A Few Good Men & Women

As a dedicated, sometimes even astute (hopefully) observer of Israel and America’s relations and politics, I pride myself on some farsighted observations throughout the years of writing this blog. And yet, I didn’t see this one coming. Had you told me last year that in the space of a little over six months both Trump and Netanyahu would be gone, no longer in power, I would’ve found it hard to believe. But here we are, with the most surprising development of the two being the fall of the house of ‘King Bibi,’ after more than twelve years as Israel’s Prime Minister.

I’m in good company, not seeing it coming, though I gave it some 25% possibility before the elections. But let me tell you: On the first day after the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas had ended, I listened to my favorite Israeli political observer talking about the possibility of a new government being formed. Here is what he said, more or less: “The only question is whether Yair Lapid (head of Yesh Atid, who had the mandate from President Rivlin to form a new coalition, H.D.), would hand the president his mandate now, saying he’d failed to form a coalition, or he’ll wait the 14 days left for him and then give it back without any positive results.”

Well, you know the outcome. Bucking all predictions and expectations, Yair Lapid was able to go back to the president before the hour struck midnight and tell him that he had succeeded, where others had failed. He, and not the current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is the true, and first good man of this semi-political revolution. He started during the elections, when he directed his campaign, and asked his supporters too, not to attack the parties to his left, Labor and Meretz, since he wanted them to be able to enter the new Knesset. What a noble act. And he reaped the rewards, since they joined his coalition.

His second noble, and novel idea was to put aside his ego, and though he is the leader of the largest party in this coalition with 17 members in the new Knesset, he offered to hand over the premiership to Bennett for the first two years, even though Bennett has only six MKs in his party. Unheard off. And that despite Bennett declaring during the latest war with Hamas in Gaza that coalition talks with Lapid are practically dead, as far as he was concerned. And yet Lapid was able to pull him in yet again, and together with seven other parties—among them an Arab Party—to form a governing coalition. What a miracle: putting your ambitions aside for the sake of what’s best for the country and its shaking democracy.

Before moving on to the next ‘good man’ on my list, let me return to America and to the much welcomed, disgraced as it were, fall of former President Trump. Unlike other observers I read, and also what seems to be the common belief among the public at large, it was not the constitution that had saved American democracy from collapsing (though it was very close to it). It was a few good men and women who stepped up to the plate and defended the constitution, the rule of law, and the integrity of the elections. I won’t name them here (you probably heard of them plenty), but when push came to shove they—most of them Republican officials—stood by the walls of the castle and defended our fragile democracy.

Though the political process and system in Israel are different, in essence, the same happened there, and without a constitution. This brings me to the second ‘good man’ on my list. Benny Gantz, the Defense, or Security Minister. He is the only minister to remain in office from the previous government. He too did the right thing for the country and joined Netanyahu in government throughout the pandemic. He was supposed to become Prime Minister this coming November, but Netanyahu betrayed him, as he betrayed others. And then, when in the last moment Netanyahu offered to resign immediately, and to hand him the premiership for the three remaining years in the coalition term, he didn’t hesitate to refuse. He is the leader, also, of the second-largest party in this coalition, yet has put his ambition aside and didn’t demand to be a Prime Minister too.

Next must be Naftali Bennett. While he was regarded from the outset as the kingmaker, it was not clear at all that he would crown himself as king. Not the least because for the first time in Israel’s history, a leader of a very small party became the Prime Minister and leader of the country. So in a way he has the most to gain, but also the most to lose. The attacks on him from Netanyahu’s camp are indeed ferocious, and threatening with violence. He, originally an extreme right-wing leader, a supporter of not only the settlement endeavor but the annexation of a large part of the West Bank, now sits in a government with two parties from the left, and an Arab party to boot. The outcome of this government, however long it would survive, is of course unclear, and at the end of it he might find himself with a party without any significant public support.

His right hand throughout the years, from working together in Netanyahu’s office to forming their party and remaining united through thick and thin, is Ayelet Shaked, currently the Minister of the Interior. And while I’m as far as can be from being a supporter of her, she deserves some credit too. If for nothing else, then for standing by this coalition agreement, despite heavy threats from Netanyahu’s camp, including death threats to her and her family. Another woman worth mentioning here, in closing, is Merav Michaeli, the current Minister of Transportation. She resurrected the Labor party from the dead in an impressive fashion, didn’t hesitate to join this strange coalition, and seems like a safe bet for a leader with a bright future.

All in all, while the days ahead will provide answers as to how long this government will stay in power (the predictions are not for long), and how much good it will be able to do (the expectations are not high), it has already succeeded in its main and most important goal: kicking Netanyahu out of office and saving Israel’s democracy. Not bad for a start.

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Any Consequences for Israel’s Love Affair with Trump?

Israel Flag

middleeasteye.net

You bet. But first, let’s spend a minute analyzing the picture above. We see three prominent flags being carried above a river of people—demonstrators, rioters, terrorists—on the way to the Capitol building in Washington D.C. The citadel of our fragile democracy. We don’t know whether the people we see will eventually storm the building too. Maybe they are just behind the storming mob, and will stop at the steps of the Capitol. No matter, we look at their faces and see that they are eager participants, following President Trump’s orders.

The first flag in the foreground, on the right, is the QAnon flag, slightly folded by the wind. QAnon, of course, is the largest and most notorious (alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring, etc.), most influential of all the Republicans’ conspiracy theories. A completely baseless, alternate reality gibberish. Which, nonetheless, making true believers of the president’s anti-reality, anti-truth supporters. At the center, most prominently, we see the American flag. And then on the right, farther from us, is none other than the Israeli flag.

So what are we to make of this Holy Trinity? We know that Israel was on top of the list of a few countries to benefit from the Trump administration. Any wish Netanyahu and his right-wing supporters—qualifier: almost any wish, as the annexation of the West Bank was not granted, yet was a future possibility—was happily granted by Trump and his sycophants, Ambassador Friedman and Jared Kushner. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: check. The Golan Heights recognized as Israeli territory: check. Disregard, discredit, marginalized the Palestinian issue and people: check. A hurried exit of the Iranian Nuclear Deal: check. More money and more sophisticated weapons and fighting aircrafts: check. And so on.

If you ask yourselves why this lovefest was so strong from the get-go, you couldn’t be more wrong if you thought it was Trump’s love for the Jewish State and the Jewish people. Nonsense. (He could never get used to Jared stealing his beloved daughter Ivanka away from him.) When he came to office he couldn’t point Israel, or Jerusalem, on the map if you put a gun to his head. Two reasons then: First, the Evangelical movement. His greatest supporters. And devotee supporters of Israel’s occupation, annexation, apartheid, you name it. How else will the Messiah come back to earth? And do you know that, even while the pandemic is raging on, and the country is in lockdown, some Evangelicals were allowed to enter the country to volunteer for picking up grapes in the settlements?

The second reason was that he’d hoped—stupidly, of course—or was sure that by granting all Netanyahu’s demands and wishes the majority of Jews in America will vote for him. Fat chance. We know now that between 66-76 percent (depend on the pollsters) of Jews have voted democratic, for Biden. (As yours truly had predicted, and was attacked for so predicting, in a previous post, Why Most Jews Vote Biden, 10/30/2020). Which brings us naturally to the question of what the consequences are, if any, for Israel’s love affair with Trump.

“If Israel were a U.S. state, it would be the reddest state in the Union,” said Alon Pinkas (to the New Yorker), a former consul-general for Israel in New York. But why? But how? Some adulation can be attributed to the dimwitted, or naive belief that to be good to Israel and its people, to safeguard its security and future, a president must grant every wish of its Right-wing government and majority. (Which is, of course, utter nonsense.) The other, and even more problematic, is that the anti-democracy, anti-truth, anti-reality forces in Israel are just as strong, just as large (population-wise) as in America. And that the threat of a criminal dictator like Trump—i.e. Netanyahu—is just as prominent. Hence the continuous struggle, and year-long demonstrations by Israelis fighting for the state young—in comparison to America—democracy. And without a constitution to safeguard it. As a result, the residue of the lovefest with Trump will continue to resonate as the country and its people continue the fight to retain its democracy.

The other consequence is that the gap between Israeli Jews and American Jews—not only liberals, not only reforms, but among conservatives too—is wider than it has ever been. American Jews, on the whole—excluding the ultra-orthodox, ultra-conservatives, and evangelical-prone Jews—abhor autocracy and despise anti-fact, anti-truth conspiracy theories and alternate-reality nonsense. They sew clearly what was in front of them when Trump was in power, and didn’t like it one bit. Just as they didn’t/don’t like what they see going on in Israel. Which, even if they don’t admit it loudly, know it’s way ahead into becoming an Apartheid state.

One hopes that with the change of a president, an administration and party in America, things will change—and they will, to a large or small degree—regarding Israel’s occupation and grand ambitions. But the way things are moving, especially in Israel, I don’t see this gap narrowing any day soon. This will create a fissure, and complications in Jews’ reaction to Israel. Assuming the coronavirus would be defeated at some point in time, soon hopefully, and Jews will return to services at their various congregations, they and their national organizations—even AIPAC, another Trump’s enabler when it comes to Israel—will have to work hard to narrow this gap.

Finally, in Israel, time will tell. And much will be determined in the next elections. The demographics don’t look good, though. As in Israel, unlike America—wherein seven of the last eight elections the majority of the people voted for the Democratic presidential candidates—the majority goes the other way. Traditionally the Likud and Netanyahu were always supported by the majority of Mizrachim, or Sephardim, Jews from Arab and North African countries. Joining them—the fasted growing segment of the population in Israel, and the majority of the West Bank settlers—are the Haredim, the ultra-orthodox. The fervent religious zealots. The most ardent of Trump’s supporters.

The struggle for democracy continues then, both in America and in Israel, with the consequences of the alliance of Trump and Israel to vibrate for years to come.

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