Nihilism in Israel, what possible response?

Apr 12, 2023
View from the Mount of Olives on the dome of the rock and ancient cemetery through the barbed wire, as a symbol of Palestine Israeli conflict,

April 5, in Jerusalem, Israeli police using stun grenades and firing rubber coated steel bullets invade the Al Aqsa Mosque. Hundreds of worshippers are arrested. Fourteen Palestinians are wounded by bullets, beatings and tear gas inhalation.

While the world looks on, how do we explain, how might this latest example of violence as policy be diagnosed?

If human existence becomes precarious, if pessimism about a future provokes no chink of light, if values to glue a semblance of humanity are regarded as pointless, nihilism reigns. That is the life destroying condition suffered by Palestinians in Israel, on the West Bank, in Gaza, and by Israelis brave enough to argue that their Supreme Court has been an abuser of human rights and contributes nothing to democracy.

Viewing current violence, chaos and protests in Israel, prompts search for an apt judgement. Nihilism provides that judgement. A less dramatic conclusion would fail to identify a nihilistic state, which would be equivalent to doctors not telling individuals they have a terminal cancer which needs life-saving treatment.

Evidence of Nihilism 

Political, social, military nihilism includes continuing bloodshed, (88 Palestinians and 16 Israelis killed since January), destruction of Palestinian homes, invasion of refugee camps, thousands of prisoners held without charge or trial, children manacled in military courts for throwing stones at military vehicles, the siege of Gaza into its fifteenth year. On February 28, following a Palestinian killing of two Israelis, settlers wreak pogrom style revenge on the Palestinian community of Huwara.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezael Smotrich identifies himself as a fascist homophobe, has demanded a Palestinian village be erased and has claimed that Palestinians do not exist, they have no history. To support settler violence against Palestinians, his extremist colleague, Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gavir, has been granted his own national guard, the equivalent of a private army.

Israeli governance rests on the illusion that democracy can exist in a Jewish only state. To protect that democracy, protesting Israelis advocate preservation of a Supreme Court which supports the unequal treatment of Jews and Palestinians and has authorised ethnic cleansing. The Jewish State Law of 2018 ruled that the right to self-determination was exclusive to the Jewish people.

Apartheid practices, the domination of one racial group over another, began in the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. For Palestinians, that Naqba tragedy was compounded by a Jewish law of return which allowed Jewish people to immigrate to Israel and gain automatic citizenship. Although a December 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334 stated that Israeli settlements were a flagrant violation of international law, Israeli police and army protect settlements, and in February 2023, the Netanyahu government legitimised nine settlement outposts. It also proposed building 10,000 new housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians have no control over land and homes. By 2023 there were more than 65 laws discriminating against them. Columnist for The Jerusalem Post, Gershon Baskin, reports that since 1948, 900 communities have been built for Jewish Israelis but none for Palestinian citizens. Only 3 per cent of land in Israel is under the jurisdiction of Palestinian municipalities though Palestinians make up 21 per cent of the population. Most state lands are off limits to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Almost all Israeli military demolition orders are against Palestinians.

Even internationally respected human rights agencies can’t dent the practices of an authoritarian state. In 2021, Defence Minister Benny Gantz designated six leading Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations and ordered Israeli troops to force their way into those organisations’ offices, seize documents and weld doors shut.

Responses to Nihilism

Responses to nihilism facilitate its continuation, or do little or nothing to hinder it. From other countries, those responses are of three kinds. There’s an Israel right or wrong brigade who would always support Israeli policies. The world is also treated to crocodile tears from western leaders who express dismay but fear to be too critical. A third response comes from human rights advocates who insist on socially just outcome for all Israelis and all Palestinians.

Enthusiasts for Zionism treat any criticism of Israel as an example of anti-Semitism. This knee jerk response has been bolstered by thoughtless, fearful institutions, such as Australian universities and both major political parties who have adopted the empirically paper thin IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Armed with that controversial statement, it’s easy to see why nihilism in Israel can be taken for granted.

The crocodile tears response denies realities, as in accepting that Israel may be a democracy, or does not practice apartheid. During Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent visit to London, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made repeated references to Israel’s democracy and was never challenged. In Australia and the EU, atrocities against the Palestinian people are met with deafening silence, or with the stereotype cliché that Israel has a right to defend its self. US administration’s denial of Israeli apartheid leaves an international community intimidated, or fooled by their own misperceptions.

As with cooperative responses to the Covid contagion, all states have a responsibility to find and prescribe a genuinely democratic alternative to the dangerous nihilistic events in Israel.

Humanity demands an end to apartheid. Humanity demands no repeat of the Naqba tragedy of 1948. Israeli citizens and all Palestinians can weigh the benefits of democracy in which one person equals one vote, all are equal, and every citizen should benefit from just laws.

The significant Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin writes that by including Palestinians as full partners, the Israelis who currently protest their version of democracy will discover a reservoir of new allies and could enable their country to speak with a clear moral voice.

The alternative is for the international community to express no moral outrage, never hold Israel accountable to international law let alone boycott Israeli products or impose sanctions. Such an amoral, powerless response colludes with settler stealing and destruction, with Israeli state imprisonment of Palestinians, with decades long military occupation, aided by racist policies of unlimited violence and killing.

Under these normless conditions, nihilism rules, spreads roots and even flourishes.


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