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The end of Israel as a Jewish state?

By Antony Loewenstein - posted Thursday, 27 November 2008

The vast majority of Israeli citizens oppose the settler movement. Despite this, the colonialists recently launched a campaign to lure Israelis to visit the West Bank, the Jewish Forward newspaper reported. "Some 1,000 billboards have gone up across the country, showing photographs of cherubic settler children dressed in biblical costumes and carrying the slogan 'Judea and Samaria - the story of every Jew'."

The gulf between a sizable, vocal and often violent minority and the vast bulk of the population is growing by the day. Just last month a handful of Jewish radicals rioted near the West Bank town of Kiryat Arba and desecrated a Muslim graveyard after the Israel Defence Forces removed an illegal outpost.

Such actions are now occurring many times every week and the Israeli government seems powerless or unwilling to act decisively against it. Fundamentalist Zionists no longer recognise the authority of the Jewish state and demand the establishment of a Taliban-style, rabbinical entity in its place. Arabs will either be forcibly removed or live under authoritarianism.


How did Israel get to this point? Decades of funding and indulging the settler movement have resulted in the current crisis. As Gideon Levy writes in Haaretz: "Every class and institution of Israeli society defends the settlements, finances them from its own pockets, and is a full partner in the [land] theft, even if some of them are disgusted by it."

The West Bank has become a Hobbesian land. Barely a day goes by without yet another report of settlers and the IDF impeding the daily lives of Palestinians on the "disputed" land.

In the 15 years since the Oslo peace talks, the colonies have multiplied in size and the settlers have more than doubled in number. A two-state solution is now impossible due to the presence of over 400,000 Jewish settlers on Palestinian land. A World Bank report recently revealed that property prices in the West Bank have rocketed out of the reach of most local businesses.

The September pipe bombing by Jewish radicals of Israeli historian Ze'ev Sternhell's home in Jerusalem - a long-time critic of the settler movement - signalled a profound shift in the struggle against Israel's internal enemies, a point powerfully made by leading peace activist Uri Avnery. "Israeli fascism is alive and kicking", Avnery warned. "It is growing in the flowerbed that produced the various religious-nationalist underground groups of the past." And yet the vast majority of the international Jewish Diaspora is tellingly silent on these issues, preferring to protest against Hamas "terrorism" and Iranian "provocation". Thankfully Haaretz is unafraid to editorialise on the failure of Israel to uphold its own laws when broken.

Sternhell, even more determined to warn the world against the Jewish state's threats, has argued since the attack against him and his family that "If Israeli society is unable to muster the courage necessary to put an end to the settlements, the settlements will put an end to the state of the Jews and will turn it into a bi-national state".

As a believer in this solution, I don't fear Sternhell's thesis, but settler violence undoubtedly threatens the (long-discredited) claim that Israel is a Jewish democracy.


The challenge for the international community is to pressure Israel to decide what kind of state it wants to be and enforce its borders. Only a nation where all citizens are treated equally should be acceptable and the ever-growing tensions in cities where Jews and Arabs uncomfortably co-exist is worsening.

Ironically, before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently resigned, he told a leading Israeli newspaper that the country must withdraw from the vast majority of occupied territory. They were fighting words from a disgraced leader and unlikely to be heeded any time soon.

The UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories reported last month that Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and, until 2005, the Gaza Strip represented elements of colonialism and apartheid. Despite the current truce between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights found that 68 children had been killed in Gaza in the 12 months to June this year because of "disproportionate and excessive lethal force" by the IDF.

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First published in ABC's Unleashed on November 7, 2008.

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About the Author

Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author and blogger. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Haaretz, The Guardian, Washington Post, Znet, Counterpunch and many other publications. He contributed a major chapter in the 2004 best seller, Not Happy, John!. He is author of the best-selling book My Israel Question, released in August 2006 by Melbourne University Publishing and re-published in 2009 in an updated edition. The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. His 2008 book is The Blogging Revolution on the internet in repressive regimes. His website is at and he can be contacted at

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