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Protesters challenge Netanyahu but are silent on Palestine

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Picture: Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE – Protesters gather outside the Knesset before mass protests in Jerusalem, Israel, this week. Mass demonstrations have been held for 12 weeks in protest against the government’s plans to reform the justice system and limit the power of the Israeli Supreme Court. But the protesters are silent on the rights of Palestinians who are targeted by settler militias, says the writer.

By Iqbal Jassat

“Uncharted territory” is how many mainstream Western media outlets have described the unprecedented political crisis that has engulfed Benjamin Netanyahu’s rabid rightwing regime. Overnight, the protest movement that has been brewing for weeks in opposition to his “judicial reforms”, brought the self-proclaimed Jewish state to its knees. The escalation in protests, which shut down the main airport, harbour, universities, businesses, shopping malls and some ministries, has come as a rude shock to most of the settler-colonial apartheid regime’s allies and hard-core apologists.

The intensity of the crisis saw senior military officials including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant take a public stand against plans for the controversial judicial overhaul. Firing him added fuel to a raging fire. “We’ve never been closer to falling apart. Our national security is at risk, our economy is crumbling, our foreign relations are at their lowest point ever and we don’t know what to say to our children about their future in this country. We have been taken hostage by a bunch of extremists with no brakes and no boundaries,” is how former prime minister Yair Lapid described the crisis.

The “shock and awe” of America’s client-state falling apart, in whom the US has invested billions in arms and funds is reflected in back-to-back media coverage. The Western narrative that internecine civil strife only happens in Syria, Yemen and Libya – not in Israel, patronised as the “only democracy” in the Middle East, has been exposed as a racist construct.

The reality, however, is that Zionism, as the political underpinning and ideological foundation, which led to the dispossession of indigenous Palestinians to pave the way for the creation of Israel, has been disastrous. The irony is that most, if not all, the formations who are at one another’s throats – from protesters to their opponents in the streets and in the government – profess to be Zionists.

The insults thus hurled at each other such as “anarchists” speaks to the huge divide between racist right-wing settlers and the so-called “Left”. Analysts argue that those perceived to be “leftist” opponents of the regime are, in effect, embedded in the status quo.

They have yet to transcend their pro-democracy stance by realising and admitting that democratic values preserved for one ethnic group to the exclusion of Palestinians only is not democracy.

A cursory glance at South Africa’s apartheid-era “democracy” provides a window to what Israeli “democracy” implies – apartheid.

While America’s response to the protests has been largely muted, US President Joe Biden, who has been looking on with alarm, has finally spoken out, albeit timidly. He has asked Netanyahu to pause and seek a compromise.

Notwithstanding the billions of dollars it provides in “aid”, the US rarely uses its leverage for fear of treading on the toes of powerful pro-Zionist lobbies. Having been outboxed by China’s bold initiative to pave the way for Iran and Saudi Arabia to rekindle full diplomatic and economic ties, America’s strategic influence has been severely impaired.

Most of the region, especially the Arab states who have opted to “normalise” ties on the basis of the “Abraham Accords” would be concerned about the result of the turmoil. Their security, which they hinged to Israel’s security, is on a roller-coaster ride.

As America’s influence wanes so too will the gulf sheikdoms have to reassess their “normalisation” and weigh their options with respect to closing ranks with Syria. Turkey faces a similar conundrum. It can no longer bet that ties with Israel guarantees economic and political “protection” while observing the impending disaster unfolding in the Jewish state.

That Palestinian people continue to be killed by settler-militias and by the regime’s armed forces, while protesters on the streets are silent on the crimes, explains that the turmoil faced by Israel is about Israelis against Israelis.

Picture: Mohammed Saber/EPA-EFE – Palestinians attend a protest along the border between Israel in the eastern Gaza Strip, on Thursday, March 13, marking ‘Land Day’, which commemorates 1976 events, when marches and a strike were organised in Arab towns against the Israeli government’s decision to expropriate large tracts of Palestinian-owned land for settlement. The annual event calls for the Palestinian right to return to the land they were displaced from after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Palestinians remain subject to harsh restrictions, military checkpoints, arbitrary arrests, home demolitions and occupation. None of their grievances have featured in the protests, thus rendering them invisible, while their precious lives are on the line. The only recourse they have in defending their lives and properties is to resist the occupation.

By all accounts, as much as the crises facing Israel are unprecedented in scale and numbers, it remains a selfish outpouring of anger directed against Netanyahu’s subjugation of the judiciary. Although he has pressed the pause button, Netanyahu has pushed through part of the bill, which effectively strips the court of the power to declare a prime minister (himself) unfit for office.

Though he denies any wrongdoing, it is known that Netanyahu is determined to push the “reforms” through due to his own corruption trial. He is facings charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

In response to Biden’s belated lukewarm plea, Netanyahu has basically told him that he won’t bow to external pressure. Cracks between Israel and America, which hitherto have been papered over, are likely to open and widen in full public view.

Though Israel’s image has been severely damaged and its macho power weakened, the core of Palestine’s freedom struggle to rid itself of the occupation and settler-colonialism remains on track.

Iqbal Jassat is an Executive at Media Review Network