Israel’s enemies have been rejoicing at the sight of the internal turmoil in Israel, but I believe that they are miscalculating.
There is no doubt that some of what is happening in Israel is worrying. Until recently, who could have imagined that over 10,000 Israeli reservists would threaten to stop volunteering? For a small country that still faces significant existential threats, this is not to be ignored.
There are also other reasons to worry. The demographics in Israel are shifting. The number of ultra-orthodox Jews (who generally refuse to serve in the army) and the number of religious Zionists (many of whom vote for the extreme right) are both growing while the number of liberal and secular Jews is shrinking. This makes centrist coalition governments (who tend to be more stable and better for the economy) increasingly unlikely in the future.
The biggest threat to Israel may be the creeping annexation of the West Bank which could force Israel to either become an apartheid state or an Arab state.
These dangers and others should not be underestimated, but it is much too early to declare Israel finished. If we have learned anything from the anti-overhaul protests, it is that Israel is still very much a vibrant democracy. Considering how long the demonstrations have been going on and considering how many people have been involved in the protests, they have been amazingly peaceful, both on the part of the police and one the part of the protesters, compared to protests anywhere else in the world.
Clearly, Israel cannot sustain its current level of turmoil indefinitely without suffering serious consequences, but there are some reasons to believe that there will be positive changes.
There is significant pressure from the United States, including from American Jews, against further overhaul laws that are not based on a national consensus, and some politicians within the Likud appear to be listening. There is also pressure to start moderating Israel’s settlements policies in the West Bank in order to secure a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia. Some Likud members are already talking about dropping the extremist right and forming a coalition with centrist parties.
Israel has faced great threats in the past and has come out stronger. Even the divisions within Israel are not unprecedented. Israel was badly divided on the Oslo Accords, and it still is. In fact, the left/right divide on the overhaul debate is similar to what it was on the Oslo Accords.
There is no clear way out of the mess yet, but the forces within Israel and outside Israel that are determined to maintain Israel as a strong Jewish and democratic state are substantial, and those forces include the current president of the United States, Joe Biden.
No one should take Israel’s success for granted, but Israel is far from finished yet.