Viewpoint by Dr Alon Ben-Meir*
NEW YORK (IDN) — For the past four decades, I have been a keen observer of Israel. I taught scores of courses and wrote several books and hundreds of articles and essays, featuring the country’s uniqueness. I praised its democratic institutions, revered its untainted judiciary, admired its inner strength and ingenuity, applauded its discoveries in so many fields, and marveled over its emergence as a technological powerhouse.
And despite all odds, Israel became a powerful country, resolute, committed to the rule of law, exemplifying freedom and democratic principles in a sea of autocratic nations. The country earned the admiration of its friends and the envy of its foes, while realizing much of its founders’ dream—despite their many ideological differences, many of Israel’s founding fathers, including Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Theodor Herzl, and David Ben-Gurion, believed in a homeland for all the world’s Jews with a democratic form of government, acknowledging that the Arab inhabitants of the land were there to stay.
But as the country grew and prospered and became a formidable military power, it began to lose sight of its founders’ vision and the core reasons behind its creation. I have never shied away from intensely criticizing, when warranted, many Israeli governments who have pursued misguided and often counterproductive policies in the past.
Now I am utterly at a loss for words to describe my revulsion about the makeup of Netanyahu’s new government which is poised to pursue disastrous policies that will inflict a deadly blow to the values on which the country was built while setting the nation on an unparalleled, perilous path.
The curse of the occupation
Israel’s founding fathers could have never envisioned the country becoming an occupying power, subjugating millions of indigenous Palestinians, robbing them of their land, stifling their freedom, destroying their farms and evicting them from their homes, and treating them with disdain and brazen inequality.
All while, nearly every day another young Palestinian is killed. The Palestinians are not innocent by any measure, but what would Israeli Jews have done under such a ruthless occupation when, as the Palestinians live with today, only hopelessness and despair remain the order of the day?
To think that the historically oppressed and persecuted Jews have become the oppressor defies every Jewish value and every human right and moral tenet that the Jews themselves have championed so assiduously over the centuries. To be sure, the occupation is a curse from which Israel will suffer in the future just as much if not more than the Palestinians.
Israel’s founders would have never imagined that the country would one day be governed by a thoroughly corrupt prime minister who is on trial in three separate cases on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. He put his personal interest above the country’s and shamelessly pushed to realize his long-held dream of making Israel authoritarian with him at the helm, where Jewish supremacy reigns.
Netanyahu formed the most racist, homophobic, and far-right government in Israel’s history. He divided and subdivided the ministries to appoint cronies and criminals like Shas’ Aryeh Deri, Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Religious Zionist’s Bezalel Smotrich to posts of which they have little or no knowledge at all only to satisfy their inflated egos and blind ambition.
Millions are appropriated for these newly established ministries which are bound to clash with one another as their functions and responsibilities either overlap or are loosely defined, which is a recipe for chaos.
Crippling the judiciary
The founding fathers would have never fathomed that an Israeli government would seek to cripple the judiciary and especially the independence and authority of the Supreme Court. Netanyahu appointed Yariv Levin to be the Justice Minister, a methodical schemer who has been aiming for years to weaken the High Court’s independence. Levin is now planning, under Netanyahu’s instruction, to pass an “override clause,” to which most Israelis are opposed, that can overrule, even with a majority of one in the Knesset, any decision by the Supreme Court, which is considered the crown jewel of Israel’s jurisprudence, and give politicians greater weight over the appointment of judges.
The Supreme Court is the only institution with the power to restrain government actions and protect the democratic principles of the country. Now the government wants to usurp that power in order to undermine Israel’s democratic institutions with limited judicial recourse, as well as disrupt Netanyahu’s corruption charges without the Court’s interference.
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon put it succinctly when he said that Netanyahu’s proposals show “the true intentions of a criminal defendant” who is “ready to burn down the country and its values… in order to escape the dock.”
Israel’s founders would be shocked to realize that the country that was established precisely for the purpose of gathering the Jews from any corner of the world, regardless of their religious orientation—conservative, reform, or religious—is planning to put restrictions on who qualifies as Jewish.
Netanyahu appointed Avi Maoz, a bigot par excellence as the Czar in charge of the “Department of Consciousness of the Jewish State” within the newly-formed Office for Jewish National Identity, who is now preparing to restrict the immigration of any Jew whose Jewish roots may be questionable. His Noam Party is targeting LGBTQ persons, especially from the media, while intensely criticizing’ ‘radical feminists.’
Adding insult to injury, Israel still allows the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate to control marriage by not permitting civilian and same-sex marriages, opposing gay rights, and refusing to recognize marriages conducted by Reform or Conservative rabbis, which continues to alienate millions of Jews. This will only further strain the already severely stressed relations with diaspora Jewry.
As Rabbi Esther Lederman, the Union for Reform Judaism’s director of congregational innovation and leadership said, “The attacks made against Reform and Conservative conversions could threaten the identity and the status of Jews who want to make Aliyah from North America.” This will substantially reduce Jewish immigration to Israel which defies one of the main premises behind Israel’s establishment in the first place.
The damning consequences of Netanyahu’s ill-fated government
The founders of the State of Israel were dreaming of a country where Jews from the world over will live in harmony, and together forge a new society where democracy and equality reign supreme, where freedom of speech and religion are guaranteed, where human rights are zealously protected, and where political differences are respected. Instead, Netanyahu has created anything but an egalitarian government; only one which is racist to the core.
The new government is polarizing the Israelis in every political, social, and religious setting, discriminating against minorities, attacking secularism, rejecting feminists and LGBTQ persons, and harassing human rights organizations. To be sure, Netanyahu has singlehandedly undermined every pillar of Israel’s democracy.
His new government will be democratic in name only, fundamentally authoritarian, not unlike Poland, Hungary, and Turkey, with no scruples, fascist at the core, racist, and the most extremist right-wing government in Israel’s history that will earn the country nothing but mockery, scorn, and contempt.
Forfeiting Israeli-Arab normalization
The prospect of normalizing relations with other Arab countries will diminish completely as long as the occupation remains in force and as long as Ben-Gvir (currently National Security Minister, whose focus will be on security in the West Bank and who will be eager to rain havoc on the Palestinians) and Smotrich (Finance Minister) are in the government.
Recently, the Saudi foreign ministry affirmed what it has been stating all along, Saudi Arabia’s “solid stance of standing by the brotherly Palestinian people.” But now, leave it to the xenophobic Ben-Gvir to exacerbate the conflict with the Palestinians, making it impossible to reach an agreement, thus forfeiting the prospect of normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states that could have followed.
The cancelation of Netanyahu’s visit to the United Arab Emirates was meant to send a clear message to Netanyahu that his new government’s policy toward the Palestinians is totally unacceptable, and that every Arab state will land on the side of the Palestinians under any circumstances.
Damaging US-Israeli relations
US-Israel relations will too be adversely affected. President Biden made clear his opposition to expanding the settlements and warned Israel not to even contemplate further annexation of any Palestinian territories. The tension between Washington and Jerusalem will continue to rise as Biden and Netanyahu simply do not see eye-to-eye on a host of other issues, especially how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.
Although US-Israel relations are solid and have hardly been affected by the political orientation of successive US administrations and Israeli governments, this is the first time that the US has expressed profound concern about the makeup and the extremism of the new Israeli government and how its policies might affect their bilateral relations.
Although antisemitism has existed from time immemorial and Israel continues to sound the alarm about the upsurge of antisemitism, not once has any Israeli government attributed, at least in part, the rise of antisemitism to the continuing occupation. There should be no doubt that given what it stands for and the intent of the new government to expand the settlements and annex more territories in the West Bank, antisemitism will only continue to grow.
The continuing occupation reminds the whole world of Israel’s ruthlessness in the territories. Indeed, the new Israeli government will make matters worse and unless the occupation comes to an end, antisemitism will continue to rise, and anti-Jewish incidents will become increasingly common around the world.
Nurturing a fifth column
Instead of fostering social cohesiveness and encouraging Israeli Arabs to become an integral part of Israel’s social and economic mainstream, the new government is poised to intensify discrimination against this constituency which represents more than 20 percent of the population.
Further alienation and discrimination against Israeli Arabs by the new government will nurture enmity from within, unquestionably precipitate social unrest, and increasingly push Israeli Arabs towards militancy, becoming a fifth column once a new major violent flare up between Israel and the Palestinians occurs, which will be only a matter of time under this chauvinistic government.
What Netanyahu has done, to be sure, is nothing short of a political coup d’état. He is a master schemer, with no scruples, no morals, and no allegiance to the country for which millions of Jews have been yearning and dying for. Instead of forging peace he is preparing the next generation of Israeli youth to fight the next war and sacrifice their lives on the altar of his ego and the egos of his fanatical gang. Netanyahu is dangerous, a menace to the future of the Jews in and outside Israel, and his government must speedily be toppled before it’s too late.
Yes, under the new Israeli government led by autocrats, messianic zealots, and corrupt and power-hungry bigots, Israel will be marching on a dark and sorry trail that will grow ever darker, obliterating its character as a democratic country and rendering it nothing but a pariah and an apartheid state. It will be reviled by the international community, constantly on the defensive and living by the gun to survive.
*Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU). He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years. [IDN-InDepthNews — 13 January 2023]
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
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