Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there have been major shifts in its social and economic policies and in its strategic foreign policy toward the Arab world — particularly toward the Palestinian people — in addition to substantial changes in Israelis’ perceptions of themselves.
The Israel envisaged by some Arabs and foreigners, whether they be media professionals, academics, or politicians, in their various propositions and assessments is far from representing the social and political structure of the current reality of Israel.
So, What Changed in Israel?
To answer this question and to follow the developments Israel has undergone over the past seven decades, a historical division into three periods of time that mark radical shifts can be made. The purpose is to facilitate an understanding of Israel in its various social, economic, ideological, and strategic aspects.
The first Israel stage (1948 – 1977) divided here into two basic phases:
1. Phase 1 - Self-building or the “new Jew phase” from 1948-1966.
2. Phase II - The phase of occupation and the fight against Palestinian identity from 1967-1976.
The second Israel stage (1978-2005) divided here into three phases:
1. Phase 1: War on the PLO 1977-1991.
2. Phase II: The phase of preservation of privileges or the end phase of the “new Jew” from 1992-2000.
3. Phase III: Transition from 2001 to 2005.
The third Israel stage (2006 - to this day) divided here into three phases:
1. Phase 1: Refraction phase from 2006 to 2008
2. Phase II: Planning phase for the great transformation 2009 - 2012
3. Phase III: “Neo-Zionism” from 2012 to date
Across the various stages mentioned above, there have been qualitative social changes and significant economic transformations that have left their clear mark on the social and political structure, as well as on the ideology and self-understanding that dominated the political and social landscape.
Reflecting on these substantial shifts while understanding that Israel today does not resemble its past political elite, strategies, social composition, or understanding of itself allows for a more accurate representation and gives it analytical depth beyond pictorial inclusiveness. This will open new political horizons to develop realistic, well-controlled tactics that enable dealing with these shifts.
Arab and Western media and their political elites still project a presupposed image from the second stage of Israel, while ignoring major shifts in its social structure, i.e., its ethnic and class majorities, or its current different economic composition. Despite its economic prosperity that some brag about, Israel has become an absolute neoliberal state. The gaps between its social strata are growing day by day, and the numbers of social classes that are being deposited below the poverty line are constantly increasing.
In the past three decades, Israel has transformed from a state with a “socialist solidarity” structure (the kibbutz movement) to a state with a “neoliberal economic” structure in its most terrible mode. It is possible to observe how that affected democracy, citizenship, and the structure of political parties, as political extremism in both its religious and secular shades is sweeping over the Israeli political landscape, carrying everyone toward the right and racism. In this context, I have come to use the term “capital of racism.”
What I mean by this term is not the traditional meaning of capital in its Marxist sense. What I mean is that racism in Israel is now being employed by most Israeli leaders to accumulate political and social profits. Racism against the Palestinian minority in Israel in particular, and against the Palestinian people in general, is constantly increasing, whereas racism in Israel’s Jewish society moved from popular behavioral verbal racism, which is mostly spontaneous, to institutional racism supported by clear racist laws.1 These racist laws are being enacted in various areas: economy, housing, education, ownership, etc. For example, the Palestinians inside Israel are forbidden to live in some 900 Jewish towns and neighborhoods.2
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played a leading role in Israel's transition to the third stage. He was the first engineer and the lead coordinator. He developed a neoliberal economic system by privatizing state institutions and companies and halted the support given to the kibbutzim, which led to the privatization of the majority of them. He also reduced the state welfare services and social security. In particular, he was one of the first to realize that traditional Zionism had reached a dead end and had become a stumbling block in front of the state and Jewish society. Thus, Netanyahu is the person who laid the cornerstone for neo-Zionism with its orientations, strategies, and various rules, so I called it “Netanyahuism.”
The structural change within Jewish society started with the arrival of more than a million newcomers from the former states of the Soviet Union which widened the gap among various population sectors. Hence, among the majority components of Jewish society, Zionism became more of a “national nostalgia” than an all-encompassing national ideology. On an international level, other factors played a role in casting doubt on traditional Zionism, such as the adoption of UN Resolution 3379 in November 1975 that considered Zionism a racist movement, which endorsed the negative perception of it. Furthermore, the disclosure of the archives of the British
Mandate in Palestine to researchers paved the way for many historians, such as Nour Eddine Masalha, Ilan Pappe, and others, to reveal secrets about massacres and systematic ethnic cleansing carried out by the Zionist militias against the Palestinians during the early formation of the state. By the time of the first Palestinian intifada, there was a growing negative perception of Zionism and global solidarity with the Palestinians. Israel viewed that as a crisis and began looking for a solution.
The traditional Zionist leadership succeeded in breaking this impasse by requesting to repeal UN Resolution 3379 as a condition for participation in the Madrid Peace Conference.3 This did not restore the momentum of Zionism within the Jewish society in Israel to its previous era, however, and did not change the views of the Jewish elites or the international community on the erosion of Zionism. This success remained only in the corridors of official politics. Netanyahu saw in this an opportunity to pursue a new ideology – namely, “neo-Zionism,” which is fundamentally different from traditional Zionism. The tactics are summarized as follows:
1. forestalling the establishment of a full sovereign entity between Jordan, Israel, and Egypt.
2. tying the substantive strategic and ideological goals of neo-Zionism to the Jewish character of the state, making Israel at its core a Jewish-Zionist state.
3. tying the concept of full citizenship to the Jewish character of the state and making it exclusive to Jews.
4. achieving normalization of Israel’s relations in the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian issue.
These four points are viewed as the backbone of Netanyahuism, especially in its perception of Israel's Jewish character, its position in the Middle East, and its perspective on the future of the Palestinian cause.
At first glance, it would appear that they are derived from traditional Zionism and that Israel has always acted accordingly. The truth, however, is that these four points reflect an invasive ideological strategy at a time when Israel is going through its most difficult crises, the region is undergoing its most complex transformation, and a major deviation and change is taking place in the world order.
Forestalling the Establishment of a Full Sovereign Palestinian Entity
The assertion that a “Palestinian entity” must have diminished sovereignty fundamentally contradicts what was implicitly articulated by traditional Zionism and had partially formed the strategy of its political elite. The later considered the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) a precious bargaining card to be used to barter with Arabs and Palestinians in the event of a political settlement. It implicitly embraced the two-state solution. Yes, traditional Zionism did not define Israel's borders but had geopolitical ambitions regarding Arab and Palestinian territories and tried as much as possible to restrict the sovereignty of the Palestinian state that was supposedly being built.
Netanyahuism has significantly and decisively placed sovereignty restriction (of geographical areas, borders, crossings, space atmosphere, natural resources, etc.) as a cornerstone of its invasive strategy, identifying that the PLO has become a ghost, that the Palestinian division will not be resolved, and that the influential Palestinian leadership has linked its political and economic destiny with the occupation. If the Palestinian leadership opens the door, it will be subjected to blackmail by the other side. Netanyahuism quickly realized how to take advantage of this situation, especially since the future candidates to succeed President Mahmoud Abbas have the ability to live with this equation.
Israel's endeavors to intensify settlement activity in Area C and East Jerusalem in preparation for their final annexation to Israel are part of this strategy. The relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and attempts to eliminate and restrict UNRWA have given this strategy added impetus.
According to neo-Zionism, the “two-state solution” lies in building a Palestinian entity (the Palestinians may call it an empire, a state, or whatever they want) with limited sovereignty and will: self-rule only, and less than autonomy for everyday life matters, with political symbols to delude the Palestinians and world opinion that there is a “Palestinian state.”
Neo-Zionism is not shamed by the establishment of an apartheid regime in the OPT. It does not hide this fact and gives security justifications that are being successfully marketed in the West. The proof is that no one is taking a step to block Israel’s plan of “apartheid” in occupied Palestine. For years it has been building bypass roads that enable Jewish settlers to move between the settlements and Israel without passing through Palestinian villages and cities; only Israelis are allowed to travel on these roads. After the construction of the separation wall, it enshrined a judicial system that blatantly discriminates between two peoples living in one geographic area and under one administrative political system. The reference is to the judiciary that applies to the Palestinians and Israelis in Areas Cand B in the OPT.
These phenomena have in fact diminished Palestinian sovereignty over the land, people, and resources, and they are spreading every day. These measures, i.e., the erosion of Palestinian sovereignty and the restriction of the Palestinian will, are explained by neo-Zionism political elites as measures to protect the security of the Jewish state and its citizens. Even though these actions are a flagrant violation of Palestinian human rights and contravene international law and international conventions, they have become implicitly accepted at global political forums. Israel doesn’t fear punishment or legal, economic, or diplomatic sanctions against it. Israel, with its new ideology, is marketing these measures as “shrinking the conflict.”
With this, Israel has changed the concept and strategy that prevailed around the term “conflict management.” Today there is no serious talk about a solution to the Palestinian cause or about managing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Nowadays, everyone uses the term “shrinking the conflict.”
The notion of ending the occupation in order to restore security and tranquility in the region has been replaced with the primary concern of ensuring the permanence of the occupation. The main objective is to reduce manifestations of the conflict and avoid a popular uprising in the OPT.
Tying Objectives of neo-Zionism to the Jewish Character of the State
Netanyahu not only wanted neo-Zionism to get rid of the negative connotation that faced traditional Zionism, but he also wanted Zionism to become part of Judaism and complementary to it and vice versa. The growth of anti-Semitism in Europe and America has paved a new horizon for Netanyahu and neo-Zionism. In their ideological political discourse, they formed a strategic magic triangle consisting of Judaism, Zionism, and anti-Semitism. With the growth of the discourse about the rise of anti-Semitism in the world, Israel’s political leadership focused in their foreign policy on this particular subject. Anti-Semitism gradually became adjoined with the unconditional acceptance of the Jewish state and neo-Zionism, and this equation became patent in understanding the politics and relations with Israel: “If you want to become a sincere advocate against anti-Semitism, you must accept the Jewish state unconditionally and support its neo-Zionist political positions.”
Netanyahu's efforts to install this ideological triangle succeeded after the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) at its 2015 conference in Budapest issued a definition of anti-Semitism4 to include hostility toward Israel's politics and its political elites. This revamped definition of anti-Semitism has been adopted, sometimes with some emphasis as well, by the European and American governments and parliaments, while mere support for Palestinian demands for their rights - formerly part of the official, media, and cultural political discourse, especially in the West - has been classified as anti-Semitic.
This remarkable success of Netanyahu installed neo-Zionism as an ideology that is being adopted by all Jewish political and religious movements without exception. The passage of the Nation-State Law (the Jewish state law), which gained the support of Israel’s leadership, strengthened and supported the adoption of neo-Zionism as a successor to traditional Zionism.
Tying the Concept of Full Citizenship with the Jewish Character of the State
The Nation-State Law5 passed by the Israeli Knesset in 2018 culminated the transition to the third Israel stage. The Jewish opposition to this law did not stem from the principle that there are other citizens in Israel who follow religions other than Judaism and that this law will detract from their citizenship rights. It stemmed, as expressed by Israeli President Rivlin and others, from their fear for Israel’s democratic character and its future image in the world. Alon Harel, a law professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, went further than Rivlin and outlined the real risks that Netanyahu took by passing this law: “The law will divide the content of the Jewish culture and heritage into different branches according to economic and ideological interests instead of strengthening Judaism.”6
Its approval was a turning point in the Jewish state's relationship with the Palestinian minority in Israel. The law emphasized that Israel is the state of the Jewish people and that the exercise of the right to self-determination is an exclusive right for Jews only. Palestinians in Israel have become mere residents, not citizens of this geography. Their residence and the rights granted to them are linked to their conduct and loyalty to the Jewish state. The “loyalty oath” that followed was passed to complete the ‘Nation-State Law.’7
Israel’s Location in the Middle East
Since its establishment, Israel has tried by various means to become a regular member of the “Middle East States’ Club.” The history of Israel’s establishment, however, is centered around the uprooting of the indigenous people of the country and how the peoples of the Arab region dealt with this entity to prevent it from reaching this goal. The political leadership of Israel realized that entrance to the “Middle East States Club” would be through finding an acceptable solution with the Palestinians.
The emergence of neo-Zionism along with the changes that occurred on the Palestinian scene as a result of the geographical, social, and economic division and the regional changes that resulted from the victory of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah over Israel in the 2006 war brought about a change in strategy. Most importantly, the Arab segmentation that began with the so-called Arab Spring and other collapses that followed and worsened with the failure of the war on Syria and the deterioration of the aggression against Yemen created a vertical and horizontal split in the Arab world that paved the way for new allied alignments in the “Middle East States Club” and allowed the neo-Zionist Israel to influence it.
The new allied alignments initiated “Arab normalization” with Israel along the lines of its new Netanyahuism ideological identity, without any objection to its racist view of itself or its plans to eradicate the Palestinian cause. This success of neo-Zionism was the last nail in the coffin of traditional Zionism.
The “third Israel” stage has officially adopted Netanyahuism as a collective ideology. We no longer find political parties or movements that demand a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant UN Resolutions and in line with the aspirations of the Palestinian people. No one is objecting to the identification of Israel as the “Jewish state” in principle or to the claims of Jews regarding their “religious historical right” to the entire historical land of Palestine. There are only independent individuals who object to the colonial settlement project in the occupied Arab and Palestinian territories, and it is impossible to find a political movement or party that considers East Jerusalem OPT. The right of return and compensation to the Palestinian refugees is no longer a subject for debate among the Israeli political leadership.
The “third Israel” stage has become accepted in the Western world and part of the Arab Eastern world as a settler colonial state, and no one feels shamed by this. The apartheid regime in the OPT and racism within Israel have become perfectly normal.
The triangular stages division that was identified for these shifts led many Israeli intellectuals to write prestigious studies on them. Among the outstanding ones is a book by the Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, which has the dramatic title The Unmaking of Israel.
1 The full report on the racist laws endorsed in Israel is found on ‘Adalah organization website: https:// www.adalah.org/ar/content/view/1169
2 https://www.alquds.co.uk/ /هيومن-رايتس-ووتش-إسرائيل-تحشر-الفل
3 The Madrid Conference of 1991 was a peace conference, held from 30 October to 1 November 1991 in Madrid, hosted by Spain and co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union. It was an attempt by the international community to revive the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, involving Arab countries, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. (Wikipedia)
4 “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Accompanying the working definition, but of disputed status, are eleven illustrative examples whose purpose is described as guiding the IHRA in its work, seven of which relate to Israel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_Definition_of_Antisemitism
6 https://ar.wikipedia.org/wiki/ قانون_الدولة_القومية_لليهود_في_إسرائيل