Monday, 3 August 2015

Freedland's hollow criticism of the 'hawks' - Israel is responsible for baby Ali's death

"Israel’s hawks can't dodge blame for this day of violence".

Relatives carry baby Ali, while his critically
injured family fight for their lives
So runs the headline from Jonathan Freedland's Guardian piece on the latest 'price-tag' arson attack by settlers, which claimed the life of 18-month-old baby Ali Saad Dawabsha, and left his mother, father and their other 4-year-old son with horrific burns. 17-year-old Laith Al-Khaldi was also shot dead by an Israeli sniper as Palestinians demonstrated against the killing. 

Rejecting Israeli leaders' 'denunciations' of the crime against the Dawabsha family, Freedland writes:
The condemnations are striking but still they ring hollow. Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the arson attack by Jewish settlers on the West Bank home of the Dawabsha family, in which Ali Saad, a baby just 18 months old, was burned to death, as an “act of terrorism in every respect”. Netanyahu was joined by Naftali Bennett, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, which is close to being the political wing of the settlers’ movement. Bennett described the murder as a “horrendous act of terror”. The defence minister, the army, they all condemned this heinous crime. Which is welcome, of course. It’s good that there were no ifs or buts, no attempts to excuse the inexcusable. But still it rings hollow.
On the face of it, this seems like a searing and noble indictment from Freedland. Netanyahu is denounced, as is Bennett and others who have incited settler violence against Palestinians. Their hollow statements are also rightly exposed. 

But consider more closely the core issue of culpability here. If the 'hawks' are to blame, their condemnations rendered hollow, where does this leave the state of Israel itself as a culpable entity? As a state which only produces and harbours such 'hawks'? As a state which, even while 'criticised' by its own allies for failing to accept the illegality of the settlements, had no actual part in these murderous acts? Or as a terrorist, colonial state directly responsible for these and many thousands more killings?

While noting the long, notorious list of such attacks, Freedland also criticises "the culture of impunity that has always protected the settlers":
That charge can be directed at past Israeli governments of the centre-left as well as the hawkish right: while the latter actively sponsored the settlement that followed the 1967 war, the former indulged it. But the right’s guilt runs deeper, which is why its tearful words of regret now sound so false.
All seemingly true of the "hawkish right". But is this not brazenly side-stepping how settlement expansion has been consistently promoted by every Israeli government, including the Labor administration of Yitzhak Rabin, all in keeping with state Zionist doctrine?As Ben White put it in a responsive tweet:
@Freedland thinks Israel's "centre-left" merely "indulged", but not "sponsored", the post-67 settlement of the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories] 
Indeed, even Netanyahu's zealous colonization agenda does not easily distinguish him from his "ostensibly dovish predecessors", notes Ali Abunimah:
A recent interactive feature published by The New York Times shows that Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank (excluding occupied Jerusalem) was often far higher under the supposed peace-seeking governments of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.
Recounting Bennett's direct involvement in "egging" the settlers on after a court ruling to remove two houses at the Bet El settlement, alongside Netanyahu's own continued anti-Arab racism and disavowal of any Palestinian state, Freedland laments:
There is a pattern here. The hawks of the Israeli right pump ever more air into the ultra-nationalist balloon – only to feign shock when it explodes.
Again, while this is certainly feeding the atmosphere of hatred and terror, what purpose does it serve to highlight the "hawks of the Israeli right"? Freedland may be seen as rightfully denouncing the political zealots who are upholding and pushing Israel's settlements. But what of the state at large? Where's that more fundamental indictment of Israel's founding Zionist impulse: appropriation, occupation and expansion?       

In many ways, Freedland's 'shame the hawks' position is more hollow than the Netanyahu-Bennett denunciations. At least we can see the real reactionary nature of such a mindset, and their part in such heinous acts. But while that can be readily unmasked by any honest critic, Freedland's narrative obfuscates the central issue of blame, pointing the main accusing finger at 'hawk' leaders, rather than Israel as a state, which has as its very raison d’être the continued control of stolen lands through all occupying and murderous means. 

In taking selective aim at the incendiary conduct of the 'hawks', Freedland is helping to promote a smokescreen over who, rather than what, is to blame, offering, in perverse effect, a vital lifeline to the legitimacy of Israel as a 'still moral-if-flawed' state. This line of mitigation runs through Freedland's output.

As a state now viewed with deepening disfavour around the world, including a rising percentage of "Democratic opinion elites" in the US, Israel now relies heavily on this kind of liberal hasbara

It's a sham line that's also been eagerly taken-up by pro-Israel 'peace groups' as they sought to denounce the baby's killing while trying to absolve Israel from any direct blame. Some even had the indecency to issue words condemning the killings accompanied by approvals of Netanyahu's own shameless 'denunciation' of them. Such is the wilful denial not only of Israel as the direct agency of such terrorism, but the refusal to condemn its most senior sponsor. 

The true motives behind that kind of 'concern' for Palestinians and the 'peace process' should be relatively obvious to any reasonable observer. Freedland's account seems much more palatable in its reluctance to stomach Netanyahu and his hypocrisy. But it's no less disingenuous or misleading. It merely helps reinforce the 'unacceptable face of Israel' line he peddles. As stated elsewhere by Freedland:
The point is that if the Israel we love is the Jewish, democratic state established in the Declaration of Independence then we need to fight for it.
In its defence, Freedland sees the threat to that "democratic" state of Israel coming from varying internal forces of the right, as in the settler mood around Hebron. This is: 
a strand of settler extremism that denounces the actual state of Israel, and especially its army, as godless institutions of secular democracy, demanding in their place the creation of a “Judean kingdom”. To them, Netanyahu is a traitor and apostate.
Again, we see Freedland's focus on the 'problem' posed to the Israeli state rather than the problem of the Israeli state.

Freedland's key task here - a significant one as executive editor at the Guardian - is to help frame that problem-addressing/solving discourse on behalf of Israel. It's an advocacy role, serving to assist and protect rather than expose and oppose. And while Freedland's account can accommodate nominal rights for occupied Palestinians and outrage over such killings, its primary purpose is to maintain the 'integrity' and continuity of the Israeli state. 

But that state is founded on illegal appropriation of others' land and their ethnic cleansing, not on the 'founding democratic' premise Freedland would have us believe. The kind of romanticised idealism which even liberal Zionists like Freedland can still hark back to is that of an invented Israel, constructed around what eminent Jewish historian Shlomo Sand brilliantly exposes as mythos notions of "The Land of Israel", a "semantic past" and set of ideological contortions which saw "a theological concept... finally converted and refined into a clearly geonational concept", giving legitimacy to an historic act of territorial theft. (Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Land of Israel, Verso, 2012, pp 28-29.)  

That's why any real condemnation of settler idealism and its murderous acts cannot evade confronting the primary, historical culprit: Israel. The related idea that 'hawks'  rather than 'doves' have been driving that whole brutal enterprise, including the killing of baby Ali Saad Dawabsha, is as superficial and hollow a distortion as the invented 'Land of Israel'. But it serves a similar purpose in propping-up an expedient fiction.   

Settlers may have killed little Ali. Netanyahu, Bennett and their like may have incentivised the killers. But the primary responsibility rests with the Israeli state itself. Nothing Freedland says here or in any other of his circumventing output addresses that elementary truth.              

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