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Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Israeli Government

Now is not the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy, as many “pundits” say, but the end of the beginning of a more nationalistic Israel (a good thing). According to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, the government’s four main priorities are: stymying Iran, personal and national security, the high cost of living, and expanding Israel’s circle of peace, especially via the Abraham Accords. 

This is not the first Israeli government that has agitated critics at its inception. Menachem Begin was feared when his Likud Party finally came to power. Begin was a follower of the redoubtable Ze’ev Jabotinsky (David Ben Gurion’s nemesis) and headed the militant Irgun Zvai Leumi (aka Etzel) from 1943 to 1948. After Israel’s independence in 1948 Begin formed the Ḥerut (“Freedom”) Party. He was a member of Knesset since its inception in1949, always in the opposition. Then, as the leader of the right wing Likud Party, he became the prime minister in 1977. Confounding his critics, Begin was the co-recipient, with Egyptian Pres. Anwar el-Sādāt, of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Peace, for their achievement of a peace treaty that was formally signed in 1979. So there’s a precedent for an iconoclastic right wing government doing good.

There are currently many crybabies having tantrums and spreading fears of some sort of apocalypse here in the Middle Eastern even before the new government was sworn in. The leftist critique is that the only salvation for the “good” (liberal) half of the Israeli public is a centrist government. But it happens that a centrist government was just thrown out of power after one year. That government was idealized by liberals and other liberal/leftist governments throughout the West. Yet it contained the Islamist Ra’am party, which has an ideology similar to  the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical underground group opposing not just Israel, but the entire West. 

Some of the most ardent of Bibi’s critics are American Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist rabbis, as well as some prominent Jewish leaders. “More than 330 American rabbis, including some who occupy prominent roles in major cities, are pledging to block members of the Religious Zionist bloc in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government from speaking at their synagogues and will lobby to keep them from speaking in their communities. ‘We will speak out against their participation in other forums across our communities. We will encourage the boards of our congregations and organizations to join us in this protest as a demonstration of our commitment to our Jewish and democratic values.’” How democratic is that?

Unsurprisingly, no Orthodox rabbis signed the letter. But the respected Abe Foxman, the retired director of the ADL and a longtime bellwether of establishment Jewish support for Israel, said that he is hopeful, but that, ‘if Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it.’” There were no such statements made for the previous government, which contained the very far left Meretz Party (which failed to win even one seat in the new Knesset) and the Israeli Arab Ra’am Party mentioned above. (https://www.jta.org/2022/12/22/politics/hundreds-of-us-rabbis-pledge-to-block-extremists-in-israeli-government-from-speaking-in-their-communities)

Yes, there’s no doubt that the new government has priorities that aren’t shared by many in the opposition. But those of us who want to see a drop in terrorism and crime throughout Israel, including in Israeli Arab towns and Judea and Samaria, are expecting much more energetic efforts than previously. There will also be a very strong emphasis on Jewish identity, which has been downplayed in the current Western cultural milieu. Then there’s the ultra Orthodox parties, who will attempt to quash religious activities by non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, which is nothing new since they’ve been members of nearly every government coalition.

Alongside all of these initiatives, there will be lots of activity in Jerusalem, which the Arabs miscast as “Judaizing” Jerusalem – the 3,000 year old Jewish capital. Emphasis will be placed on Judaism’s most holy site, the Temple Mount. This spot, where Abraham brought his son Isaac as a sacrifice, is routinely stripped of its utmost importance to Jews by the Muslims and their Western enablers. The new government will very loudly pronounce Jerusalem’s Jewish provenance at the Western Wall and the Temple Mount above it, which will no doubt engender complications. But it’s necessary. Otherwise, while Jews cannot pray on the Temple Mount today, tomorrow Jews might be forbidden to even visit the Western Wall.

Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has said foreign media alarm at the composition of the incoming government was premature: “I suspect that the vast mass of people will maintain the support that they have for Israel because it hasn’t got anything to do with the passing of one government to another and has everything to do with the principle that Israel is a pro-American democracy ….

I think a lot of things can change if the rhetoric from Netanyahu’s government becomes policy, but right now, it’s rhetoric. What you tend to see in normal governments is that they need to make a series of compromises between rhetoric that plays to their base and governance.” Well put.

Pletka said Netanyahu’s stated ambition to expand the 2020 Abraham Accords to peace with Saudi Arabia would likely inhibit plans by the Religious Zionists in the coalition to annex the West Bank. In the summer of 2020, the last time Netanyahu planned annexation, the United Arab Emirates, one of the four Arab Parties to the Abraham Accords, threatened to pull out unless Netanyahu pulled back — which he did.

“It’s not just the relationship with the United States,” she said. “This [annexation] might alienate their new friends in the Gulf, which, at the end of the day, may actually have more serious consequences.” Netanyahu has repeatedly sought to relay the impression that he will keep his coalition partners on a short leash, saying, “They’re joining me, I’m not joining them.”

(https://www.timesofisrael.com/why-netanyahus-new-government-could-alienate-israels-conservative-american-allies/)

My conclusion at this very early stage of Israel’s 37th government is wait and see. I have high hopes that Israel’s strong stance will bring it more respect in this volatile region than a diffident Israel, afraid to utilize its undoubted strength, could attain.

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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