My lesson from Thomas Friedman’s critique of Israel: in a democracy, politicians can’t shun dirt

by Lev Tsitrin

According to the New York Times Thomas Friedman’s lengthy overview of the current Middle East’s trends, “From Tel Aviv to Riyadh,” all is doom and gloom in Israel. While the Saudis chose to “overhaul all of its public schools and university curriculums to develop a work force of men and women who can compete in a post-oil age … all with the aim of “instilling technological proficiency alongside critical thinking, problem solving and analytical capabilities” to align the Saudi education system “with competitive international standards,” in Israel “the new government budget includes an unprecedented increment in allocations to the settlers and ultra-Orthodox, including full funding of schools [that do] not teach English, science and math. This budgetary increment alone is more than Israel invests each year in higher education altogether — or 14 years of complete funding for the Technion, Israel’s M.I.T.” — which is “completely nuts.” Plus, the country is being torn apart by the proposed Supreme Court overhaul that is also perceived as serving the ultra-Orthodox, the opposition to it being “spearheaded by a coalition of Israel’s most elite technologists and war fighters.”

Those trends indeed don’t look right — but Thomas Friedman does not ask the question of “why are they pursued?” leaving us to think that there is something wrong with Israel, per se.

I beg to differ, and I would explain the same facts very differently.

When it comes to Saudis, its crystal-clear — the country is an absolute monarchy, so everything is done according to its ruler’s wish and vision — and if “the iron-fisted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman” decided that “oil will not be there forever,” so “competitiveness has to come from other places and our sources of growth have to diversify if we are going to make the economy more resilient and unlock the full potential of the society,” including letting the women drive and work — who is to say “no”?

It is more than a “little more” complicated in Israel. The Israeli prime minister is no Saudi king — and has to get an agreement from other parties represented in the Knesset in order to even form a government. And when I said, “get an agreement,” I meant “buy an agreement” — because political parties represent different populations, and want their interests accommodated in return for their support. The price varies, of course (the story goes that, to push through the ultimately-disastrous Oslo agreements, the then-Prime Minister Rabin needed one more vote — which he obtained by promising one of the resisters a chauffeured car. How not to recall Shakespeare’s Richard’s heartfelt cry — “my kingdom for a horse!”) — but it can be rather high.

Here in the US, it is less open — but in Israel, the horse-trading is done in full view. You want to be a prime minister? Why not? We’ll support you! How much will you pay? What will be the budget allocations for our priorities? What will be there for us in new legislative initiatives? Which cabinet positions will we take? We are here for you, Mr. Aspiring Prime Minister — but you have to pay us off!

Israel’s present government is a textbook example of this spoils system — the system of wringing the goodies in exchange for support — and it came about because Netanyahu finds himself isolated: the parties whose policies align with his Likud’s adamantly refuse to sit in the government with him. Admittedly, Netanyahu is no saint — he is a politician with plenty of dirty tricks (that include broken promises) in his toolbox, and he has been formally indicted on several charges — but what’s the use of high-mindedness in a political system designed to benefit those who sit in the government, not those who are in the opposition?

So, if Israelis are unhappy with current legislative priories and the budget — well, they got this in return for the lofty high-mindedness of the politicians from the parties that refuse to sit in government with Netanyahu. The religious parties were less squeamish and managed to wring massive concessions out of the cornered Netanyahu: a budget that is “nuts,” and the legislative priorities that include the Supreme Court reform. Those could have been avoided if the parties that are more aligned with Netanyahu agreed to sacrifice some of their principled cleanness.

And oddly, they are not terribly principled, either. While claiming to protect “the rule of law” in their protests against the Supreme Court reform, they don’t particularly care about the rule of law: if they did, they would have kept in mind its cornerstone: the presumption of innocence — and known that by refusing to join Netanyahu’s government because he was under indictment, they presumed him guilty, before the court said so. Not a very law-respecting move, I’m afraid!

This same desire of so many politicians to keep their hands clean by shunning Netanyahu served Israel rather poorly during the Trump administration, when Israel was unable to form a stable government after four or so elections in a row, thwarting Trump’s peace plan that gave Israel advantageous borders, and making him remark that “it is a very strange system” after Netanyahu could not form a government even though his natural partners were in a clear majority — though Trump, the master deal-maker, managed to turn this lemon into the lemonade of the Abraham Accords.

To Thomas Friedman’s regular readers, his long column was a yet another dig at Israel. While I do not care for his conclusions, his facts seem to be mostly sound — and those, to my mind, illustrate the opposite of what he is trying to say. To my mind, the lesson is that politics is inherently a dirty business — and without participating in it (and getting one’s hand dirty in the process), one won’t achieve any results. In America, they say that if you want something, you should vote. In Israel, it seems, the same idea translates into — if you want to get what you want, join the government — even if that means getting your hands a little dirty. Politics is a dirty business, and if you want to stay clean, stay away from it, and — of necessity — let those who don’t mind getting dirty, set the agenda — and steer the budget to their priorities, not yours.

Bottom line — Israelis who march in protest against the Supreme Court change, and against the budget, bark up the wrong tree. They should be protesting against the politicians for whom they voted — and who refuse to sit in the government, wasting that vote and thwarting democracy as a result — all to keep their hands clean of the very politics that drives the democratic process.


4 Responses

  1. Survival precedes thrival. In the absence of adequate resources, prioritize, or lose the prize.

  2. The system is imperfect, its manipulators are, on weighted average, defective, the voting public, on average, are ignorant and active.
    Why not ask Israel to become ‘our’ 51st state?
    They sound like Americans: confused, enraged, enthusiastic, and opinionated as to the lies being presented for belief.

  3. The core at the Middle East ‘conflict’ is about anti-Jewish bigotry

    * The intolerance started mainly since Sheikh Suleiman al-Taji al-Faruqi wrote a hateful poem in Falastin newspaper on November 8, 1913 mixing Quranic ideas with old anti Semitic stereotypes (leading to the 1914 closure of the newspaper by the Turks for inciting race-hatred). Then by Haj Amin al-Husseini in the 1920s. The Mufti also chose to “believe” in ancient blood libel.

    * The brunt of the victims in 1920, 1921 and especially in Hebron 1929 massacre, were non-Zionist pious-Jews.

    * March 1933, within weeks of Hitler’s coming to power, the Mufti already approached German’s council and offered alliance.

    * May 1933, Falastin newspaper glorified Hitler as “noble” and justified his persecution of the Jews.

    * September 1933, Eissa Bendak, editor of the radical bi-weekly Sawt Al Shaab has left for Paris to receive instructions from a group of Germans and Arabs on “conducting Nazi propaganda” in Palestine.

    * Ibrahim a-Shanti’s 1934 founded the newspaper ‘Ad Difa’a’ was very pro Hitler.
    (Asides from the instances he had to moderate his tone under British censorship and threat of banning).

    * May 1935, when delegates returned from an Arab youth conference in Haifa, their train to Afula bore a swastika chalked on one of the coaches with an Arabic inscription beneath it reading “Germany over All.”

    * June 1935, Arabs in Haifa form Nazi club, called ‘Red Moon,’ well funded by the Nazis. “Groups of brown-clad Arab youths are now organized.”

    * 1936, Grand Mufti with Jamal al-Husseini established the Futuwwa modeled on Hitler Youth.

    * 1936-1937, Hitler’s book Mein Kampf – a best sellers among radical Arabs in Palestine.

    * Jan 1937, Istiqlal’s Auni Abd al-Hadi told Nazi magazine: “Arabs Like the Nazis.”

    * 1937, ahead of the Bludan conference, the Grand Mufti, (after Nashashibi left the Arab Higher Committee) sent a warning (officially by the Arab Higher Committee) to other Arab countries (including Lebanon) in the Middle East not to accept any Jews. The Mufti sent also a hate booklet to the conference. It was used in his 1943 recruitment of SS Bosnian Muslims.

    * 1937, Walter Doehle, German consul in Jerusalem: ‘Palestinian Arabs in all social strata have great sympathies for the new Germany and its Führer…’

    * September, 1938, around 100 representatives from Arab Palestine at Nazi conference in Nuremberg.

    * May 1939, Istiqlal’s Auni ‘abd al-Hadi, meets Nazi officials in Berlin.

    * Hitler’s radio ‘voice of the Arabs’ was first by, Younis Bahri. It was especially boosted by the aforementioned Mufti himself after 1941.

    * Poll by Mr. Sari Sakanini in Palestine, in February 1941, found, 88 percent of Arabs supported the Nazis.

    * There were also no excuses for: the grand Mufti in inciting (with other Arabs, including from Palestine: Akram Zuaiter and Darwish al-Miqdadi) the 1941 Farhud pogrom where some say upto a thousand died. There was mass rape and children were thrown into waters in front of parents); or calling (in his voice of the Arabs broadcast from Berlin) all Arabs “to kill the Jews wherever they are – this pleases Allah;” or planning a crematorium in Dotan Valley near Nablus, among other things.

    * His disciple Ahmad Shukairy (who helped the Mufti’s gang to kill his brother Dr. Anwar Shukeiri on June 8, 1939) and partner Jamal al-Husseini, both justifying the Holocaust in 1946.

    * The married not-holy Mufti spent the war years 1941-1945 in Berlin, surrounded by German women and received a lot of money.

    * By the way, it wasn’t just the Mufti who worked with the Nazis. He had some 200 Arabs with him, mainly from Palestine.

    * After the war, the Mufti was cheered by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
    Infamous Nazi anti-Semite Johann Von Leers (Omar Amin) was welcomed in Egypt by the Mufti and he became the political adviser to the Information Department under Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser. He also helped Nazi Ernst-Wilhelm Springer escape into Egypt.

    * 1946, though the Mufti ‘was not allowed to set foot in Palestine, the Arab League now enthroned him as the new leader of the Palestinian Arabs with an annual budget of 10,000 pounds sterling.’

    * 1947, Arabs recruit ex Nazis to fight the Jews. All in all. Some research showed, around 1,000 of them.

    * 1947, Issa Nakhleh would work for the Mufti in the Arab Higher Committee, then agitating in Argentina, then coming back to the US and spread propaganda for decades (1960s, 1970s, 1980s) with neo-Nazis.

    * 1947-1948, Arab leadership including the Mufti, told the Arabs of Palestine to leave the land till “victory.”

    * The Arab League worked with Neo Nazis on South America in the 1960s. And the Palestinian terrorists were linked with Neo Nazis in the 1960s such as with François Genoud [Genaud], the PLO linked with Nazis or/and neo-Nazis in the 1970s-1980s, among them: Otto Ernst Remer, L’Oeuvre Francaise, Karl-Heinz Hoffmann, Udo Albrecht, Willi Pohl / Voss (pseudonym E. W. Pless).

    * Ask yourself, had all the Israelis been ethnicaly Arab or most of them Muslim, would there then even be a conflict? = “Arab racism!”

    * Returning to a historic homeland has nothing to do with “racism” and the 2001-Durban Hitlerist propaganda especially by Arab Lawyers Union and others, showed the bitter irony of racists masked as “anti-Racist”.

    * One can not detach bigotry from Ahmad Shukairy’s invention of the “apartheid” false-analogy in 1961 (a little bit over a year after he had promoted a neo-Nazi group and quoting the Sep.16.1962 New York Times article which in fact states the Nazi nature of the group), or of Omar Shakir’s anti-Israel activities since 2010 and abusing the HRW group in 2021 for this propaganda in falsifying or misrepresenting facts and via changing the Apartheid definition to fit his propaganda.

    * Praising Hitler, denying the Holocaust and creating (hateful, racially motivated) fake comparisons to clashes and security measures are all happening at once.

    * If anti-Israel bigoted propaganda had any truth in it, then why do the Israelis keep going into trouble, risking its soldiers lives, and even inventing measures only to minimize Arab casualties when going after terrorists?
    How much does the Arab world know about preferential treatment for Arabs over Jews, including in courts’ decisions, academia, employment and more?

    * If the Arab leadership or anti-Israel “activists” were worried for Arab lives more than defaming Israel – then, when was the last time it condemned the use of civilians as human shields, school, places of worship, or shooting from densely populated areas?

    * The 113 UNRWA teachers between 2015-2022 engaging in pro terror and many in anti-Semitism, including pro Hitler propaganda.

    * By the way, the TikTok (since April 2021) attacks by many Arabs and getting thousands of feedback from other Arabs are attacks against pious Jews in Jerusalem who (most) are not Zionist and even refuse to serve in the IDF. The same is the, (past and present), anti-Semitic cartoons in Arab media often of clearly visible such pious Jews. Worst is, the terror massacres specifically targeting such communities in various cities. Which again, shows the underlying ‘Arab racism’ motivation behind it all, in principle.

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