If I were a hater of Israel I’d be rooting like nobody’s business for a repeat Netanyahu victory in the bizarre repeat election, because Likud Party rule is the anti-Semite’s gift that keeps on giving.
So diverse is the oeuvre that choosing the crowning achievement is a Herculean task. One must consider the undermining of peace, keeping Hamas in power in Gaza, harming Israel’s chances of demographic survival, trampling human rights, weakening democratic institutions, spreading corruption, alienating Israeli Arabs, and kowtowing to religious fanatics who banish math and science from their schools.
Each of these can present an excellent claim, but I have a dark horse candidate to propose: Offending the youth in the West, including most American Jews. The impactfulness of this has Israel in the position of Titanic approaching iceberg, and its enemies can but rejoice.
Here are a few very recent data points:
- A Pew study published just a few weeks ago showed Republicans over 65 are the only U.S. age group in which a majority (57%) have a favorable view of the Israeli government, while among those of all political leanings younger than 30, just 27% do. Among Democrats just a quarter viewed the government favorably. Economist/YouGov polls also show the steady erosion in the American public’s support for Israel: In 2015, 47 percent of Americans described Israel as “an ally”; in the most ercent poll that’s down to 37 percent alone. It’ll get worse if Israel becomes increasingly a conservative cause: Pew also found a huge majority of American young people are liberal, as a correlation of age above all other factors.
- An AJC poll released this week ago showed that 49% of U.S. Jews of all ages considered themselves Democrats compared to 19% Republicans. Over 70% had an unfavorable view of President Trump, who is slavishly beloved in Israel, and a majority even opposed his highly supportive policies toward Israel. They approved of a West Bank pullout as part of the two-state solution that Netanyahu has done his best to scuttle by 64 to 26 percent, and a quarter felt ties with Israeli Jews were weakening.
- Another poll showed that support for Israel among U.S. Jewish college students fell from 84 percent in 2010 to 57 percent in 2016, and the figure doubtless continues to decline. Almost 6 in 10 in the AJC poll felt the climate was growing more hostile on American campuses in general, and they are most certainly correct. As just one example, an NYU department recently caused a furor over boycotting its schools own Israel campus. When I studied at Penn and Columbia almost half the students were Jewish but no longer: the figure now in the Ivy League is reportedly 10 percent or less. My friend Liel Leibovitz of Tablet Magazine is now calling for Jews to give up on the universities altogether.
- The picture in Europe, as anyone who lives there or has visited will attest, is in many ways even more dire — though it is tempered by an also growing Islamophobia spurred by unassimilated immigrants and terrorist attacks.
Some of this relates to anti-Semitism, like the government’s apologists all say. But some is opposition to Zionism, and some opposition to the government by people who might otherwise support the country. Each is different.
Anyone who is unclear about why even potentially friendly Western youth are skeptical of Israel now need only reflect upon the words of would-be justice minister Bezalel Smotrich of the United Right (the National Religious Party redux), who this week proclaimed that religious courts and religious law should enjoy primacy across the land. He is consistent in his way: it is the same Smotrich who says he wouldn’t want his wife in the same maternity ward as an Arab.
This same week it was reported that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party had reached agreements with the haredi parties to allow segregation of the sexes in public areas. Few will doubt that more would have awaited down the pike, like bans on women singing in public, restrictions on advertisements, crackdowns on Sabbath commerce and even soccer, and the like.
Needless to say Netanyahu’s government would also have continued and even increased the funding of haredi schools that refuse to teach a core curriculum of basic skills, and would have done nothing to enact civil marriage (like everywhere else) or public transport on the Sabbath.
The AJC poll of U.S. Jews found only 10% identified as Orthodox with the rest secular, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or “other.” How welcome will they feel in such an Israel? Not very welcome. In America these days even many of the Orthodox are furious at the Israeli religious establishment for U.S. conversions and marriages being overturned, U.S. rabbis being bureaucratically hassled, and extremism in Israel being abetted.
How pleased can U.S. Jews be, given their distaste for Trump, with Netanyahu’s embrace not only of him but of like-minded authoritarians including Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro (the one who prefers a gay son die)? Or with his sneering disdain for the pockets of Israeli tolerance and liberalism that remain? Not very pleased.
The values the Israeli right and its allies are not ones that the majority of young people in the West, including most Jews, can embrace or even tolerate. Barring a course correction this is not a country that will continue to be a close ally of the United States and Europe when people who are now in their 20s assume control. It will even be an unsafe space if 2020 brings a backlash against Trump.
Yet this is the country that Israel will be if the right stays in power. And make no mistake, overthinking liberals: This is also the country you are voting for if you support Avigdor Liberman in September to reward him for his breathtaking treachery of Netanyahu.
Yes, he prevented the creation of a right-religious government, but his claims of being the protector of secularism in Israel are absurd. Indeed, he has long been a key part of the machine that has kept religious parties calling the shots on much of what happens here by bamboozling the Russian immigrant vote into tethering itself to the right-religious bloc. What will he do in September? Anything is possible; my guess is a gambit to turn the balance of power into the premiership for himself. It’s a long shot, but if it happens an Everest of absurdity would be achieved: Israel would trade a PM who faces bribery accusations for one who already got off on corruption charges involving millions in his daughter’s account because witnesses went silent or found themselves dead.
Innocents will argue that leftist governments of the past also included religious parties, but they miss a key point: This only happens after the left has already won. The religious parties have never, since the 1970s, sided with the left as a balance of power occasionally might. Sure, they tend to join, but their leverage over a leftist coalition is not the same; it is a difference of degree that becomes a difference of principle. If the opposition wins in September they might take in some haredi parties, yes, and some of the extortions may continue for a while. But there would be no gender separation disgraces and there would almost certainly be some normalizing reforms.
But let’s suppose the right stays in power on Sept. 17, because no one goes bankrupt predicting electorates will shoot themselves in the wallet. Let’s suppose there is no course correction. How will Israel fare when the United States and U.S. Jews are no longer on its side? Will the military aid, the diplomatic umbrella, the open door all somehow continue to prevail? And what about Israel’s largest trading partner, the EU? Unthinkable as it be, might the Eurovision invitation be imperiled as well?
The religious perhaps think God will find a way. They would do well to remember: He works in mysterious ways.