With most of the vote in, the Israeli elections appear to have confirmed the much-expected mandate for Ariel Sharon’s creation, the Kadima Party, to lead the next government, though with fewer Knesset seats than expected. The real shocker, however, was the collapse of Likud under Bibi Netanyahu, who wrested control of the party from Sharon: it will apparently be the fifth-ranking party in the next Knesset, behind Kadima, Labor, the Sephardic party Shas, and the Russian-immigrant dominated Yisreal Beiteinu. Indeed, Likud, the dominant right-wing party in Israel for decades, barely finished ahead of the Pensioner’s Party, a purely domestic- oriented political group that surprised everybody with its straightforward representation of the interests of the elderly.The scattered partisan results, and the remaining uncertainty regarding the imminent negotiations over the shape and size of a Kadima-led governing coalition, make all sorts of interpretations of the election possible, as evidenced by insta-reactions in the Israeli press and the blogosphere. Some will emphasize Kadima’s emergence, and note the vindication of Ariel Sharon, who, as Haaretz’s Robert Rosenberg noted, spent his last night as Prime Minister of Israel in a coma. Others will focus on Labor’s relatively strong showing under its new leader Amir Peretz, an Algerian-born union leader who represents a break with his party’s long identification with an Ashkenazi, kibbutz-centered elite. Still others will send up alarms about the rise of Yisreal Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, who could wind up being the leader of the official opposition. And the Pensioner’s Party, whose performance was so unexpected in a country long obsessed with security issues, will get attention as well.But the most compelling analysis I’ve read was actually written yesterday, by The New Republic’s Yossi Klein Halevi, which predicted low turnout and an inconclusive result, and suggested it was “Israel’s saddest election,” based on widespread despair. The “Greater Israel” ideology that once enlivened Likud and other right-wing parties is dead, said Halevi; it’s really an academic question as to whether Sharon was a lot or just slightly ahead of the curve in recognizing that and adjusting his policies accordingly. And just as importantly, the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections confirmed the experience of the Second Intifada in largely extinguishing the “peace party” in Labor and on the Israeli left generally. Nearly all Israelis, said Halevi, have endorsed Sharon’s “separation strategy,” with the arguments being over time, place and manner of that separation. Even Lieberman’s right-wing party has distinguished itself by arguing for a strictly ethnic-based “separation” in which Jewish settlements would remain in Israel while Israeli Arab enclaves would be ceded to the proto-Palestinian state. Invidious as that idea is, it’s a far cry from “Greater Israel” and a permanent occupation of Palestine as a whole.Halevi’s hypothesis helps explain the historically low turnout in today’s elections (63 percent, which is robust by American standards, but is well below the traditional Israeli benchmark of 80 percent), and also the emergence of domestic-policy-only focused parties like the Pensioners. But he’s right: it’s very sad. Israelis are largely united on a “separation strategy” that every major faction in Palestinian politics rejects, most notably the hyper-rejectionist Hamas, which can’t bring itself to even accept the legitimacy of Israel according to any configuration. Perhaps the most important question about today’s Israeli elections is whether anyone on the Palestinian side recognizes and acts upon the challenge and the opportunity of the new Israeli consensus for a two-state solution, which is becoming a reality beyond all the past rhetoric on both sides.
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By Ed Kilgore
After a week of efforts to equate the controversial remarks of two particular members of Congress, I pushed back a bit at New York:
It looks like House Republicans are going to deal with outrage over their perennial problem child Marjorie Taylor Greene by finding a Democrat to punish. That would be Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, according to Politico’s Huddle:
“’I think that Ilan should receive the same type of punishment as Marjorie because if it’s good for one, it is good for another,’ Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), who voted to remove Greene from her committees, told me. ‘Anti-semitism is the same thing as anti-semitism. It’s just that Nancy is afraid …'”
There are others who want to push for Omar’s removal as well as those looking to censure her over her war crimes remarks — and a few Dems may join them.
The idea of equating Omar’s complaints about unequal treatment of countries in investigating military misconduct with Greene’s comparisons of mask and vaccine requirements to the Holocaust is deeply satisfying to a lot of people. Republicans can continue their now-ancient habit of waving away extremism in their ranks by claiming it’s more prevalent on the other side of the aisle. Nervous centrist Democrats can document their nervous centrism by firing thunderbolts left and right. And most of all, accusing both parties of harboring those prone to “false equivalence” appeals to the false equivalence many Beltway media folks want to draw between Democrats and Republicans, who are engaged in the mutually assured destruction of partisan polarization.
There’s only one problem: Treating what MTG and Omar have said as equal expressions of false equivalence actually is false, as any honest evaluation of their words quickly shows. Greene bluntly compared COVID-19 precautions to the Holocaust, analogized vaccine documentation mandates to the Nazi practice of making Jews wear yellow stars, and, for good measure, said Democrats are like Nazis because they are “socialists.” Omar said this in the midst of a virtual exchange with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken over investigations of the brief but intense war between Israel and Hamas:
“’We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,’ she wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.’”
Her point wasn’t to say the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban were equally culpable in their commission of atrocities, but that all should be equally subject to international investigation. I suppose there are superpatriots who would dispute the idea that America has ever committed “unthinkable atrocities,” though the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks, and of countless genocidal assaults on Native Americans, among many examples, suggest otherwise. But in any event, when challenged by Republicans and Democrats alike to make it clear she was not imputing equivalent culpability to these various nations and coalitions of fighters, Omar complied instantly:
“U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said Thursday that she was ‘in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems … ‘
“’To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding [International Criminal Court] cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel.’”
MTG, meanwhile, kept doubling down on her comparisons of public-health measures with the slaughter of many millions by Nazi Germany, and finally, after more than three weeks and a tour of the Holocaust Museum, she issued an apology that betrayed little understanding of the full scope of the Holocaust, and then refused to apologize for the Democrat-Nazi analogy.
Looking more broadly at the two women and their records of controversial utterances, Ilhan made an unfortunate and erroneous reference to “the Benjamins,” in a gratuitous comment about support for Israel in the United States, for which she “unequivocally” apologized:
“Anti-semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be able to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Greene lost her committee assignments earlier this year after media focus on an almost incredible blizzard of incendiary statements she made on social media before coming to Congress (barely anyone even noticed her practice of brandishing an AR-15 when discussing her enemies in campaign ads). In February, she apologized for claiming that school shootings were fake and for promoting QAnon conspiracy theories. She never apologized for happily contemplating violence against congressional Democrats (including, very specifically, Ilhan Omar) and the Speaker of the House, or for her unusually aggressive support of Trump’s electoral big lie and the effort in January to overturn the presidential election results, or for her own subscription to very weird anti-Semitic claims.
If you cannot discern a qualitative difference between Omar’s “outrages” and Greene’s, and between the speed and coherence of their clarifications and apologies, it may be time for some remedial work in logic and rhetoric. These two members of Congress aren’t alike at all, and as much as I sometimes disagree with Ilhan Omar, treating her as a left-wing MTG is lazy and just plain wrong.