The Israeli left likes to claim its no-holds-barred fight against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters is an ideological struggle that pits the forces of democracy and old-time Zionism against the forces of tyranny and tribalism. Events of recent weeks tell the opposite tale.
In 2008, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin leapt onto the world stage following then-Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s surprise decision to select the young, charismatic first-term governor as his running mate. In one of the early photos released following her selection, Palin was seen standing behind her desk in the Alaska governor’s office. Amid the mementos and family photos, a small flag of Israel hung from her wall.
Amazed Israelis marveled at the unexpected display of friendship from the until-then unknown governor halfway around the world. Many assumed that Palin’s support for Israel owed to her evangelical Christian faith. But while her faith did inform her position, so did her attachment to Alaska. Many Alaskans view their history as enmeshed with that of the State of Israel due to a little known historical episode that happened in 1949.
Months after Israel was founded, and as Arab armies still pounded it from all sides, the provisional government asked Alaska Airlines, the airline of what was then the US territory of Alaska, to take on the daring mission of transporting the Jews of Yemen home to the new Jewish state.
Over a period of seven months, in what became known as “Operation Magic Carpet,” Alaska Airlines crews risked their lives day in and day out to bring 40,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel.
Alaska Airlines features the tale — from the Alaskans’ perspective — on its website. Among other things, the website quotes flight attendant Marian Metzger saying, “We realized this was going to be part of the history of Israel.”
And through Metzger and her colleagues, it also became part of Alaskan history, joining the fates of the 49th state in the union with the reborn state of the Jewish people.
When Palin visited Israel, she didn’t expect to receive a thank you from the descendants of the Alaska Airlines passengers on its Aden-Tel Aviv route. She went to the Western Wall and prayed and traveled the country like a normal tourist enjoying the beautiful state built by the communities of Jewish exiles who returned to their homeland after 2,000 years, communities her state was privileged to have had a hand in bringing home.
The story of Palin’s Israeli flag and of Alaska Airlines’ contribution to Israel’s early fulfillment of the mission of Zionism came to mind last week after Israeli social media exploded with the publication of a video of an Israeli who participated in another ingathering of exiles — ”Operation Solomon,” the airlift of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel by the Israel Air Force in 1991.
The videos featured retired Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel, who served as a cargo pilot in that operation. Today Haskel leads the leftist protests against Netanyahu. In the videos, Haskel is seen screaming at police officers whose families came from Ethiopia and who tried to restrain him in recent protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in central Jerusalem.
“I brought your parents to Israel!” Haskel yelled at a female officer in one clip.
“You should be ashamed of yourself! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?!”
The second video showed him doing the same thing to a male officer.
Haskel and his comrades have staged wild protests against Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, his private residence in Caesarea and throughout the country for the past several months. They have repeatedly and deliberately broken legal restrictions on gatherings duly passed by the government and Knesset in attempts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
In the videos released last week as in news coverage of the protests for the past six months, Haskel and his comrades badger and attack police, insisting that everyone who attempts to constrain their protests due to concern regarding the pandemic are “anti-democratic,” and indeed, enemies of the state that they did so much to defend during their military service.
In other words, Haskel and his leftist comrades maintain that their past service to the country puts them in a privileged position in Israeli society. In their view, the laws enforced against their fellow citizens should not be enforced against them because without them, there wouldn’t be an Israel.
Haskel has been the darling of the media for the better part of the past year. But since the videos were published, he has been the object of withering criticism. Most of the critics have focused their attacks on his apparent racism and inarguable condescension. But there is a more distressing, and foundational, aspect of his behavior.
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Haskel effectively serves as the commander of the left’s ground forces in its comprehensive campaign to vilify Netanyahu and his supporters. Haskel’s pitch to the country is that his delegitimization of the lawfully elected prime minister is legitimate because his story is the personification of Zionism in action.
He wrapped himself in Zionist glory when he screamed at the police officers who tried to enforce the law and break up his unlawful protests, “I brought your parents!” But his behavior demonstrated that he has less understanding of Zionism than Alaska Airlines and the citizens of America’s “Last Frontier.”
The police officers owe him no gratitude. If anything, he owes them gratitude. By bravely maintaining their devotion to Judaism and the Jewish homeland through thousands of years of exile, the Jews of Ethiopia gave him the opportunity to take part in fulfilling the vision of the prophets and ingather the exiles “on the wings of eagles.”
And that’s the thing of it. The fight Haskel and his entitled comrades wage against Netanyahu and his supporters isn’t about who should run the country, it’s about the purpose of the state. And it is the great tragedy and failing of leftist Zionism that they are waging this battle.
The grandparents and great grandparents of the likes of Haskel and his comrades were Labor Zionists who came to Israel in the early decades of the twentieth century to rebuild the Jewish commonwealth. True, they wanted the future state to be a socialist state. But they didn’t come to Israel to live as pioneers because they were socialists. Like the Jews from Yemen and Ethiopia and from the four corners of the earth, they came because they were Jews.
Their specific Zionism was a reaction to the failure of the European emancipation that brought about mass assimilation of Jews on the one hand and the rise of modern, exterminationist anti-Semitism on the other hand. Had Haskel’s grandparents wanted to live for their socialist rather than their Jewish ideals, they would have immigrated to New York and founded labor unions and pushed socialist policies as so many Jewish socialists from eastern Europe were doing at the time.
Now, revoltingly, a mere hundred years after their forebears began arriving at the ports of Jaffa and Haifa, and 29 years after “Operation Solomon,” Haskel and his comrades have lost contact with their mother ship. “Zionism” for them is not an article of faith or even an ideological position. It is a marketing tool they use to present themselves as the rightful rulers of Israel.
For the past decade, leftist parties have used it to hide their radical positions. In 2015 the leftist party called itself “The Zionist Union” while pushing a post-Zionist platform. In 2019, the leftist party called itself “Blue and White” to hide its ideological nihilism and blind quest for power.
The “Ingathering of Exiles” (kibbutz galuyot) that captivated the imaginations and steered the dreams of Jews through millennia of persecution, expulsions and massacre is for Haskel and his colleagues merely the name of a highway junction in Tel Aviv that they send protesters to block on a semi-regular basis.
Haskel instinctively attacked the police officers as ungrateful wretches because he either forgot or never really understood the purpose of the country. For him, the fight is about taking power away from the irritating Jews who keep faith with his grandparents’ vision and seizing it for himself and his friends in the name of his grandparents’ legacy.
Aside from the media that gives slobbering coverage to anyone who opposes Netanyahu, Haskel and his comrades’ most powerful ally in their lawbreaking, contemptuous protests is Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Like them, Mandelblit uses loaded language to try to give an ideological veneer to his self-aggrandizing behavior.
Mandelblit’s contempt for the public was on prominent display last month in remarks he made at a Rosh Hashanah toast to his subordinates.
Referring to himself as the “guardian of democracy,” Mandelblit spent most of his speech attacking his critics, who view his decision to indict Netanyahu on bribery and breach of trust charges for his alleged efforts to win positive coverage from news outlets as legally and normatively defective. Diminishing studied criticism as mere background noise, Mandelblit said derisively, “the windows [of this building] are sealed off from the noises outside.”
Mandelblit expressed pure contempt for Israel’s elected leaders, whose criticism of his actions he attacked as anti-democratic and worse. He referred to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s criticism of his behavior as “a terror attack against democracy.”
But then at the end of his remarks he turned to the anti-Netanyahu protests organized by Haskel and his comrades. Referring to them, Mandelblit waxed poetic about the “foundational right to protest” in a democracy.
In recent weeks Mandelblit’s subordinates have instructed the police not to charge Haskel and his fellow Netanyahu haters for breaking the laws in the course of their protests, lest their democratic right to protest be trampled.
The glaring contradiction in Mandelblit’s remarks — his seething dismissal of “noises from outside” made by those who oppose his deeply controversial efforts to criminalize otherwise lawful political behavior to oust Netanyahu from power on the one hand, and his self-righteous defense of the “foundational right to protest” in speaking about Haskel and his band of Netanyahu haters on the other — is disturbingly similar to the tale revealed by Haskel’s videos.
Haskel rejected the foundation of Zionism by demanding the gratitude of the children of Ethiopian Jewry while glorifying the contribution he made to one of its greatest triumphs — the airlift of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel. Mandelblit revealed his contempt for democracy by rejecting the legitimacy of elected leaders while upholding the right of anti-Netanyahu protesters to break the laws in the name of “democracy.”
Haskel’s anti-Zionist outbursts and Mandelblit’s anti-democratic speech show that Israel is not in the throes of an ideological battle between two competing ideological camps. Instead, a large majority of Israelis joined in their dedication to Zionism and democratic norms is being assaulted by an aggressive, hateful and arrogant minority whose leaders cynically exploit Zionist concepts and the language of democracy to undermine both to advance their naked, nihilistic bid for power.