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The Death of Israel We Knew and Loved

brookings.edu

It shouldn’t surprise us that the Israel we knew and loved—courageous, pioneered, moral, sane, enlightened, democratic, secular, creative; a light if not for all the nations than certainly to the Jewish people the world over—is no longer so. We’ve all participated, one way or the other, in its slow demise. In its transformation from a small country striving for peace and security, yearning to live and prosper in dignity, to a religiously nationalistic, militaristically obsessed occupier and abuser of other people’s lands and lives. From a socialist, enlightened survivor state of the pogroms and the Holocaust to a religiously fanatic, Apartheid-like state.

That the Two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead, declared so here in this blog some ten years ago, is no longer in doubt. You can kiss it goodbye and welcome the coming annexation, de facto or semi-de facto, thanks to the new government forming as we speak in Israel, led by Netanyahu, Ben Gvir and Smotrich (learn these new names, my friends, you’ll hear them plenty soon), who had actively participated in the lighting of the flames that brought about the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin; and with his death, any chance for the Two-state solution—including also the sane, democratic, secular Israel—to survive.

The new Israeli government coming our way is not an aberration. It has been long in the making, fermenting and progressing along with the occupation. Which, aside from the wrongs it has inflicted on the Palestinian people, has corrupted the soul of Israel, the Jewish nation—a willing, active participant in the process, don’t think otherwise—with it. The crisis coming upon us is not just an Israeli crisis; i.e. the triumph of religion over secularism, the triumph of the Talmud and Torah studies over science and art education, the triumph of Jewishness over democratic values; it is also the crisis and chasm between the Israeli state and the Jewish diaspora.

The last government, a unique and brave attempt to prevent all that from happening, and defend the state’s democratic values and the rule of law, had collapsed after only a year and a half in power. Then they lost the elections, and Netanyahu—in a Jerusalem court almost daily on charges of bribery and breach of trust—had won. He and his rightwing extremist political bloc of cohorts (some of them convicted and charged criminals) will facilitate the demise of the rule of law, the courts’ system and the high court, all in order to free him from jail even if the verdict will mandate so. And once the rule of law has collapsed, democracy and civility will follow through. Hence the beginning of the demise of Israel taking shape now in front of our very eyes.

In case you suspect I’m overreacting, here are some snippets from newspapers and news outlets, both in Israel and in America, of the last few days:  

“Four European envoys to the UN pulled out of a visit to the Western Wall led by Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan after receiving a directive from Brussels not to participate given that the EU doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.” Times Of Israel

“Finance Minister-designate Bezalel Smotrich is dragging Israel’s ultra-Orthodox politicians along with him as he outlines his plans for religious coercion in secular areas of life.” Haaretz

“Likud MK Tally Gotliv said Sunday that she was working with members of the expected incoming government to oust Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, claiming Israel’s top prosecutor was “not suitable” for the job.” TOI

“Smotrich did not receive the Defense Ministry but he did get a win. He and his radical bloc members, who have championed once fringe ideas like the annexation of the West Bank, the expulsion of ‘disloyal Arabs,’ and the establishment of new protocols enabling Israeli soldiers to shoot at Palestinian stone throwers, will have unprecedented control over the West Bank at a time of spiraling tensions.” Washington Post.

“Israel is doomed to become a binational state in which most Arabs do not have the right to vote and most Jews are Haredim unable and unwilling to function in modern society. Secular people will flee, violence will explode, and pariah status will only end when the Palestinians take over.” Opinion in TOI

There are plenty more but you get the point. Even if I see things in too darker tones, seeing it this way demonstrates the watershed moment we find ourselves in. Israel is changing, dramatically so, on a course of self-destruction.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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After the Fall—Comes the Reckoning

epicentermedia.com

All Israeli governments fall sooner or later, to paraphrase the opening line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but each government’s fall is unique in its own special way. Yet even according to this maxim, the fall of the current government stands out as especially unusual, disturbing, and telling. Here’s why:

To begin with, this governing coalition, which was formed just over a year ago, was unusual not only in Israel but throughout the democratic world. After two years with four elections but without a decisive win for the left, right, or center, and with Netanyahu and his Likud still very much a threat to the rule of law—his day in a Jerusalem court on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach-of-trust was about to begin—and Israel’s democracy teetering after some twelve years as prime minister. But then eight small parties—I repeat, eight!—got together and were able to form a unity coalition of 61 Knesset 1 members.

Quite the miracle. In this governing coalition, Yair Lapid (the driving force and now a caretaker PM) and his Yesh Atid party had 17 Members, a center-left party of liberal Tel Avivians opposed mightily to Netanyahu and fighting to retain Israel’s fragile democracy. He Partnered with Naftali Bennet, whose party Yemina, a right of Likud party of settlements and settlers, had only 7 members, with one already on his way out. There were parties from the very left, like Meretz and Labor, and the central party of Defense Minister Benny Gantz. And to add a cherry to that cake: An Arab Muslin party for the first time in Israel’s history. No Jewish religious party, though: also a first. But a religious Prime Minister. A first too.

It was expected, and predicted—by many observers, including yours truly—that this government won’t last for long. Indeed, it lasted about a year. In that year its major accomplishment was its “survival.” The fact that it had managed to stay in power, and take care of business—the remains of the coronavirus pandemic, economic issues, passing a budget for the first time in three years, and no war with Hamas in Gaza. So not only did they kick Netanyahu out of office, but enabled the court proceeding against him to begin and continue, which was another important achievement.

But it was not enough. The cracks became fissions. Some rats began to escape the sinking ship. And yet, as pointed above, the most telling thing—not just as to the fall of this government, but in a certain way for Israel and its conflict with Palestine as a whole—was why and how this government fell. Let me try to explain, especially for those of you who don’t keep a close tab on the ins and outs of Israel’s politics since this issue may come back to haunt other governments, and maybe the future of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.

There is a law in Israel, the “Emergency Regulations for Judea and Samaria” (it includes also the Jordan Valley), which was enacted not long after the Six-day War of 1967 by the Labor party in power at the time. Basically, it established two sets of legal systems (both illegal according to the Geneva Convention): one for Israelis living in the occupied territories, who will live under Israeli civil laws, and one for the Arab citizens of the West Bank, who will be ruled by the occupying Israeli army. Separating Jews from the Arabs was the idea, you get the picture. These laws, “Emergency Regulations,” stayed in effect since then, enshrining the occupation into existence. No wonder it was nicknamed the “Settlers Law.” Make sense, doesn’t it? Though others refer to it as the “Apartheid Law.” Take your pick.

Since then, every Israeli government had automatically—with some adjustments and tightening of the screw—renewed this law in the Knesset when it expired, I believe every five years. And yet—hold on to your seat—when the law was about to be renewed now, in this government with a past settler as its Prime Minister, the opposition—led by who else but Netanyahu—refused to support it. Why? Not because they opposed it. Couldn’t be further from the truth. But because they realized that this is their best chance of toppling the government. Successful, as it were, due to a couple of defections of members in the coalition.

In other words: sheer brutal politics overtook substance and common sense. And so a law representing the worst of Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, agreed upon by the vast majority of the Knesset members, had failed to pass in order to bring down the government and enforce fifth elections in the space of three and a half years. What’s more, once—and if—a new government is in power, certainly if it’s Netanyahu’s Likud, the law will be the first to pass in a heartbeat. Not to be believed, if it wasn’t true.

In a way, there is some justice in all of it. A law that preserved and protected the unlawful occupation, creating a semi-Apartheid state, and symbolizing all of Israel’s problems with the Palestinians—its inability and unwillingness to make peace by establishing a two-state solution—is also forcing on the Israeli citizens a Perpetuum mobile of unending elections. And in the process, unsettling the Israeli democracy. If the latest polls are to be believed—and why not, unlike here in America they were pretty accurate in the latest rounds of the Israeli elections—while Netanyahu’s win is secured, as far as winning the largest share of Knesset members, his ability to form a governing coalition hasn’t improved that much.

And so it goes. Only time would tell, of course, since anything can happen. Pardon those previous clichés, yet this is where Israel finds itself now. Its major existential threat—no, not that of Iran’s nuclear capability, or Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, but—the future of Israel as a democratic Jewish state, is facing another major challenge.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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