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Is Israel Next?

carnegieeurope.eu

There’s a new world order currently in the making, and Israel might be the next country to join this growing club. I’m talking about the assault on liberal democracies by autocratic regimes and leaders throughout the world, most dangerously and significantly in Europe, where the clash is more acute. We have, on the one hand, the old guard: Russia and China (and of course, North Korea and some other smaller countries). The interesting things about Russia and China are three-fold. First, both countries flirted with ‘true’ democracy for a while and are now back to full-fledged autocracy. Second, both countries very much want to be part of the big world, do not hide anymore behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ or the ‘Great Wall.’ They are, if you will, modern theocracies. And third, both leaders were elected ‘supposedly’ by democratic elections (and so was Hitler), and maintain civil appearance and modus operandi.

Let me explain what I mean by modus operandi, since I regard it as the most significant trend. It’s a characteristic most defined by Putin, but also by Jinping, that I find most modernly striking and disturbing. Here goes: They dress nicely in suits and ties; they speak quietly and normally, like you and me; they go about their business very civil-like. No more Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Castro or Amin; they’re no longer dressed in uniform, army or otherwise; they give no funny salutes, or wear many medals on their chests; not even public mass executions, concentration camps or gulags. No, everything is done business-like, modern-like, stealthy. But the effect and results are. More or less, the same.

And now come the imitators. The managed-democracies, actual-autocracies wannabes. First among them, very Putin-like, Erdogan of Turkey (and in Syria Assad, of course). Second is Duda of Poland, and third, close behind, Orban of Hungary, who just won ‘reelection’ for the third time. These men are all dictators in disguise, modernly attired, with good speaking manners. Some observers see Czechia coming to the fold soon enough, with Italy playing—with Italian style and flare—not far behind. And of course, who can forget that here in America we have our own semi-despot in the form of President Trump. An admirer of the above-mentioned leaders who, should the opportunity present itself, and should the American democracy prove fragile enough, will establish autocracy here in a heartbeat.

Then we have Israel. And Netanyahu: a twin-like leader of Putin and Erdogan, still operating in an Israeli democracy of old, though with disturbing signs for the future. Let’s set aside for now all the other signs and attributes of a strong leader, long in power, good orator, who know how to play the media to his advantage, who blames everybody else for his troubles, and knows how to win elections, using every trick in the book. But in Netanyahu’s case, all these elements being true, there are some new, different elements that make his case unique, and to Jews the world over, liberal or not, very ominous.

So here, to spell it out, one possible scenario. Netanyahu, who still exists in a liberal democracy, Israeli style, is operating under the darkening cloud of police investigations (quite several of them) against him. On some charges, bribery, graft, and the like, the police already concluded the investigation with recommendations to indict. (Others, with severe possible criminal doings, are still under police investigation.) So the ball is now in the hand of Attorney General Mendelblit, a crony and appointee of Netanyahu, who is supposed to rule in the next couple of months whether to indict the Prime Minister in the court of law.

Should he decide against such indictment, all hell might break loose in the Knesset and the streets. However, Netanyahu would claim victory, would say ‘I told you so: These were all lies, manufactured by the police who are out to get me.’ It will be easier for him then to engineer the closing of all the other ongoing investigations, and should he decide to go to new elections, win them big, as all the polls are indicating. In this scenario, he’ll be able to continue his rule in the disguise of fully operating liberal democracy, but with even more power in his hands, and without the cloud of any more police investigations.

The more interesting—and in a way, troubling—scenario is what would happen should the Attorney General would decide to indict Netanyahu. Under the current Israeli law, a minister in the government must resign under such pending indictment. But there’s no word about what the Prime Minister’s obligation is in such a predicament. (A previous PM, Ehud Olmert, resigned in similar circumstances and, indeed, ended up in jail.) Now, should Netanyahu not resign, and continue business as usual, other parties in his coalition, most probably Kulanu, might leave his government. And therefore, as in the other option, early elections would be the solution.

But in this scenario—i.e., a leader of a main party running for reelection while not only under police investigation, but possibly going to court soon—if Netanyahu wins the elections again, as the polls currently are also indicating, and be able to form a government (no problems there, I predict) it would be a clear indication that the Israeli public rather have him in power, even as a criminal, because of what they perceive as his ‘strong leader’ persona. This is not a certainty, but can only be prevented I believe if a strong, united center-left party will be formed, with Labor and Yesh Atid as one body-politics.

Fat chance, I say. And in any case, should Netanyahu win, it would give him an almost unlimited power. Unlike any leader in Israel history, including Ben-Gurion. The rule of law, already under threat, will be a major casualty, with the next one to go being the Israeli liberal democracy as we knew and loved it, warts-and-all.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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Masters of War; Masters of Peace

philosophers-stone.co.uk

philosophers-stone.co.uk

When it was announced that Bob Dylan was chosen as the recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature (a somewhat controversial choice), one of the first songs of his that came to my mind was the iconic Cold War area protest song “Masters of War.” And since that announcement came just a short while after the death of Israel’s eldest, and most distinguished politician in recent memory, Shimon Peres – and again, some new revelations and controversy came to light following his death, too – somehow (though one is dead and the other is alive) both legacies intertwined in my mind and made me think again about war and peace. And in particular, in this regard, about Israel’s leaders since independence in 1948.

The first one is, of course, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister (PM from here onwards), who was so instrumental in Israel coming into being, in the language of its Declaration of Independence – a most wonderful document, still – the War of Independence and the building of the Israeli Defense Forces (i.e. IDF), and so on and so forth. Growing up in Israel, I still remember him declaring that Israel seeks peace with its Arab neighbors, and will sit down with their leaders without any preconditions, anywhere anytime. He meant it, too, I believe. And when Israel captured some of the Sinai desert in 1956, and word came from Washington to get the hell out of there, he did so right away.

Following him, at least in my order of “Masters of War; Masters of Peace,” came Menachem Begin. He, who was the head of the Irgun; he, who was involved in and commanded plenty of operations, and fierce resistance to the British Mandate – the terrorist attack of the King David Hotel in 1946 comes first to mind – and he, who had been carrying the torch of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his philosophy of “Two Banks has the Jordan” (river). But when it came to peace with Egypt, he’d made a complete turnaround and did the right thing. He didn’t initiate it, but when push came to shove – by President Sadat of Egypt, and by the ‘Peace Now’ movement and forces in Israel, both among the citizenry and the army, and by the inevitable march of history – he did the right thing and made peace.

Later came Yitzhak Rabin, possibly the best example for the headline above, and the one who had paid the ultimate price. A protégé of Ben-Gurion, a Palmach & Haganah Commander and a builder of the IDF, who became its Chief of Staff and led its forces to its greatest victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, no one could accuse him of loving Israel’s Arabs neighbors too much. But again, he first initiated and signed the peace treaty with Jordan, and then, when time came to understand, and to realize the complexity of the situation in Israel with the Palestinians, the debt we owe them (for their Nakba, in which he’d played a major role, as described in Avi Shavit’s book My Promised Land), he chose peace over eternal war. And paid with his life for it.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier still, the commander of Sayeret Matkal, and the IDF Chief of Staff, was also a master of war, until he became a man of peace. When he became PM, he declared and even put forward a plan for a comprehensive peace, in which Israel was supposed to have given back most of the territories captured in 67, including the Golan Heights, in return for peace. One might say he was naïve, and faced resistance first and foremost within Israel and the IDF itself. He was later ready to do just the same thing in the Camp David negotiations with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat, but the folly of the latter, time constraints and other elements in the peace equation as well, worked against him.

Then came Ariel Sharon, believe it or not. He also became PM after being first a warrior and an IDF hero. He had led the settlement movement to an extent, and was the architect of the buildup of Jewish settlements in southern Gaza, Gush Katif as it was known, and in Northern Sinai previously. He, who fought the Arabs so viciously, was so extreme in his views of our never-ending war with them, had made a turnaround too, realizing his mistakes, and pulled Israel out of Gaza. It was later reveled, after he’d succumbed to his life-ending coma, that he had talked with his close confidants, and had begun to developed a plan of withdrawal from most of the West Bank, in order to make a lasting peace with the Palestinians, as he’d come (even if belatedly) to the realization of how crucial the demographic issue was, still is, to the future of the Israeli democracy, its Jewish dominancy and character.

Which brings me finally to our current PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. He is not a war hero (though he served honorably in the IFD in Sayeret Matkal), and most defiantly he is not a man of peace. Shimmy Peres, as we mentioned above, was also not a war hero, but worked tiredly under Ben-Gurion to establish Israel’s security capability, and to build its first nuclear reactor, but then in later years turned to making peace; i.e. the Oslo Accords. But what about PM Netanyahu, really? Will he finally realize, like the aforementioned leaders, his predecessors, the need for peace? The futility of constant war, and ruling over other people endlessly? Will he finally understand that his support of the settlement endeavor and movement leads to an Apartheid State, de facto, or to the end of Herzl’s Zionist dream of a secure, democratic home for the Jewish People? It remains to be seen, as this page hasn’t been written yet.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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