Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Israel today confers legitimacy and a sense of normality to what is a profoundly dangerous regime bent on dramatically stepping up the murder of Palestinians. “America’s commitment to [Israel’s] security remains ironclad,” Blinken pledged at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “That commitment is backed up by nearly 75 years of United States support. America’s commitment has never wavered. It never will.”
To the extent that Blinken raised any differences with the Israeli government, they were carefully designed to draw a false equivalency between Israeli oppression and Palestinian resistance. Blinken remarked that, “We’re urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate,” and expressed his desire to, “restore a sense of security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, which of course is sorely lacking.”
But the reality of the situation is that the Israeli government is preparing to unleash a wave of unrestrained violence against the Palestinian people. Palestinians are fighting back, as is the right of any people living under occupation, but for Blinken to present himself as a level-headed mediator standing in between two groups of hardliners is the height of cynicism.
Throughout its entire existence, Israel has employed horrific violence on a massive scale against Palestinians and independent countries in the region. This policy of colonialism and apartheid is accepted across the Israeli political spectrum, but just last month a new coalition government took office that is the most right wing in Israel’s history.
In addition to his own Likud party, itself a virulently anti-Palestinian force, Netanyahu’s government depends on the support of an alliance called Religious Zionism. One of the leaders of Religious Zionism is Itamar Ben-Gvir. As a youth, Ben-Gvir was a follower of the notorious racist Meir Kahane, a Brooklynite who moved to Israel and created the Kach party. Kach was outlawed as a terrorist organization, but Ben-Gvir leads a successor organization called Jewish Power. Nothing could be more revealing about Ben-Gvir than his hero-worship of Baruch Goldstein. In 1994, Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounded 125, including many children, inside the Mosque of Ibrahim in the West Bank city of Hebron. Ben-Gvir kept a photo of Goldstein on his living room wall until grudgingly taking it down in order to run for parliament in 2020.
The other key leader of Religious Zionism is Belazel Smotrich. He is deeply racist, misogynistic and homophobic. In 2016, he tweeted that he supported the segregation of Palestinian and Jewish women in maternity wards. And in 2015, he said that developers should not have to sell houses to Palestinians. In a mockery of a Gay Pride parade in 2006, Smotrich organized a “Beast Parade,” made up of animals. Ten years later he tweeted, “I am a proud homophobe.” For many years, Smotrich has advocated a “shoot-to-kill” policy for the occupation forces in the West Bank. Asked in 2017 what he would do about a Palestinian child throwing stones at a demonstration, he answered: “Either I will shoot him, or I will jail him, or I will expel him.”
Both men are now key ministers in the Israeli government. Ben-Gvir heads the newly-created “Ministry of National Security” — putting him in charge of the police, the prison system, border guards, and other instruments of repression. Smotrich is the minister in charge of armed forces activity in the West Bank.
This government is in the midst of a killing spree. Last Thursday, Israeli troops carried out the deadliest raid in the West Bank in decades when they invaded the city of Jenin and massacred nine Palestinians, including a 60-year-old woman. This is part of an effort called “Operation Break the Wave,” designed to overwhelm with violence an emerging new generation of Palestinian resistance fighters. Operation Break the Wave was initiated during the previous government, but the new coalition is dramatically escalating the violence.
And on the eve of Blinken’s visit, Netanyahu made it clear that he hopes to enlist the entire Israeli population in this campaign of killing. Last Saturday, Netanyahu convened a cabinet meeting and announced that he would be moving to lift legal restrictions on firearm ownership for Israelis, an obvious signal that any Israeli has the green light to kill with impunity — all they have to do is say they suspected the Palestinian they murdered was carrying out resistance activities.
It is an outrage that this reign of terror that Palestinians are being subjected to is paid for with U.S. tax dollars. Blinken made it crystal clear during his visit that the $3.8 billion of military aid the United States gives Israel every year is secure, as is the diplomatic backing that allows it to escape accountability for its crimes. Instead of platitudes and hollow offers to mediate, the U.S. government should immediately end all aid to Israel.