The impression that arises from the actions of Israel’s new government is that despite the strong protest sweeping the country, the legislative train of the regime revolution has gone out of control and is speeding with us all inside towards a dangerous dictatorial abyss. The loss of brakes endangers not only our freedoms as citizens but the very existence of the state of Israel. The “hatred in vain” that brought about the destruction of the first and second Jewish temples, has returned in full force and is threatening to bring about the destruction of the third home of the Jewish people, all of 75 years old.
If indeed that happens and the leaders of the revolution succeed in legislating its basic principles before the Knesset recesses over the Passover, the state of Israel will be very different from what we have known until now by the time we come to the festival of freedom: much less democratic, much less free, much less strong in its security and economy, and much more ostracized in the international arena.
We can already see the buds of this ostracism. The White House is dragging its legs in inviting Netanyahu for a state visit; the US administration gave a cold shoulder to Smotrich, the finance minister, when he went there; Saudi Arabia effectively blocked the foreign minister from attending a UN conference in the kingdom; and the Emirates announced they were putting on hold the procurement of Israeli security systems. Even the renewal of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, though not necessarily bad for Israel, is without doubt contrary to Netanyahu’s declaration that the goals of his foreign policy are the isolation of Iran and the normalization of Israel’s relations with Saudi Arabia.
Yet the future might bode much darker times. Without the checks and balances of a democracy, the door will open to an unruly wave of discriminatory and exclusionary legislation against the rights of women and LGBT, and those of the Arab minority. At the same time, Smotrich will lead measures of de facto and de jure annexation of the Occupied Territories as the minister in charge of the Civil Administration and in his role as “the prime minister of the settlements”, while Ben Gvir, the professional provocateur who is now called the minister of National security, is trying to set fire to the region over and over again.
All these place the USA in a position that is different from what we are used to. Over all the years of Israel’s existence, it has relied on the alliance with the USA, and that is a significant element in its power. This alliance is founded on shared democratic values, the support of the Jewish community, and regional interests common to us and the Americans.
There have been differences of opinion between the American administration and the government of Israel in the past, some of which even grew into crises. There was a period of “reassessment” under the Ford administration, and James Baker, the secretary of state, wrote to the Shamir government in 1990: “all you need to know is that the phone number (for the White House switchboard) is 202-456-1414. When you’re serious about this, call us” – a statement that is remembered as one of the most severe made by a senior US official to any Israeli government. The period of Obama’s presidency was also laden with crises, coming to a head with Netanyahu’s address to Congress which crushed its bi-partisan support of Israel.
All these were crises between allies who first and foremost shared common values. But this time we are looking at a new paradigm of relations between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s government. It is no longer an argument between friends, but a development taken by those in the Democratic administration to be a moral betrayal, meaning that Israel has decided to shed itself of all legal and ethical checks and balances and to become a country that does whatever it wants, whether internally within Israeli society or externally towards the Palestinians.
Instead of modeling the countries of the free world led by the USA, Israel’s new government seems to be following the path of dictators like Putin, Lukashenko and Erdogan. When the laws of dictatorship are enacted, and laws of discrimination, exclusion and silencing in their wake, the Israeli Government will find itself isolated to such an extent that its most basic state, security and economy interests are endangered. The US administration will not stand at its side in the United Nations and will probably be much less supportive financially and militarily.
The EU too, Israel’s largest trade partner, is expected to distance itself from Israel leaving behind a small country whose productive elite has been hurt badly and whose economy is shrinking, without any real international support.
Those who explain that the world does not boycott China or even Saudi Arabia, forget that Israel is neither China nor Saudi in terms of its population size or natural resources. Israel’s key resource is its know-how and hi-tech, but the government is doing all it can to push them to leave the country. In the end we are a tiny country whose democracy serves as an external shield and grounds for internal solidarity. Without democracy we will be much weaker and less protected.
If the nation state of the Jewish people turns into a dictatorship, it will distance not only young progressive Democrats but also the absolute majority of American Jews, and with it the strongest lobby Israel has overseas. American Jewry is a minority protected by the democratic US constitution and they appreciate the importance of democracy. In its absence here, they will disengage from acting in support of Israel unless they feel they have a way to influence our democracy through their nation state.
We need to bear in mind that a central foundation of the alliance with USA is the strong Jewish community together with its firm commitment to Israel. The future of the Jewish people’s nation state depends on the ability of American Jews to be proud of Israel and what it represents, on the acceptance of all streams of Judaism, and on Israel being a liberal democracy in its essence. The regime putsch is expected to significantly distance American Jewry and reduce their support for Israeli Government, especially among the young generation – among whom the large majority are losing interest in a conservative Israel and feel that Israel’s governments do not represent them and their values.
Still, the crisis might create opportunity. Precisely because the coalition has laid down the masks that allow the Occupation, it is creating an opportunity that might possibly bring the realization that it must be ended. The awakening of the Biden administration and the American Jewish community to the insight that it is possible to support Israel without supporting its governments, is a positive paradigmatic change. There is an opportunity in the very recognition here and on the other side of the ocean, that they can and must support the Israeli liberals who are protesting here in the streets and help us save our democracy from over there. This is the time to translate empty statements in favor of a two-state solution into an international move to restore the solution of two states to the world of reality. Perhaps that way they can help those among us who are still in denial to understand there can be no democracy without equality for Israeli Arabs and without ending the Occupation.