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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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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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