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Exit poll results are beginning to come in from today’s election in Israel and while it looks like Livni and the Kadima party have won the most seats, it is unlikely they will have the needed support from other parties to actually form a majority coalition. President Shimon Peres, who names which leader will make that attempt, will most likely turn to Netanyahu as the one able to pull together the needed cross party support. 

While the final results are uncertain, they are all too clear – no matter which candidate wins in the end, the leadership will be one of the hawks. Livni, who not so long ago was trumpeted as the new “progressive” option, has since done everything she could to prove herself as bloodthirsty as her brethren.  Netanyahu’s thuggish but oh so popular posturing set the bar the others decimated Gaza to meet. Neither direction offers hope of genuine and just peace. 

Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beinenu, the party with the third highest seats won, will be the kingmaker  – and Israel’s Lieberman, having now been outed by Ha’aretz as a follower of the murdered, and formerly banned racist Meir Kahane is the subject of a chilling essay by Gideon Levy who continues to speak with an honesty that is unknown here in the States either about Israel or about ourselves.

Levy, in decrying Lieberman’s significance for Israel, writes:

The prohibited has become permitted, the ostracized is now accepted, the destestable has become the talented – that’s the slippery slope down which Israeli society has skidded over the past two decades. 

And those words made me pause. They ring true not just as a descripion of the depths Israeli politics has reached, but also as an apt description for our own recent governance. And just as Lieberman’s racist agenda is aimed at Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, so too our foreign and military policy has become in many ways centered on a "war on terror" that is hard to separate from a "war on muslims."

While we often discuss Israel’s dependence on the oh so generous supply of arms and funds which Washington supplies, and the stranglehold the Israel lobby maintains on our politicians, we rarely look at the extent to which our military tactics are modeled on Israeli methods.  I was first struck by the interconnection when reading Robert Fisk’s descriptions of the Israeli war on Lebanon in the 80s in his book, Pity the Nation. The parallels to our tactics in Iraq jump from each page – the missiles shot at Red Crescent ambulances mirrored in our attacks on Red Crescent ambulances in Fallujah for example, the devastating air strikes on residential neighborhoods – translate from Beirut to Sadr City with all too much ease – and the pretense of innocence surrounding Sabra and Shatila is sadly close to the US support for SCIRI death squads whose victims, while spread over a longer time, are no less mangled and murdered.  Even without the persistent reports  – most notably from Seymour Hersh  – of Israeli advisors to US forces in Iraq, the torture and assasinations, the wholesale detentions, abuse and the “justifications” of our prison camps in Iraq recall over and over the well reported human rights violations of Israeli treatment of Palestinians prisoners. 

As we’ve watched with horror the Iraeli attack on Gaza and the resulting devastation of lives and homes, we may have forgotten how closely that devastation mirrors the results of our war on and occupation of Iraq.  Gaza, already debilitated by the Israeli blockade, faced three intensive weeks of brutality while we have maintained our destruction of Iraqis and their society, already debilitated by our sanctions, over years. Yet the results are horribly similar.

This parallel is actually one that the Israeli press draws as well – but with a twist. In response to the global outcry over their attack on Gaza, the Israeli press often made the argument that the IDF is still more humane than US forces in Iraq:

The truth must be said: For years the army has demonstrated insensitivity in regard to killing Palestinian civilians, certainly in times of heavy fighting… Israel does not implement murderous methods like the Russians in Chechnya, or violence on a par with American actions in Iraq. 

Israeli sources have also consistently referenced American use of White Phosphorus as a justification for its own use – for example, Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: 

“The type of munitions used by Israel are similar, if not identical, to munitions used by other Western democracies, including Nato members.”

And in an article describing the PR talking points the IDF was using, we find this contrast:

Specific headings of the talking points convey the assumption that would-be advocates will face questions on proportionality, use of incendiary weapons, including white phosphorous, and treatment of detainees.

On the last, the talking points stress that, unlike the status in some countries of "unlawful combatants" – a loose term that allows the detention of persons indefinitely with very little supervision or limitations – the status of "unlawful combatants in Israel is regulated by law with detailed procedures and strict scrutiny."

The presentation goes on to detail that such detainees are guaranteed "the right to meet with legal counsel; judicial review by both the district and Supreme courts on decisions pertaining to the detention and the legitimacy of the detention itself, and suitable detention conditions."

Given what we’ve seen in Guantanamo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, they have a point.

Watching the Israelis elect a new government based on a coalition of one or another hawkish  politician and the extremist Lieberman, we should also pause to think about these parallels. And as we wait to see what the new US Afghanistan strategy will be and how swiftly and how completely we withdraw from Iraq, we cannot speak of our horror at the recent events in Gaza without also acknowledging our own government’s “skid” down that same “slippery slope.” 

h/t Erdla for the Gabriel Ash Primer on Israeli Elections linked above.

Photo: "Graffiti like this is often found on Palestinian houses near the Israeli settlements in Hebron. Dec. 28, 2002 – Hebron, West Bank, Palestine." A Christian Peacemaker Team photo, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License