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Jonathan Meta

Full gas on neutral

As we bid farewell to 2023, it becomes evident that this year may find its place in the annals of Israel’s history as one of profound challenges. The narrative unfolded with the specter of a judicial overhaul looming large, reaching its zenith in March when Prime Minister Netanyahu declared his intent to dismiss Minister of Defense Yoav Galant for opposing his ambitious plan.

Rather than a genuine desire for reform, it soon became apparent that Netanyahu’s primary objective was to forge a homogenous coalition that could serve as a bulwark against his looming criminal trial. However, the intricacies of political dynamics seemed lost on him, as the give-and-take nature of politics requires reciprocity.

From December 29th, 2022, Netanyahu began gradually ceding power to the messianic and extreme right-wing factions within his coalition. The culmination of this shift occurred on July 11th, 2023, revealing Netanyahu’s aspirations as mere illusions. What he perceived as a strategic maneuver ended up showcasing his resilience while undermining Israeli democracy. Despite his efforts to stave off the judicial overhaul, the passage of a law limiting the powers of the justice branch by the Knesset signaled a turning point. It became clear that Netanyahu’s reliance on his coalition was more about self-preservation than advancing the best interests of Israel.

The ink on the newly passed law had barely dried when summer arrived, bringing with it an ominous air that escalated with Hamas’s attack on October 7th. Despite the current sense of normalcy, the preceding months were marked by escalating tension. Israel’s economic woes deepened as international rating agencies downgraded its standing, while massive and aggressive protests became a recurring theme. All eyes were on October 15th, the opening day of the Knesset’s winter session, where, as many coalition members had asserted, the judicial overhaul would progress to its next phase.

This summer served as yet another illustrative chapter in understanding the governance style of the Netanyahu administration. Dubbed “Mr. Security” during his campaign, Netanyahu found himself under threat from the coalition to pass a law not only exempting ultra-religious members from military service but also equating the study of Torah with the sacrifice of one’s life for the State in the army. A far cry from Netanyahu of 2002, who challenged Arik Sharon in the Likud primaries, the political landscape had shifted. The religious parties coerced Netanyahu with the ultimatum of leaving the government and triggering elections—precisely what unfolded on the afternoon of July 11th. On that day, amidst attempts at compromise led by Gallant, supported by Netanyahu’s close associate Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, the Prime Minister seemed strangely passive, almost absent: a muted, indifferent figure. Even among some of his ardent supporters, the scene was disheartening, vividly encapsulating the power dynamics within the government and raising questions about who truly held the reins of decision-making and control.

The upheaval caused by October 7th is a sentiment echoed by Jewish individuals both within and outside Israel, but the impact on the political landscape appears less transformative. In the aftermath of the worst massacre on Israeli soil by any adversary, including both states and terrorist groups, Netanyahu continued to exhibit characteristic behavior. A critical observation emerges—actions taken by the government post-October 7th share a common theme: delayed responses that exacted a toll on the populace while political maneuvering took precedence. The formation of the emergency government, envisioned on the night of October 7th with the Prime Minister and an opposition figure at the helm, took a staggering five days. This prolonged gestation period was needed only to eliminate the extreme right-wing and messianic voices of Ben Gvir and Smotrich in the war cabinet.

The war’s objectives were articulated in a perplexing manner, introducing a contradiction into Israeli society by proposing dual goals: the retrieval of all hostages and the annihilation of Hamas’s military and political capabilities. Remarkably, the budget, expected to prioritize war-related expenses in a normal country, remained unaltered, adhering to coalition agreements. Consequently, war expenditures were channeled into deficit, leaving settlements and ultra-Orthodox education budgets almost untouched.

The “day after” discussion, which should’ve taken place in the first week, was inexplicably deferred until the year’s final week by Netanyahu. This postponement, seemingly to placate the sensitivities of extreme right-wing partners Ben Gvir and Smotrich, contrasts sharply with the Western world’s expectations. Notably, Joe Biden, perceived as a stalwart ally and perhaps the only one genuinely invested in Israel’s well-being, calls for the possibility of a coalition governing Gaza for its recovery. The discrepancy between internal political dynamics and external expectations raises pressing concerns as Israel navigates the aftermath of October 7th.

As we stand at the crossroads of history, the events that have transpired in Israel during the closing chapters of 2023 seem to echo the profound choices faced by figures in classic Greek mythology. One cannot help but draw parallels to the mythical tale of Hercules, where the hero, confronted with a pivotal decision, must choose between the path of virtue and the lure of a darker, treacherous journey.

In this modern-day odyssey, Israel finds itself at a juncture shaped by the tumultuous events of October 7th and the subsequent political aftermath. The echoes of this historical moment resonate like the whispers of the Fates, weaving a narrative that could irrevocably alter the fabric of the nation.

The dynamics of the political landscape bear a striking resemblance to Hercules’ dilemma. Netanyahu, akin to the hero of old, is faced with choices that could define his legacy and, by extension, the destiny of the Israeli people. The path he treads, whether one of democratic erosion or a course correction, holds implications that transcend the confines of his leadership.

Much like the dual goals set in the aftermath of October 7th, Israel stands at a crossroads where two divergent destinies beckon. One road, if taken, may lead the nation into uncharted territory, marked by a decline in democratic and republican values. The signs are ominous, with delayed responses, political speculations, and a budgetary allocation that raises questions about priorities. The “day after” discourse, essential for the nation’s recovery, is deferred, perhaps symbolizing a reluctance to confront uncomfortable truths. Not to mention the hostages situation, a matter that took Netanyahu days to realize and still to this day, it is not clear if he really denies the reality that the military action in Gaza will bring to them, or he is just making a cynic use of their names to gain some kind of popularity.

Conversely, the alternative road emerges with the prospect of change. The departure of Netanyahu, a transformative figure in Israeli politics, could herald a renewed commitment to democratic principles and a return to the nation’s foundational values. It becomes a beacon of hope, suggesting that the nation can recalibrate its trajectory before it veers irreversibly into the shadows.

The ancient Greeks believed that the Fates controlled human destiny, yet heroes possessed agency in shaping their own narratives. Likewise, Israel is not bound solely by the events of October 7th but has the agency to choose its path forward. The heart of the matter lies in the leadership’s acknowledgment of the critical juncture at hand and the courage to veer away from the precipice of democratic erosion.

In the myth of Hercules, the hero’s virtue ultimately triumphs over the temptations of the darker path. Israel, too, must weigh its choices with the gravity of historical consequence. The nation’s future hangs in the balance, and the decision it makes will resonate through the annals of time.

As we peer into the abyss of uncertainty, the question lingers: Will Israel emerge as a nation that safeguards its democratic and republican heritage, or will it succumb to the shadows that threaten to obscure its guiding principles? The road ahead may be fraught with challenges, but the lessons of ancient myths remind us that even in the face of adversity, the human spirit can choose the path of virtue, redemption, and renewal. The choice is Israel’s to make, and the world watches with bated breath, hoping that the echoes of its history will be harmonious, resilient, and filled with the promise of a brighter tomorrow. In this critical moment, the metaphorical of the nation roars with potential, yet the risk remains—full gas on neutral, a trajectory that, if not redirected, may lead to an untimely demise.

About the Author
Jonathan moved to Israel in 2018 (and so became Yoni). He is passionate about Justice, Democracy, and Human Rights, which has been a driving force behind his career path. Jonathan is an international criminal lawyer and Managing Partner at MHM Law Offices. He holds a J.D. from Buenos Aires University (2017) and an M.A in Diplomacy Studies from Tel Aviv University (2021).
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