On Monday, Yuval Rabin, son of the slain Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Rabin, penned an op-ed to USA Today. In the piece, he accused Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of incitement to violence against his main opponent, Hillary Clinton and pointed out that Trump’s fiery rhetoric was not unlike that promoted and condoned by Rabin’s opponents in the lead-up to his assassination. The younger Rabin’s words should not only be taken seriously out of concern for Clinton’s life, but also out of concern over what could happen to American society if her life was taken. Developments in Israeli politics and society over the past several decades should serve as a warning.
In the wake of the Six Day War, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, came out of retirement to tell the Israeli public that they should withdraw from the territory they acquired in the conflict save for East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. If they did not, the State of Israel would become a dark version of itself, if not be destroyed completely. Few people listened, as the war’s outcome was not only a deeply symbolic victory, but because it also helped further secure the borders of a state that had to deal with constant threats of terrorism.
26 years later, the signing of the Oslo Accords by Rabin the Elder and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat offered a glimmer of hope that Ben-Gurion’s warning would be heeded. Although the accords were hardly beneficial to Israel’s security, Rabin was a pragmatist who recognized that the Palestinians would never permit Israel to exist into the foreseeable future. The best he could do was grant the Palestinians their own independent state. In doing so, Israel would have a stronger moral and legal case to defend itself against Palestinian violence.
Tragically, that hope was short-lived. Many Israelis opposed Rabin’s efforts to make the two-state solution a reality, and their outrage over the perception that the prime minister had compromised national security led many to call him a traitor and even a Nazi. This inflammatory rhetoric was widespread at anti-Rabin rallies, in which the opposition leader at the time, a young Benjamin Netanyahu, often spoke. While he himself never utilized such language publicly, his failure to condemn the words of many of his supporters made him complicit in the culture of violence that inspired Rabin’s fatal shooting by a right-wing Jewish extremist in 1995, enabling him to be elected to the premiership for the first time just months later. Although he lost his first reelection bid in the 1999 elections, he remained a key player in Israeli politics and returned to the premiership in 2009.
As prime minister, Netanyahu has proven himself to be precisely what Ben-Gurion warned about in 1967. His embrace of religious parties, use of racist rhetoric and opposition to the two-state solution, perhaps most notably to drum up support in his difficult 2015 reelection bid, and his deliberate targeting of journalists who criticize Israel’s policies towards Palestinians demonstrate that Israel can no longer truly claim to be “the only democracy in the Middle East.” He has put Israel on the potentially irreversible path from being a European-style social democracy that serves as a safe haven for Jews to becoming an officially Jewish supremacist, apartheid theocracy, if it has not already reached that point.
While the United States does not necessarily have to give up land in order to maintain its democracy as Israel did, the next American president will likely appoint as many as four Supreme Court Justices. As an authoritarian candidate who has openly expressed disdain for the Constitution and praised such brutal dictators as Benito Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, and Vladimir Putin, the prospect of giving Trump these decisions is terrifying, as he could use his appointees on the court to effectively interpret the constitution out of existence, dismantle the republic, and declare himself an autocrat.
Flawed as she may be, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with a viable chance at defeating Trump in November, If she is assassinated before Election Day, Donald Trump will take the United States down a similar path to authoritarianism that Netanyahu has already done with Israel.