Bibi’s Big Gambit

Did Benjamin Netanyahu overplay his hand?

Probably not, but he’s definitely testing the boundaries. That is the only way to explain his going beyond even his own usual hubris and obnoxiousness this week.

What looked at first like more of the same old Bibi nonsense – he comes to the US, Israel announces more building in both East Jerusalem and Ariel – has morphed into something more. The Obama Administration, displaying what is by now its customary weakness in the face of Israeli intransigence, merely said it was “disappointed” with the new construction.

There was little else there of substance, and Israel could simply have gone along its merry way, continuing to build while Bibi whipped the zealous masses into a frenzy in New Orleans. Instead, Netanyahu decided to escalate the matter by stating that building in Jerusalem is completely separate from peace negotiations.

This is a total re-framing of the issue, and one the Americans could not just ignore. They directly contradicted Bibi’s statement, drawing a line in the sand. Again, though, it was a mere statement; there seems to be no consequences from Washington if Bibi continues to defy them. That may change in the next few days, but thus far, Bibi seems to be making it even clearer than before that he will do what he wants with the full knowledge that the United States will do nothing to stop him, even if it makes America look absolutely impotent.

Some see Bibi’s move here as a test of the post-election Obama, a sort of poke to see if Obama is going to be even weaker with an incoming Republican House and smaller Democratic majority in the Senate than he was with the Democrats in full control of Congress. I think it’s actually directed at that incoming Congress and to the Jewish and Christian activists who will bring the pressure next year to prevent any move toward peace.

Bibi is sending a message that he believes the time is ripe, with the incoming Congress, to put the final nail in the coffin of the idea of a Palestinian state. He’s doing it on two fronts: Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs.

Bibi is hoping to re-orient American policy on both of these issues by bringing them more out into the open. Continue reading

Am Yisrael Chai?

Walking down a street in Hebron that was once a bustling market, one sees shut up stores, and sometimes spray painted slogans in Hebrew on them.

Turn up the road near the Ma’arat Ha’Machpela (Tomb of the Patriarchs), which is also the Ibrahimi Mosque, and one can stroll down the deserted Shehadeh Street, and see the same slogans and symbols: rough Stars of David; stylized ones with a fist representing the movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane; the words “Kahane tzadak” (Kahane was

Symbol of supporters of Meir Kahane

right); and another common slogan—“Am Yisrael Chai.”

The literal translation is “the nation of Israel lives.” But the resonance for many Jews is much deeper. It represents pride in the Jews’ history of overcoming persecution and adversity and determination and confidence that we will be able to meet any challenges the future might bring.

Now, that slogan has been warped and distorted. It is no longer chanted by idealistic Jews who see their people’s survival as a human story of overcoming adversity. It is not an example to show to other oppressed people or groups facing discrimination.

No, now it is a club being used to bludgeon not only Palestinians, but also anyone who might oppose Israeli policy. It is now a chant of a mindless mass of people, consumed with nationalistic zeal. It is now the slogan bullies paint on terrorized innocents forced out of their homes and businesses in Hebron. And it is now the chant used to ridicule young activists who will no longer tolerate lies, political manipulation and human rights abuses being committed in their name. Continue reading