Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness from the Israeli Left

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“One of the best attributes of human beings is that they’re adaptable; one of the worst attributes of human beings is they are adaptable.  They adapt and start to tolerate abuses, they adapt to being involved themselves in abuses, they adapt to adversity and they continue on.” — Julian Assange

Barack Obama has been the ultimate President for the ruling elites. The dissonance between his charming persona and his often brutal agenda enabled him to enact right-wing policies that padded his backers’ pockets and fortified the clandestine, civil rights-nullifying powers of the state, much at the expense of American tax payers.

In a reality dictated by identity politics, Barack Obama has also served as the ultimate feel-good President for liberals and the media. They could continue with their lives virtually guilt-free, lazily in a sheltered cocoon, while falsely projecting “progress” onto the President’s eloquent speeches and dark complexion. Thus, it is no surprise that ruling elites, liberals and the media overconfidently expected Obama’s candidate of choice, Hillary Clinton, to succeed him in office.

However, on November 8th the true American experience finally caught up and shattered this delusion with the surprising defeat of Hillary Clinton and the ascendancy of Donald Trump. In the age of likes, shares and cyberbullying, Twitter outplayed mainstream media’s ability to accurately assess the public’s growing discontent with the neoliberal status quo. Newsweek even went so far as to prematurely celebrate Clinton’s victory in print with a now sought after collector’s item “Madam President” issue. Whether Donald Trump’s victory is legitimate or not does not change the fact that American elites, liberals and the media have been proven to be grossly out of touch.

Upon the official announcement of the results on November 9th, Barack Obama issued a conciliatory and pacifying message, which stood in stark contrast to his long record of berating and humiliating Donald Trump. As such, in several weeks we are going to witness what will likely be the most awkward changing of the guards at the White House in history. The highly photogenic and elegant first African-American family will be replaced by a KKK-endorsed Twitter troll and his clan, part of which will ironically be on a temporary resident status.

As an Israeli-American with dual citizenship, the recent events in the United States evoke in me a sense of déjà vu, reminding me of the Israeli reality approximately twenty years ago.

Ahead of the elections in 1996, Israel was still in a state of shock after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination on November 4th, 1995 by the right-wing settler fanatic Yigal Amir. Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and Shimon Peres faced off in a campaign that was dismissed by elites, liberals and the media as an easy win for Peres. They viewed Bibi as a brash, opportunistic Jewish-supremacist whose incitement was partly responsible for Rabin’s assassination, and therefore his triumph was an unimaginable abomination. On election night, exit polls indicated a Peres win, though by morning Netanyahu was declared the victor by less than 1%, evoking the term “went to bed with Peres, woke up with Netanyahu”.

Upon Netanyahu’s election, Israeli elites, liberals and the media adopted a conciliatory approach, and decided to give him a chance. Many felt Bibi was relatively moderate compared to some of his coalition partners, which included extremists such as Rafael “Raful” Eitan, and the notorious Ariel Sharon. Thus, he consolidated power by galvanizing on their anxiety of the more extreme alternatives to his rule.

Ever since this surprising defeat, and in an attempt to remain relevant to large Jewish populations, Netanyahu’s opposition from the left compromises on its positions, resulting in a consistent and overall dramatic decline in its electoral power. More importantly, an agenda of equality and justice, once championed by the left, has been forgotten and even villainized; in present day Israel the Hebrew words for “left-wing” or “lefty” are derogatory, meaning loser or traitor.

In addition to this dramatic and ongoing shift of the mainstream to the right, corruption in Israeli politics is rampant. While in 1977 Rabin resigned from office due to a small bank account he and his wife had in Washington, nowadays Netanyahu clings to power even though he is under investigation for multiple corruptions. Meanwhile, many swaths of the Israeli public condone the summary execution of Palestinians and soon theft of private Palestinian lands will be legalized and acceptable.

Though there are obviously many differences in the populations and political landscapes of Israel and the United States, the Israeli example serves to demonstrate that once fundamental concessions are made and compromise is achieved by abandoning essential moral high ground, the battle is lost. There is no “let’s give him a chance and see” option. The battle is meaningless once these bargains are struck.

Just as Bibi appeared in 1996, Trump seems relatively moderate, or at least unpredictable,  compared to his Nazi-saluting supporters and the company he keeps, which includes Breitbart’s Steve Bannon and James “Mad Dog” Mattis. However, as the 1996 Israeli example illustrates, it is crucial to judge Trump’s future administration by its most extreme components, not solely by Donald Trump or any of his more moderate cabinet appointments. In addition, fear of more radical alternatives, such as Vice President-elect Pence, must not produce subservience to Trump. For years Netanyahu has been appeasing his political partners by moving rightward, while holding on to power by frightening his opposition on the left.

As the Israeli example demonstrates, American elites, liberals and the media must quickly come to terms with a new and uncomfortable reality whereby they either actively resist the discriminatory and reactionary policies of a Trump administration from day one (and before), or compromise, resign and conform to them. There is no middle ground when facing assaults to hard-won and fundamental human rights. The fight for this country’s soul must be waged in solidarity with all minorities both here and abroad, uncompromisingly and unapologetically. Their fate is the fate of America.

First published on Counterpunch HERE.