In the year 2000, the French philosopher Jean-François Revel wrote “La Grande Parade: essai sur la survie de l’utopie socialiste” [The Big Masquerade: an essay on the survival of the socialist utopia].
The book poses the question of what happened with the Socialist Utopia. Revel reminds us that the Soviet regime fell not by the weapon -like it happened to Nazism- but as a consequence of their internal putrefaction. Naturally, many thought that this event, the greatest failure of a political system in the history of mankind, would arouse within their supporters a critical reflection on the validity of socialism. au contraire. During the 90s, the Socialist movement made superhuman efforts to take distance from the shipwreck of their own illusions. Revel calls this a divorce between the ideological narcissism and the historical truth.
To make the idea clearer, Revel quotes an argument that took place in Vienna, between the sociologist Max Weber and the economist Joseph Schumpeter. They agreed on the fact that the Russian Revolution should not feed any illusions about communism, but one thing separated them: Schumpeter still had the illusion that the failures and crimes of communism would serve as a lesson for humanity. Weber, on the other side, understood that no utopia is ever refuted by its failure. Reality, according to Jean-François Revel, proved Weber right.
Israel finds itself today in the presence of its first -or at least the strongest- wave of populism. A wave that comes in a complex world context in which populisms are growing each day. In that manner, Netanyahu started his new government with a couple of premises that he already showed that will be really hard for him to deliver.
First, lets talk about the international front. I still remember the big campaign ads hanging in the entrance of Jerusalem, in which Trump and Netanyahu were holding hands, stating that they were leaders of another league. Netanyahu came with promises of deepening the bilateral relations with the Arab world and bringing to the Abraham Accords the only player that really matters: Saudi Arabia. He would not do this alone, but with the help of the President of the United States, who -not only to that effect- gave a public pardon to Mohammed bin Salman in his Middle East tour.
Nevertheless, after Ben Gvir decided that, as his first official activity as Minister of National Security, he would challenge the status quo and visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi condemned the actions taken by the Minister and canceled the visit.
With the United States the situation is not better: Netanyahu wasn’t received in Washington yet and nothing shows that he will any time soon. In fact, a new scandal started after the Ambassador Tom Nides said to The Axe Files podcast yesterday that the coalition should “pump the breaks” on the judicial reform. MK Amichai Shikli -of course- made sure to defend this government and tell him in the public radio to “mind his own business”. Masterclass of diplomacy given by this coalition.
This didn’t come from nowhere: just a week ago, Thomas Friedman published an article in The New York Times in which he quotes President Biden saying “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained”. Not only that, Friedman states that the main reason for which Israel gets support from the US is because “we believe Israel shares our values”. In sum, strike one.
Second, there is the internal front. Things here get more embarrassing because is where we can actually see that there is no cohesion inside the government. Last week the Defense Minister Gallant ordered the uproot of a couple of trees that were planted in the West Bank. Smotrich, who by the coalition agreement was supposed to receive the authority on the Civil Administration of those territories, denounced this operation. He said that the transfer of the authority from the Minister of Defense to him was “the basis for the existence of the coalition” and called for an emergency meeting of the Religious Zionist Party to evaluate the next steps. Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, is receiving an ultimatum from one of his partners. Of course he decided to answer to the ultimatum, saying that he would honor the agreement as soon as possible. Strike two.
Lastly, there is the external front which is probably the most dangerous in the short term. Just in the last two weeks and a half 11 people were killed and 27 missiles were shot from Gaza to Israel. The government brought us two solutions: the first one is to increase police activity and presence in the eastern part of Jerusalem, and specifically in Shu’afat. This brought to a general strike that could get violent if it’s not treated. The second solution is a department -that will be directed by Ben Gvir himself- to monitor Social Media and combat the hatred against us. In other words, fictional solutions to real problems. Strike three.
Netanyahu formed a government and campaigned on the premise that he would make Israel strong in every front. So far, we’ve been seeing that his government is failing in all the three fronts.
So, what’s the next step? Would he start loosing support? Would he back down from the reform? No. Exactly as Jean-François Revel shows, the witch hunt increases and there are justifications for every single one of these failures. So the solution that Netanyahu, his partners and his supporters are bringing is easy: more radicalization.
In spite of President Herzog’s call to talk with the opposition (added to the remarks made by Biden), Netanyahu keeps pushing his legislation and giving more power to Smotrich and Ben Gvir, avoiding to listen to any kind of message of the international or national community. Evidently, as Weber said, no utopia is ever refuted by its failure. On the contrary, it only strengthens it.