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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.

Who Are You With?

iheartberlin.de

It is my belief—shared, it seems, with a growing number of observers, scholars, and ordinary folks—that the coming midterm elections of November 2018 would be of importance, and of consequences, unparalleled in our lifetime. Certainly in my lifetime as a citizen of this country, pushing thirty years. While this may sound to some of you as an exaggeration, or as something you’ve heard before in regard to an upcoming elections, I’m going to try and make the case that that isn’t so. That this coming elections are, indeed, crucial not only for the survival of this country as a democracy, but to liberal democracy—as opposed to guided, managed democracy—elsewhere in the world, including in Israel.

Lately, I’ve heard some pundits, and also some people with vast experience in military, intelligence and politics, men and women of quality and impressive credentials, stating that if we—i.e. liberal, democrats, progressives, and even like-minded republican-conservatives—won’t go to the polls this November on mass, and change dramatically the political landscape of this country, namely the congress, then it might be the last free election to be held in this country for years to come. And while this assessment and predicament—unleash the ‘Big Blue Wave’ or else—is a bit overblown in my estimation, the essence of it, and the fear that inspires it, are not.

A couple of months ago I was riveted to a Netflix drama, titled ‘Babylon Berlin’. Produced in Germany, it was one of the best shows on TV I’ve seen in years, and I highly recommend it if you have access to Netflix (not for the faint of heart, though). The story takes place in Berlin in 1929 and on into the early thirties, and while the plot is intriguing and the characters engrossing, and the scenery fascinating, what stood out for me above all was the reality of the depiction of Berlin—the center of cultural Europe at the time—and the political forces at play. Mostly: What made it possible for Hitler and his followers to—democratically!—prepare the ground for the ultimate, disastrous takeover of the country and most of Europe.

Yes, it happened ninety years ago or so in Germany. And yes, so many things are different, in culture and government from here in America. But oh boy, how much they’re also very similar. The ‘Golden Führer’ that is currently presiding and ruling over this country, won’t go down without a fight. And as he has proven already, he won’t give a damn if while fighting, he’ll destroy civility, democracy, and the economic, ecological future of this country. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we will rise for the occasion. The ‘Resistance’—as I pointed out in an article right after the 2016 election—need to be just as fierce. This might be our best chance to turn things around, and clear our skies from this menacing dark cloud. Not only for the sake of this country and its people, but the world at large.

And that includes Israel and the Middle East. Because, as things stand now, continuation of the Trump’s rule in America will mean continuation of the rule of Netanyahu in Israel, Sissi in Egypt, Assad’s in Syria. All these dictators (to various degrees and progress, especially in Netanyahu’s case), are in effect threatening the rule of law and free press. You might reproach me and say: “C’mon man, things have never been better in Israel.” The American Embassy is in Jerusalem; Israel is getting all the weapons the IDF needs and then some; America withdrew its support of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and putting tremendous economic pressure on that country; Egypt and Saudi Arabia are joining the Iran fight and support Israel; economically and even culturally Israel is entering the year of 5779 in a very good shape.

And yet, the other side of the coin is: Democracy in Israel has never been in a worse shape, and Israel’s democracy is now ranked lower in the latest ‘Democracy Index’ compiled by the ‘Economist Intelligence Unit’. Both USA (ranked 21) and Israel (ranked 30) were downgraded from “full democracies” to a “flawed democracies,” together with Botswana (ranked 28). The rule of law is teetering, as proved by the fact that the country’s Attorney General is dragging his feet in issuing a verdict on the Police recommendations to charge PM Netanyahu on bribery and fraud; A ‘Shin Bet state’ is in progress where Israeli citizens and American Jews with opposing views are stopped at entry ports to the country for interrogation, warning, and who knows what’s next, maybe torture.

You might ask yourself, so what? Things are good, otherwise. Well, let me tell you what. First, as the Palestinian issue and conflict has proven since Israel’s independence, it’s not going away anywhere. Ever. It is here to stay. Second, with the death of peace comes war. Whether with Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran. It’s coming. Third, with the death of the Two-State solution, only one solution remains: One-State solution. And with the rule of Trump in America, and Netanyahu in Israel, that means Israel is in serious danger of becoming an ‘Apartheid State.’ Ruling over other people for more than fifty years, and now also issuing laws making the Arabs and Druze second-class citizens of the state. “The authoritarian/messianic clock in Israel is moving closer to midnight,” wrote Aryeh Cohen recently in ‘Tablet’. It’s up to us, even here in an American elections, to try and reverse that clock’s progress.

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

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