The True Architects and Implementers of Israel’s Regime of Jewish Supremacy

The great majority of those who are so contemptuous of Ben-Gvir live very well with Israel’s apartheid – they just don’t shout it from the rooftops In the months that….

The great majority of those who are so contemptuous of Ben-Gvir live very well with Israel’s apartheid – they just don’t shout it from the rooftops

Ben-Gvir.Credit: Fadi Amun

In the months that have passed since MK Itamar Ben-Gvir (Religious Zionism/Otzma Yehudit) was appointed Israel’s national security minister, there has hardly been a week in which a retired army or police major general hasn’t heaped blazing scorn on the “minister of destruction,” the nonentity who understands nothing and has even less experience, the Shin Bet’s “person of interest” who’s become the “minister of pitas” and so on and so forth. The rage is so pervasive that one can only stop and wonder: What is all of this trying to cover up?

Because, after all, it’s appropriate, and even logical, to despise Ben-Gvir for the violent, hate- and racism-rife policies he promotes. But what is the meaning of this profound scorn? For years ago (in the good old days, when he was just a “person of interest”), the Shin Bet security service assessed him as a “sharp, brilliant, crafty person.” Toward the end of 2022, following the election for the current, 25th Knesset, Ben-Gvir succeeded in leveraging the political strength of his small Knesset faction (the six MKs of Otzma Yehudit) and was given the ministerial portfolio he demanded.

Since then the minister of pitas has kneaded the police commissioner and his top brass as though they were balls of dough at room temperature.

Not to mention the trajectory the nonentity has undergone from being a person with whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to have his picture taken, to a person who not long ago was a partner in maneuvering Netanyahu to annul the High Court’s reasonableness standard. All this would seem to intimate the existence of a measure of practical wisdom and political acumen. Perhaps it’s appropriate not to be so automatically scornful of someone who has achieved all this?

Instead of addressing seriously this political figure and the agenda he pursues, many prefer to cluck their tongues and take pleasure in the fact that the security cabinet is not being convened (out of concern that Ben-Gvir will leak information from it), and that important decisions are being made over his head (because he’s a superfluous nonentity). Such a superfluous nonentity that he is leading a deep-rooted move to shape a public discourse that normalizes Jewish supremacy and shouts it from the rooftops – and it’s those rooftops that are the essence of the matter.

In fact, the great majority of those who are so contemptuous of Ben-Gvir live very well with an Israel of Jewish supremacy – they just don’t, heaven forbid, shout it from the rooftops. This is the method that underlies the Israeli regime: to ensure “absolute equality of rights,” as per the Declaration of Independence (and then to impose a military regime on Palestinian citizens and plunder their lands); to enable Palestinian subjects in the territories to petition the High Court of Justice (which in its turn validates torture, house demolitions, incarceration without trial and land theft); to launch an investigation when soldiers kill Palestinians (and then to close the case with no indictments); to be a “startup nation” (and utilize the advanced technology developed here to upgrade rule over the Palestinians); to speak when needed about the “peace process” (and all the while continue to build settlements).

In short: Jewish supremacy? A blessing. But “Otzma Yehudit” (“Jewish power”) in the government? A horror. Everything – to kill, dispossess, oppress – only not from the rooftops, so that international legitimacy is maintained, so as not to become like South Africa during the apartheid regime – amid a judicious implementation of apartheid. Although this technique is more time-consuming, calls for patience and a certain skill, if one looks at the bottom line of 100 years of Zionism, it’s impossible to argue with the fact that so far, at least, it has succeeded. A good trick: Practice apartheid and be considered, in the eyes of the world – and even in our own eyes – a democracy.

For the business to work, every state institution must fulfill its task: Knesset and army, government ministries and courts. The latter – the courts, which have been poised at the heart of the public discourse of recent months, attacked from the right and defended from the left – actually played a central role in validating the regime of Jewish supremacy.

And not only with regard to the situation in the territories, but for the entire territory that Israel rules: Suffice it to recall the Admissions Committees Law, which allows communities built on public land to turn down applications for residency by “unsuitable” candidates – read “Arabs.” (In 2014, the High Court refused to intervene; just recently the Knesset extended the law’s application, with the support of opposition members), or the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People (in 2021, the High Court rejected the petitions against the law – 10 Jewish justices against the lone dissent of the Arab justice, George Karra). Those who aren’t yet convinced should listen to what the former president of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch, stated just a few months ago about the court’s role: “The Supreme Court never decided that the settlements are not legal, which is basic in international law. No. We are part of the establishment. Where Israel is doing battle in the international arena, we do not cause harm; on the contrary: We defend.”

The Supreme Court is as far from the minister of pitas as east is from west. That’s obvious. But which of the two has contributed more to advancing the settlement project and to its success? Factually, the answer to that question is trivial: It’s the Supreme Court, in a cakewalk. But emotionally, it’s an answer that is – for most espousers of “democracy” here – intolerable.

It’s the same when it comes to a critical element in Israel’s ability to rule the Palestinians: the necessity to whitewash so many killings of Palestinians, yet also preserve a façade of legitimacy for state violence. Israel has been doing this for years with great skill. After the last election, Ben-Gvir sought to advance an “immunity law” for security forces personnel, and in the end was persuaded (for the time being) to drop the idea. Presumably, because he understood that in practice, the immunity Israel accords members of its security forces is almost absolute, and that it’s preferable to go on arriving at that bottom line, even if it sometimes entails holding what the eye beholds as “investigations.”

Who contributed more to the creation of this state of affairs, in which the futile theater of investigations serves Israel successfully in the international arena and enables it to go on killing Palestinians with no accountability? The military advocate general-attorney general-High Court of Justice (aka, the “judicial elite”), or Ben-Gvir? Once more, the answer is trivial: The immunity enterprise is the fruit of the labors of those same fair jurists; Ben-Gvir holds no shares in it. Many additional examples could be cited, not least from the rich field of the “legal” ways in which Palestinian land was plundered from its original owners and passed into the hands of the state, from 1948 until today. But by now the principle is clear.

Thus we arrive at 2023, and at the rooftops: Many Jews in Israel decided that they no longer want to play this game, however successful and clever it may be. They want more, and faster. They can be framed as extremist or messianic, but that explains nothing. How did it happen? On the emotional plane, it is impossible not to discern the need to close the gap between the clear ideology that everyone understands, and its overly complex implementation. Because if “Jewish supremacy,” why not the “Victory Plan” (of Bezalel Smotrich), “Let the Israel Defense Forces win” and all the rest? At the practical level, in their assessment, it’s possible and desirable to advance the Jewish supremacy project between the river and the sea more forcefully, with less lip service, with a higher dosage of crassness, lordship and violence. Yes, flagrantly, from the rooftops.

The truth is that there is no reason to be surprised that gradually, more and more Jews decided to follow the road that was paved by all those self-styled reasonable folks and to arrive at the conclusions that are now shocking the reasonable folks.

Here’s what’s happening now: Willy-nilly, the gaze is shifting to the rooftops. We see that someone is standing up there and shouting out Jewish supremacy in every direction. In practice, that figure is not Ben-Gvir. That figure is the prime minister (who telephoned the father of the Hebron shooter Sgt. Elor Azaria in 2016), the Supreme Court president (proclaiming that the Nation-State Basic Law does not infringe on equality), the air force commander (more than 500 Palestinian children killed in Gaza in summer 2014) and the head of the Shin Bet (invoking the “defense of necessity” for torture, and, wonder of wonders, every Palestinian ends up confessing). The architects of Jewish supremacy and its implementers. They are the ones who not only agree with Ben-Gvir on the principle of Jewish supremacy, they are the ones who have brought us to this pass and are amazed and furious when he and his ilk want to take it farther.

Those are the facts. But emotionally, they are unbearable. What to do? Turn Ben-Gvir into a sort of marginal clown, diminish him in order not to cope with the figure who is shouting from the rooftop, who is the figure in the mirror. Banish the evidence. Ben-Gvir is all we are not. And then we can shout “De-mo-cra-cy” until we’re hoarse.

But there never was democracy here. Even if we could go back to November 2022, without Ben-Gvir and with the reasonableness standard, we would still be an apartheid state. Is that what’s now longed for? The next election will perhaps strengthen Ben-Gvir or perhaps, on the contrary, will actually kick him aside, but the road that was paved by the architects of Jewish supremacy – the road that was paved by Zionism as it was implemented here in practice – will remain open. If not Ben-Gvir, others will walk it.

And here lies the true difficulty: Although apartheid with bureaucratic lipstick as makeup is a clever ruse, at some point it will cease to persuade. After all, there is reality, there are facts, there is life itself. The fact is that even after 100 years of Zionism, half the people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are Palestinians. If we’re truly intent on life, we need to come up with an answer to the logical question: What sort of life shall we all build here together?