The Beauty and Blindness of Israel’s Popular Uprising
Our call this week, for paid subscribers, will be at its regular time, Friday at Noon ET.
Given the speed at which things are changing, I have no idea where Israeli politics will be by this Friday. Regardless, we’ll be joined by two of the smartest people I know to discuss the current protests and whether they could contain the seeds of a movement against not just the judicial overhaul but against occupation and apartheid. Our first guest will be Orly Noy, the chair of the board of B’Tselem, an editor at Local Call, and a translator of Farsi poetry into Hebrew. Our second guest will be Mairav Zonszein, a journalist who current serves as senior Israel-Palestine analyst for the International Crisis Group.
As usual, paid subscribers will get the link this Wednesday and the video the following week.
There will be no newsletter next Monday, April 3 and no Zoom call on Friday, April 7.
Sources Cited in this Video
George Bisharat and Jamal Dakwar on the surreality of Israel’s “Fight to Protect Democracy.”
Things to Read
On Mehdi Hasan’s show on MSNBC, I talked about the twentieth anniversary of the Iraq War.
If anti-Zionism is antisemitism, how come Democrats are becoming more critical of Israel yet still overwhelmingly admire Jews?
In The New Republic, Eric Alterman delves deep into the history of The New York Times’ coverage of Israel—and finds that the paper of record has been anything but hostile to the Jewish state.
See you on Friday,
Hi. We were gonna talk to Bill de Blasio this Friday about his argument that progressives should support Israel, but I made a last-minute change because what’s happening in Israel-Palestine is so extraordinary. So, instead on Friday, we’re going to be talking to Orly Noy, who’s the chair of the board of B’Tselem and an extraordinary Israeli journalist, and also Mairav Zonszein, another Israeli journalist who is the at the International Crisis Group in Israel-Palestine to talk about the events that are taking place there.
On Sunday night, as I record this, things are moving very, very fast. I have really no idea where they’re gonna be by Friday, if Benjamin Netanyahu will even remain Prime Minister. It seems at this point that we’re heading towards a breaking point with his government and the massive, massive protests that emerged against him. But I really can’t think of anyone better than Mairav and Orly to try to talk about it. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain my own like profoundly conflicted feelings about this moment. I’ve sometimes felt, especially in the last couple of days, like my head was going to explode from cognitive dissonance watching these protests in Israel.
And it reminded me a little bit of a trip I took to Israel a few years ago. You know, my grandfather, who lived his entire life in South Africa was really never happier than when he was in Tel Aviv, kind of sitting in a cafe, talking politics. And my father also was never happier than he was in Israel. And both of them, I just saw a side of them that came out. And this is something that I think is not that uncommon for a diaspora Jews. There is something about being in a Jewish society when you’re used to being in a mostly non-Jewish society that has a profound impact. Maybe it’s a little bit like, you know, the experience for Black Americans when they go to countries in Africa. And I had to have that experience, too, my entire life. And once a few years ago, I was in Tel Aviv, and was just walking through looking at the street signs that kind of tell the story of Jewish history and listening to and watching Jews from every corner of the world kind of interacting in their kind of crazy ways. And I wrote something kind of rhapsodic about just how powerful it was to be there. And in the midst of it, and a Palestinian friend wrote me a note, and just basically said, ‘listen, you know, I appreciate that this was meaningful for you. But remember, I can’t be there, and all of this is built on what was destroyed for me and my family.’
And it really reminded me of a kind of blindness of mine and also of just this profound ambivalence that I still feel between feeling like a deep connection and sometimes even awe at Israeli society. And yet also realizing that there’s always this other side, which is so often lost and has been so lost in these protests, in this kind of moment of exultation, and even self-congratulation about how extraordinary it is to see all these Israelis fighting for democracy, fighting to prevent Israel from becoming Hungary. And I know that for Palestinians—and I put in the link for just one of many essays, but this one written by my friends Jamal Dakwar and George Bisharat about how surreal it is to hear people say that this country is at risk of losing its democracy, of becoming Hungary, when most of the Palestinians under Israeli control, those in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, have never had democratic rights. For them, it’s far, far worse than Hungary. That for none of the Palestinians under Israeli control, even Israel’s Palestinian citizens, Israel is like a genuine liberal democracy with anything like equal citizenship. And so, in certain kind of bizarre way I think it’s almost worst, more painful to see the lengths that Israeli Jews are willing to go to fight for democracy for themselves given that most of them, and most diaspora Jews, are so profoundly oblivious or dismissive or even hostile to the idea that Palestinians should also have democracy themselves.
So, I feel this profound cognitive dissonance and ambivalence. There’s something so extraordinary to me about the chutzpah that Israeli Jews have shown in these protests. I think it goes far beyond what a lot of Americans would do, just the in-your-face nature of the attacks on Netanyahu. The fact that now all of the unions are going out on strike, and the businesses have agreed to pay the workers to go on strike in this moment. I mean, it’s unimaginable in the United States to see something like this happening. All the universities shutting down. I am deeply inspired. It’s deeply beautiful to me, and yet there’s also kind of a horror to it because if those were Palestinians in the streets of Tel Aviv and Ashkelon and everywhere else and Jerusalem fighting for democracy, fighting against fascism as these Israeli protesters are, they wouldn’t be staying out all night on the streets blocking traffic and setting little fires. They’d be in jail, or they’d be maimed, or they would be dead, right, because this is the reality that Palestinians—and this would be true if they were Palestinian citizens as well. This is the profound difference in the way that the state deals with Israeli Jews who are fighting to maintain democracy for themselves, and Palestinians who are seeking to achieve democracy for themselves.
And so, I guess what I hope, what I dream could come out of this moment, which shows the extraordinary talents of Israeli Jews, the extraordinary passion, the organizational capacity, just the extraordinary quality of that society. And I just imagine what that protest, which filled the streets of Israel of Tel Aviv, filled the streets of 150 Israeli cities at last count on Sunday night, imagine if it were not just a protest of Israeli Jews. If it was a protest of Israeli Jews and Palestinians filled with as many Palestinian flags as there were Israeli flags with a vision of not democracy for Jews, not preventing this from being Hungary for Jews, but democracy for all, ending oppression for all. Not overthrowing Netanyahu so you can bring in Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid—people who use the phrase ‘a state for all its citizens’ as an epithet. Benny Gantz, the good guy, the guy who made all of the Palestinian human rights organizations illegal? No. But a protest that demands a vision of a country that will be equal for everybody and allow freedom and democracy for everybody.
Nothing has given me more hope in what Israeli Jews could be capable of if they saw Palestinians as true and equal partners in a struggle for democracy. If this is what Israeli Jews can do on their own and were able now it seems like just to push back Netanyahu’s egregious, illiberal fascist attempts, imagine what these people could do alongside Palestinians. Imagine what Palestinians and Israeli Jews could do together in a struggle for genuine liberal democracy everywhere, from Gaza to the West Bank to East Jerusalem to Israel proper. It would be the most inspiring thing the world has seen perhaps since the end of apartheid, since the overthrow of the Soviet Empire in 1989. As inspiring as anything we’ve ever seen in Ukraine. But it requires those amazing people on the streets in Israel and in the diaspora—because so many Israeli and diaspora Jews are protesting things now—to broaden their vision, to remember that Palestinians are every bit as talented, every bit as remarkable as they are, as we are, and to realize that what they can achieve on their own is nothing compared to what their society can achieve if it’s a truly shared and fully equal society with historical justice for Palestinians as well. I don’t know if we’re anywhere near that moment or not, but I feel like in a way this has given me a clearer glimpse of the profound beauty of what that moment would look like and that’s what I think about in these strange and kind of convulsive days ahead. Again, we’ll talk about all of this with Orly Noy and Mairav Zonszein on Friday. I hope some of you will join us. Thanks.