Hard Truths Break Bans
Elon Musk, extremely successful capitalist entrepreneur, richest man in the world, and owner of the highly influential social media platform X (formerly twitter), has provoked a massive wave of criticism by his recent threat to suspend all X accounts that refer to “decolonizing” Palestine or the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” [https://x.com/elonmusk/status/1725645884409401435?s=20] The reason Musk gave for this crass interference is his belief that both expressions are “necessarily” (his term) coded calls to commit genocide against Jewish Israelis.
If Musk had done as little as one quick Google search before intervening so aggressively on such a critical issue, he would easily have found out that his assumption is simply – and very starkly – factually wrong. Especially after the recent, scandalously hypocritical censure of US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, even pro-Israel outlets such as the New York Times have acknowledged that “from the river to the sea” in most cases refers to a perfectly legitimate desire for freedom from oppression and, yes, a state, but not one that somehow eliminates Jewish Israelis or Israel. [What Does ‘From the River to the Sea’ Mean? - The New York Times (nytimes.com)]
It is a flat-footed, shameless propaganda lie to smear this phrase with a genocidal meaning it does not have. And yes, the same easily holds for attempts to caricature “decolonization.” And Musk fell for that lie.
It is not hard to analyze the most shocking implication of Musk’s claim: IF demands for freedom for Palestine – including in the terms Musk wants to openly suppress – really were the same as calls for the abolition of Israel and mass murder of its Jewish citizens, then that would imply that Israel can only exist in its current shape, namely as an apartheid regime (as recognized by Human Rights Watch, amnesty international, and B’Tselem) that constantly and brutally oppresses the Palestinians and even subjects them to ethnic cleansing and genocidal assaults.
In reality, however, the liberation of the Palestinians and Israel’s continued existence are, obviously, not mutually exclusive. What justice and fairness require is a momentous change in, not the end of Israel. It is puzzling that Musk of all people seems to miss this obvious fact: After apartheid ended in South Africa, the white population of his former home country was not subjected to genocide but retained a place in the new order as well.
Perhaps Musk is not happy with the politics of post-apartheid South Africa. That is his right. But it is not his right to fail to acknowledge empirical facts: From not perfectly analogous but still comparable experience, too, there is no rationally discernible reason not to see Israel’s best possible future as well in a state that has abandoned apartheid and permanent aggression.
Indeed, there’s a sad irony in Musk’s error, because here is what is so likely that it is virtually certain: It its not “only” a matter of justice and fairness that Palestinians and Palestine are liberated from Israeli oppression and genocidal violence (once again: that does not imply the end of Israel), it is, actually, a matter of survival – for Israel. Here is why:
If there is a real threat to Israel’s very existence, then it stems precisely from its own current addiction to violence. Musk himself has noted this fact in a recent interview: A policy of constant brutalizing the Palestinians is also a policy of constantly making new enemies that cannot be sustainable. He is absolutely right here. But he needs to think through to the inescapable conclusion: It is not only Israel’s best but its only secure future that demands an end to the conflict with both the Palestinians and its neighbors, close and farther off, in the Middle East.
And make no mistake: Neither ethnic cleansing and genocide nor large-scale bribery operations in the spirit of the “Abraham Accords” will ever even “work” – apart from being morally abysmal, of course. Hence, a decent, constructive end of the conflict – instead of an utter catastrophe for Israel as well – will remain out of reach without the liberation of the Palestinians.
Therefore, the real, vital national task of responsible and farsighted Israeli leaders – which seem not to exist at this point – would be to find a way to resolve this challenge: to end the oppression of the Palestinians and reconcile them (admittedly a very tall order by now due to Israel’s own record of massive crimes, but, once again, there is no other way), so as to finally shift Israel from its immoral as well as brittle base of hyper-aggressive settler colonialism to a just and solid one of mutual good will or, at least, tolerance.
Put differently, the endless wager on force, force, and then some more force, i.e., the approach of the “iron wall,” originally formulated by extremist right-wing Zionism to then become the one and only Israeli grand strategy, was never a good idea. By now it is, actually, clearly not “only” (if that is the term!) genocidal toward the Palestinians but also self-destructive and in urgent need of complete replacement, in Israel’s own vital interest as well.
Put differently, the continuation of the colonial model will be suicidal. Hence, far from suppressing calls for decolonization, a smart observer would have to welcome them, for Israel’s sake as well: Israel either decolonizes, at long last, or it will face enormous dangers of its own making.
As it is now, the insanely brutal and arrogant ideology of the “iron wall” seems to have already driven much of Israeli society insane. If it is not abandoned, it will, ultimately, endanger the very existence of that society. If Israel should ever face real existential threats, it will have done that to itself.
Hard truths may not sound pleasant. The consequences of not facing them are much more painful again.