The N.Y. Times-owned International Herald Tribune has a very disturbing, must-read op-ed piece today by Yossi Alpher, “Who Rules Israel?”. If you’ve been feeling out of sorts lately about what feels like a mounting assault on beleaguered Israeli peace and human rights advocates by an ever-more influential far right, Alpher makes the case, in a pretty authoritative way, that it’s probably worse than you think.
The Obama administration’s problems with Israel go beyond the construction of another few hundred housing units in East Jerusalem. More ominously, the ruling coalition in Israel reflects a reshaping of Israeli society that has fortified right-wing designs on the West Bank and strengthened resistance to a peace agreement. To be sure, this is not the first time Israel is dealing with a right-religious-settler-Russian coalition pushing a reactionary agenda. The difference is that this political alignment could be dominant in Israel for some time to come. … … The Israeli right perceives an international onslaught against its bastions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It has resolved never to permit a repeat of the withdrawal from Gaza. Hence it is attacking its critics and beefing up its grip on the instruments of power. And this reaction further amplifies Israel’s international isolation, creating a vicious circle. The most blatant aspect of this right-wing campaign is its focus on the Israeli civil-society groups that monitor government actions and decisions. A bill that has already passed a preliminary vote in the Parliament would require all Israeli NGOs that receive support from foreign governments to publicly declare themselves “foreign agents” if they seek to “influence public opinion or … any governmental authority regarding … domestic or foreign policy.”
Coincidentally or not, Alpher’s Thursday IHT piece comes one day after a parallel op-ed piece written by Tel Aviv University political scientist Martin Sherman and published on Ynet, the hugely trafficked Web site of Israel’s largest-circulation daily Yediot Ahronot, titled “Who Really Runs Israel?” (the link is to the English translation at Ynetnews.com). He argues that Israeli leaders repeatedly make disastrous decisions, like Oslo and the Gaza disengagement, because the country’s real rulers are a permanent, semi-invisible elite of lawyers, journalists and academics whose true goal is to ingratiate themselves with the politically correct Western intelligentsia at the expense of Israel’s security and survival.
Sherman is a member of the editorial board of Nativ, a pro-settler academic bimonthly published by the Ariel Center for Policy Research. He’s also a visiting professor of Israel Studies this year at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, courtesy of a grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, according to the HUC Web site.
… one of the most astonishing aspects of the Israeli political system is of ostensibly “hawkish” politicians adopting, once in power, “dovish” policies they previously repudiated. After all, these policies have consistently and continuously proved disastrous failures. So if the most dramatic political initiatives over the last two decades cannot be attributed to international pressure, or to the far-sighted wisdom of Israeli leaders, or the preferences of the Israeli electorate, what can it be ascribed to? The answer is to be found more in Israel’s sociological structure than its political mechanisms. More specifically, it lies in composition of its civil society elites who control the legal establishment, dominate the mainstream media, and hold the sway in academia (specifically in the social sciences and humanities faculties - where the politically-correct dominates.) These groups comprise an interactive trinity of influence that in effect dominates the socio-political process in Israel, sets the direction of the national agenda at the strategic level and imposes, with great effectiveness, its views on elected politicians and the general public. … For them, the approval of peer groups abroad is far more important in determining their agenda than the approval of Israeli citizens at home. Invitations to deliver keynote speeches at high-profile conventions, sought-after appointments as visiting scholars at prestigious institutes, lucrative grants for research projects are far more forthcoming if one in identified as empathetic to the Palestinian narrative than as committed to the Zionist one.
For more information and illumination, check in with his hosts at HUC.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).