A Very Momentous Day

As I post this, Israelis are heading to the polls to elect the eighteenth Knesset and a new prime minister. This is going to be big, folks. A lot is riding on this election – possibly the very future of the state of Israel. Will the country continue to slide into a morass of bigotry, violence, and religious radicalism, or will it abruptly switch directions and start making real change? The race will be tight, and you can be assured that the entire world is watching.

Oh, wait… No, sorry, I was thinking about Obama again.

Ahem. Okay, we all know that with regards to the occupation, the election in Israel is virtually meaningless. Flip a coin, consult the zodiac, blindfold yourself and throw a dart at a photo – it’s all going to have the same result. If change comes to Israel, it’s not going to be instigated by a politician (or, at least, a politician with something to lose). Not this election. As an American, I find it strange to watch an election in which the major parties aren’t bitter enemies – but even compensating for that, I think Israel’s election is pretty astonishingly one-sided.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that things are hopeless.

A few weeks ago, Jewschool posted this clip from the Israeli version of Saturday Night Live:

Each culture has its own sense of humor, so I’ll confess that the sketch didn’t exactly have me in stitches – although I did love the part where they ask, “What do we want?” and, after faltering for a second, just start dancing again. (A cliched joke, you say? More like tried and true!) The sentiment is similar to Jon Stewart’s Strip Maul segment: the more Israel tries to shove its victim narrative down the throats of Diaspora Jews and its own citizens, the more ridiculous that narrative becomes. The forced silence of Palestinian voices becomes louder and louder. The seam in the mobius strip starts to show.

The very same day I saw that video, I blogged about this protest in Tel Aviv. There were 1,000 Israelis in attendance, which seems pathetically small until you remember what a tiny country Israel is; the percentage of the population that managed to make it out onto the streets is actually on par with the number of Americans at many of the Iraq war protests in 2002 and 2003, and we weren’t dealing with the same level of protest fatigue. It’s hard to tell way over here in California – and the situations are different enough that I realize playing with numbers is a bit facile – but one can hope that the peace movement in Israel is about as lively as it was in the US a few years ago.

Here, we didn’t elect a liberal president immediately – in fact, we took our sweet time about it, rejecting a certain charisma-lacking Vietnam vet despite mounting dissatisfaction with our foreign policy. But our desensitization to our government’s propaganda, though gradual, did finally reach a crisis point. Could it be that Israel is slowly starting to swing in the same direction? A year ago, I thought Guantanamo would never close; now our president has issued the order to shut it down within a year. After over a decade, health care reform is back on the table (I hope Ezra Klein is right when he says that Ted Kennedy and Max Baucus’s letter may be an even bigger event than Daschle’s withdrawal), and we may finally begin to question the “War on Terror.” Shockingly enough, change is possible.

It’s true that the occupation has been going on for a few decades longer than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and that Israel has already seen too many peace movements flounder or fizzle out. The inertia (not to mention the rocket attacks and the incentives to continue settlement expansion in the West Bank) is extremely difficult to overcome. But the support is there. And if American Jews put pressure on our own president (click the Hope button to the right for a handy petition!), maybe we can help make that change happen.

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4 Responses

  1. I hold the rather foolish belief that the Palestinians can force the government to dismantle the settlements through litigious means – I really don’t think they(Kadima or Likud or whoever) ‘d do it on their own.

  2. I’m very pessimistic about this election. The right (and far-right) is looking very good. Insofar as Cast Lead was a gambit by Kadima to bolster itself in the minds of hawkish voters, it hasn’t looked very successful. Likud is well out in front, and the risible Israel Beitanu is on the rise as well. There could be a coalition formed solely of Likud and parties right-ward, which I fear will be catastrophic.

    I don’t know. Maybe Nixon Netanyahu will go to China, like Sharon did, and we’ll see a breakthrough. But I’m skeptical.

  3. I thought the video was pretty funny. I especially liked the reference to the past and the quick shot of someone singing “Es Brent” (it burns–a Yiddish folksong about pogroms that was shoved down my throat as a kid.).

  4. I liked the part of the video where they ask (presumably the foreigners) who is more like them. The Israelis have McDonald’s! What have those Palestinians got? Nothing! (And as an aside, I thought they did a decent job in the subtitles explaining the cultural references, which is not exactly easy to do. It was funnier to me the third time – like I had to watch it twice to even understand it – and then I could get the jokes.)

    As for the election and any hope for a shift in policy, I am profoundly pessimistic. All the most likely scenarios seem to send things in a further downward spiral.

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