The warm relations between Israel and a new crop of anti-democratic leaders are tragic, but they also expose the true nature of Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians.
By Eli Bitan
Only hours after Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil last Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to phone the extreme-right candidate. Netanyahu accepted Bolsonaro’s invitation to Brazil, inviting the president-elect to Jerusalem, after the latter declared his intention to move the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem.
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Bolsonaro is a vulgar and violent man. His aggressive remarks leave no doubt regarding the kind of policies he plans on enacting. He also wholeheartedly supports Israel and its actions, which is hardly a surprise. With Trump, Orban, Modi, Duterte and others, it has become self-evident that far-right leaders will immediately side with Israel, to which the Jewish state responds with a reciprocal warm embrace. There are few who are still embarrassed by this show, but in Israel, Netanyahu has been able to celebrate these victories as if he himself were kingmaker.
The more Israel becomes excited by these leaders, seemingly vestiges of centuries passed, who were elected with the help of Vladimir Putin, the more they feel it necessary to ignore Palestinian suffering and pledge support for continued occupation. The more right-wing commentators spout the main argument of the Right today, the more their opponents understand the extent to which the Israeli government and the occupation need both racism and regressive ideas to exist.
The congruence between the violence and the hate that these officials spread, and their complete, unquestioned support for Israel is astounding. It is doubtful whether there is anything that proves the irrelevance of all kinds of “liberal” justifications for the settlement enterprise and the occupations quite like the support of right-wing authoritarians. The world now sees who vouches for Israel — the only thing left to do is draw a line in the sand.
And yet the Foreign Ministry, the hasbara industry, the Jewish Agency, Birthright — they are all busy figuring out how to market this package deal. Netanyahu, of course, heads this industry, and each appearance on the world stage proves what his rivals have always claimed about him. Yet the occupation has long ago become Israel’s official policy.
This much is clear to all those who oppose this new wave of elected officials, and it is good news for Palestinians and activists who for decades have tried to convince Western leaders that the occupation and the settlements are littler more than theft and dispossession. That there is no connection between the occupation and the Holocaust or Israel’s security. Now it is clear that Israel is acting only to entrench military rule in the occupied territories, that this is the only obstacle to peace and to the end of the conflict. Today dissidents of all stripes are learning this truth, ironically thanks to Israeli funding.
There are people in Israel who believe that before Trump, the United States opposed the occupation. Those who know the details are aware that this is a joke. Trump is not a much bigger supporter of the occupation than Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, and the same goes for the rest of the leaders of the West. Some of them may have supported peace negotiations, while others have not, but backing for Israel’s policies was and remains near total. Israel has always enjoyed being part of the family of nations, economically, politically, or even morally.
Israel’s decision to peg its foreign policy to far-right authoritarians is a poor one, characterizing the paranoid and anxiety-driven era of Benjamin Netanyahu. But it is not the entire story: Trump, Orban, Modi, Duterte, and now Bolsonaro have happily jumped on the bandwagon. They are taking advantage of Israel’s liberal credit around the world in order to bolster themselves. In effect, they end up undercutting that very liberal credit.
The fact that these people are being elected is terrifying, both for their citizens as well as for the world. The same goes for the fact that they choose to support Israeli policies, and that Israel chooses to praise them and offer its support in return. But the Bolsonaros of the world have also left us with a worthy mission. On the day they are tossed into the dustbin of history, the struggle against the occupation, for the end of the conflict, and for peace, can find itself stronger and more stable, with many new partners who for years have gone along with Israel’s every whim.
Opponents of the occupation must now pick up the leftovers. There is no doubt that they must also contend with the new regimes, as awful as they may be, just as they must contend with Israel, the IDF, the Civil Administration, the courts, and the police. But this new crop of leaders has also provided us with a huge liberal camp with which we must form alliances. We must teach it about what is happening on the other side of the Green Line, and then we must fight together.
Eli Bitan is a blogger for Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.