points, and to turn critical eyes outward. In Israeli politics, there’s no one more seasoned than the current prime minister.
With Israelis distracted by the onslaught, one that appears to be over with the announcement of ceasefire on May 20, Netanyahu’s corruption charges fade into the background. His motives are purely self-serving, and everyday Israelis and Palestinians suffer the consequences. Netanyahu claims to have the best interests of Israel and the Jewish people in his heart, but the policies and actions of his government make life more dangerous for Jews in Israel and abroad.
There is an old anti-Semitic trope that the discrimination Jews face is the natural consequence of their own actions. Too often have we seen anti-Semites ask “why else would they have been run out of every country they’ve lived in?” That is, obviously, absurd. While bigotry is never justifiable, the actions of Israel’s far-right do encourage anti-Semitism and put Jews at risk. We first witnessed this in 2000, when Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount sparked violence that led to the deaths of 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians.
The Gaza War of 2009, also known as Operation Cast Lead (or in the Muslim world as the Gaza Massacre), precipitated a response of anti-Semitic violence throughout the globe, and particularly in Europe. Car bombings, attacks on synagogues and vandalism of Jewish property occurred in Belgium, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom in direct response to Israel’s aggression. Reprisal attacks also followed the 2014 conflict. In what the Times of Israel called “the worst wave of antisemitic violence in Europe since the Holocaust,” a dozen synagogues were burned and violent assaults on members of the Jewish community ran rampant.
These attacks and anti-Semitic rhetoric are not isolated to Europe. Just this past week in Toronto, flags with Swastikas were spotted at a Palestinian solidarity rally at Nathan Phillips Square, with some attendees yelling “death to the Jews” and “we will finish what Hitler started.” The Toronto Police Service has reported a 43 percent increase in anti-Semitic crimes, and Hasbara Canada’s executive director says online hate against Jewish people is the worst it has ever been.
Too often, the Israeli government insists that its disdain for international law and disregard for human rights are done in the name of the Jewish people. The Netanyahu government—and many others before it—have made a concerted effort over the years to synonymize its policies of apartheid, expansion, and forced displacement with the desires of all Israelis and Jews around the world. What’s more, Netanyahu and his coalition partners have spread the dangerous notion that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism.
While it is undeniable that anti-Zionism can veer into anti-Semitism, the two are not interchangeable. There has been a disturbing trend over the last several decades to label any criticism of the Israeli government as anti-Semitic. But speaking up against the oppression of an entire people and opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory is not anti-Semitic. Numerous Western Jewish organizations including If Not Now and Independent Jewish Voices openly criticize the Israeli government and its use of apartheid and forced displacement to divide the Palestinian people and weaken their solidarity and resistance.
Jews who defend Palestinian rights are often labelled as “self-hating,” a disgusting charge that seeks to further invalidate and discredit any opposition to what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza. It is critical that Jewish voices of opposition continue to speak out against the atrocities being carried out in their names by a government and prime minister that have only their own self-interest in mind.
As it stands, Israel is a racist, apartheid state that confers rights on Jews that it denies Palestinians, and its international support is deteriorating rapidly. As long as the Israeli state continues its repetitive violations of international law, that support will ultimately disappear, putting Jews in Israel and around the world in increased danger.
Rodger Moran is a veteran political and labour organizer in Canada, Founding Member of the Democratic Socialists of Canada, and Co-Host of the political podcast New Left Radio, Follow him on Twitter @itsrodgermoran.
Max Chorney is a grad student in History at Concordia University in Montreal, part-time journalist at Scapegoat Media, Founding Member of the Democratic Socialists of Canada and a musician. Follow him on Twitter @b_chorney.