Benny Gantz, Contender for the Israeli Premiership, Harks Back to an Older Political Style

After announcing his decision to enter politics as the head of a new party, the former IDF chief-of-staff Benny Gantz avoided the press and made few public statements. He is nonetheless poised to be the major challenger to Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming elections. Contrasting the taciturn Gantz to the eloquent Netanyahu, Neil Rogachevsky sees the former as a throwback to an older sort of Israeli politician:

Gantz seems to represent the return of an Israeli character type never totally absent but long repressed under the Netanyahu regime: the silent general. This figure, often bred on the kibbutz and politically more at home with the Labor party, thinks talk is cheap and detests the deal-making and prideful clucking of civilian politicians. He values simplicity, even austerity, in personal style. He is the kind of person who naturally cringes when he hears details about the Netanyahu family’s luxurious life in the seaside town of Caesarea. (Gantz alluded to this in his big campaign speech.) It was with such kibbutznik-warriors in mind that the late French historian François Furet memorably dubbed Israel “a new Sparta, agrarian and military.”

If there is any Israeli political figure Gantz recalls, it is not a figure from the right but the late Yitzḥak Rabin, himself a war hero and chief-of-staff who then went into politics. Though now remembered for his impassioned but rather convoluted pleas for peace before his assassination in 1995, Rabin actually detested political rhetoric and never bothered to articulate a policy agenda. Much like Gantz, Rabin did not hesitate to threaten enemies with brutality. Benjamin Netanyahu, by contrast, prefers to argue against Iran through reasoned speeches on television and addresses in international forums.

Silent generals have done much to protect Israel since 1948. Yet, given recent history, there are good reasons to be skeptical about their approach to politics. Rabin’s inability or unwillingness to articulate, in concrete terms, his approach to the peace process with the Palestinians led to much bewilderment, leaving Israelis unprepared for the diplomatic and military challenges that ensued. The late Ariel Sharon, another “strong, silent” general/prime minister, refused to tell even his closest advisers his reasoning behind removing all Israeli settlements and troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005. . . .

Other than releasing a television ad bragging about prior damage he inflicted on Hamas, Gantz has so far been extremely short on specifics about his views of the Palestinian question, Iran, and other challenges. To his credit, he has said concretely that he aims to improve the overburdened hospital system. But can such vagueness lead to victory? And will it lead to successful government?

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Read more at American Interest

More about: Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Yitzhak Rabin

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat