Biblical rhetoric stirs controversy

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Biblical rhetoric stirs controversy

Monday, 17 June 2024 | Bhopinder Singh

Biblical rhetoric stirs controversy

As Netanyahu faces mounting pressure, his future leadership hangs in the balance amidst growing calls for a more humane approach to the conflict

In politics, symbolism matters. In the biblical-civilisational land of Palestine or Ha’aretz Hamuvtakhat (‘Promised Land’) which birthed Abrahamic faiths, symbolism is even more significant. Therefore, Israel’s most extreme-right Prime Minister ever i.e., Benjamin Netanyahu, upped the incendiary rhetoric by invoking the ‘Amalek’ narrative to appeal to the basest of instincts. Netanyahu provoked, “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible” – referencing the Biblical Amalekites who were seen as the archetypal enemies of the Jews. It was suggestive of not sparing any of the so-called modern ‘Amaleks’ (read, Palestinians). Many were horrified at the attempt to seek justification in holy scriptures, to defend the indefensible. Similarly, many are deeply concerned at the import and usage of the Palestinian expression “From the river to the sea” as the same finds mention in the terror group Hamas’s charter, which is construed as the complete extermination of the Israeli State and the Jews. The polemics are deeply symbolic.  

Israel is today conducting a brazen and no-holds barred retaliation (already accounted for over 35,000 Palestinian deaths) that remains unheeding and unconcerned to global calls for restraint. In some ways, the horrific 7th Oct attack by the terror group Hamas was serendipitously timed for the already unpopular, dictatorial, and tainted Benjamin Netanyahu. Expectedly, after the attack the opposition parties put their differences aside and joined the National Unity Government to stand together in the face of national crisis. It also distracted the attention from Netanyahu’s misgovernance till then and offered a much-needed distraction. Netanyahu grabbed the opportunity of the wounded moment to launch an unprecedented revenge that has now got his initial allies like the USA to rethink. After many supportive vetoes in the Security Council, the US was forced to agree with motions that called out the disproportionality of Israeli revenge. Netanyahu cared two-hoots and persisted with his onslaught, as he gambled that it allowed him time and space to do even more fear mongering, ‘othering’, and manufactured-outrage that could somehow justify his continuation.

Already, Israel (especially under Netanyahu) has regularly cocked a snook at the United Nations by becoming the most ‘sanctioned’ nation in the world. It also cares little about international condemnation. But perhaps it has overplayed its trademark belligerence for now, as the reactions from countries that were once clearly pro-Israel (e.g., the USA) or cautiously guarded (e.g. Western European nations) are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their stand, as the global outcry over Israeli excess becomes louder. While typically it wouldn’t have mattered to Israel under Netanyahu – but perhaps now it does, given that it could backfire on the public mood in Israel which in any case is tiring of the bloodshed and even more wary of Netanyahu’s ability to lead the nation, hereinafter.

Three Western countries i.e., Spain, Ireland and Norway have announced that they will now recognise a Palestinian State (with borders that existed prior to the 1967 war, with Jerusalem as the joint capital). It is a wholly symbolic move that comes with the rider that they are willing to change the contours of the sovereign borders after the final negotiated settlement of the ‘two-nation’ formula, something Netanyahu has opposed tooth-and -nail. It is an attempt to defame Netanyahu’s stand and propel the national mood towards ceasefire and rapprochement. Given that these three countries are ‘Western’ and have ostensibly no axe to grind with Israel (unlike any of the Arab Sheikdoms or Iran) and hence their action is only rooted in genuine concern and morality. A country like Norway, is in any case the beacon of ethics and humanity, in the global comity of nations – hence that bears its own significance with such an action. It could therefore impact and galvanise public opinion within Israel to put internal pressure on Netanyahu. Such a development, if it were to accrue, is possibly Netanyahu’s worst nightmare come true. His survival and legitimacy are predicated on the still popular notions of extracting ‘justifiable’ revenge, and the sudden siding of Western powers (once pro-Israel) towards his nemesis i.e., Palestine, deligitimises those notions.

Even its staunchest ally, the United States of America, is facing consequences of affording an initial ‘blank cheque’ onto Israel with rising protests across its campuses, something Joe Biden can ill-afford in the election year. Americans have now become mealy-mouthed and wishy-washy in their support towards Netanyahu and have started talking about ceasefire, reiterating the ‘two-state’ formula as the way forward and talking about direct dialogue with the Palestinians. Whereas the United Kingdom, Malta, Australia, and Slovenia have gone one step further and threatened to follow suit with Norway, Spain, and Ireland in recognising the Palestine State. 

While all of this is still in the realm of symbolism without any concrete interference in the expanding Israeli footprint and flattening of the Gaza Strip – it will be significant in checkmating Netanyahu’s amoral politics and untenable approach in Gaza Strip. Even Netanyahu’s instinctive reaction that such moves by one-time allies tantamount to ‘rewarding’ Hamas will not have too many takers as truly neutral countries like Norway are not known to take sides in conflict one way or the other, or even to ‘derecognize’ Israel, but only to drive peace with the insistence of the ‘two-nation’ formula of Oslo Agreement and peace, as the only way forward.

(The writer, a military veteran, is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. The views expressed are personal)

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