Silence in the face of the threat of institutionalized political violence will make us complicit
Pausing Israel’s disastrous judicial reform came at a frightening price: to keep his coalition together, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to buy off his most extreme coalition partner, Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir. The price: a “national guard” under the direction of the very same politician convicted for political violence. While nearly all former and sitting high ranking security officials have spoken out against such a move, notably the current Chief of Police, we have yet to hear Israel’s allies make clear that this is a red line they will not be complicit in supporting Netanyahu to cross.
With both of them visiting Israel this week, Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader, and Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy should use their influence to convey to the Prime Minister that a “B & B” militia would undermine the democratic values and principles that are fundamental to both the United States and Israel, and would pose a threat to regional stability and security.
The idea of forming a national guard under the aegis of Itamar Ben-Gvir is a dangerous proposition that should be vehemently opposed by all who value democracy and the rule of law – it would be as ominous as the destruction of the Supreme Court that the current government has been forced to put on hold. Such a move would signal a descent into authoritarianism and mark a further deterioration of already-unsecured democratic norms in Israel. There are too many moments in history when nationalist radicals were given an armed militia to carry out their policies, none of which ended well.
Ben-Gvir has a long history of inciting violence and espousing extremist views. The increasingly close embrace he is receiving from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing a corruption trial, raises serious questions about the motivations behind the proposed national guard. Ben-Gvir is so radical in his views that he starred on the Security Service’s Most Wanted List regularly, and was excluded from service in the IDF because of his ties to and support for Jewish terrorists. This has continued during his tenure as Minister of National Security, during which he supported an outburst of settler violence against the residents of the Palestinian village of Huwara.
This nefarious alliance between Ben-Gvir and ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu is a clear attempt to consolidate power and suppress dissent. The formation of a national guard under their control would effectively create a private militia that could be used to intimidate political opponents, suppress free speech, and stifle peaceful protests. This is a mainstay of authoritarian regimes – not democratic ones. No open society empowers paramilitary forces to harass and rough up people affiliated with the opposition.
The proposed national guard is likely to attract far-right extremists and Jewish supremacists, who pose a real threat to the security and stability of the country. Allowing such individuals to operate within the framework of a national guard would be a grave mistake that will have disastrous consequences for Israel. America has a crucial role to play in stopping Israel from going off the rails. Jeffries and McCarthy must make it clear to Israeli leaders that the United States stands firmly against any attempt to establish a private militia that operates outside the framework of the IDF or the police.
They should emphasize that the United States values democratic principles and human rights, and that any attempt to suppress dissent or intimidate political opponents is unacceptable.
Jeffries might also mention that such a move could intensify calls to put conditions on military aid to Israel from within his own party.
A strong, vibrant democracy is essential to the long-term security and prosperity of Israel and the region as a whole. America, as Israel’s closest ally, should convey this in no uncertain terms.