Israel held an election. Roughly two-thirds of the adult population were permitted to vote, and they returned Benjamin Netanyahu to office. His largest coalition partner will be the Kahanist Religious Zionism thugs led by one Itamar Ben Gvir.
This is sad proof that we Jews are no different from anyone else who mainlines ultranationalism. When you ladle Zionism into religion, you cook up the toxic Religious Zionism of Ben Gvir.
The teenaged Ben Gvir was too far Right to be accepted into the Israeli army. He was a youth leader of the extremist Kach, and his current crew are the proud inheritors of Kahanism, a Jewish supremacy movement outlawed in Israel and classified by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. Until it became politically advisable to remove it, Ben Gvir kept a portrait of the Israeli-American mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinian Muslims and wounded 125 others in a place held sacred by both Muslims and Jews. Ben Gvir is so openly racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, ultranationalist, anti-democratic and violent that Israel’s perpetual supporter, Thomas Friedman, likens his appointment to offering the Proud Boys a Cabinet slot.
This election is least new to Palestinians, for whom unrestrained structural violence has long been the norm. To advocates for justice in Palestine, this election is a depressing acceleration of Israel’s existing direction of travel. To those otherwise-caring Jews who have rationalised the ugliness as long as it was directed only at Palestinians, this is qualitatively new. Jewish Israelis have voted for the bleak enmity, the worshipful violence; the anti-democratic, outright fascistic world view of the Kach gang. To that they choose to belong: that is what Zionism has become.
And we Jewish New Zealanders—how many of us will choose to belong to Ben Gvir’s Israel?
The NZ Jewish Council (NZJC) issued a note to the Jewish community. We asked if they would make it public, and the Chair of the NZJC replied that it is not their place to comment on Israel’s elections. That reply will suffice to understand the unpublished guidance: there’ll be no comment.
They sure commented on Israel when Amnesty International found it to be an apartheid state. They wasted no time publicly calling world’s leading human rights organisation ‘antisemitic’. They defend Israel loudly enough from the Left. They are forever telling us that Zionism is how they do Judaism, and they deny the validity of our (or any) Jewish identity not centred on Israel.
And now? Now that Israel has served up its far Right in the form of Itamar Ben Gvir, the NZJC has suddenly remembered that their constitution makes no mention of Israel or Zionism, and they’ve gone all shy and reticent. It seems they are willing to set a place for Itamar Ben Gvir at the table of the New Zealand Jewish community. They welcomed Trump when he was politically expedient, so why not welcome one more?
Well, to hell with that.
To go along with Ben Gvir is an abject moral forfeit. To know full well his record and embrace him is to grant permission and extend impunity to his settler shock troops. That stance is complicit through and through.
Presumably the NZ Jewish Council will now wrap Itamar Ben Gvir in the snug blanket of their IHRA definition of antisemitism. Presumably when anyone objects to his violence, his threats to dismantle the courts, his hatred of LGBTQ and his pathological enmity for Palestinians; the NZ Jewish Council will call that speaker antisemitic. If they do that, if they bring Itamar Ben Gvir’s Kahanist terror into the protected space of our religion, they will have trampled the meaning of Jewishness in the dust once and for all.
Whatever one wanted Israel to be, this is what Israel has chosen to be. It’s time to admit, as even Thomas Friedman has admitted, “The Israel we knew is gone.”
We hope that our community will not open our door to Ben Gvir and his goons. We hope they will voice their disgust, and reject the passive support that the silent NZ Jewish Council is giving to this Kahanist Religious Zionism.
Throw the fascist bastard out. Let him slink back under his rock, and get this ultra-nationalism out of our religion.
We are Jewish—not Kahanist.
Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa New Zealand