Illiberal Israel


NEW YORK – After a half-century of occupying Palestinian territory, Israel is succumbing to its deepest ethno-centrist impulses, and increasingly rejecting recognized boundaries. Israel is now on its way to join the growing club of illiberal democracies, and it has Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to thank.

Over the course of 11 years as Israel’s prime minister, Netanyahu has reshaped the country’s collective psyche. He has elevated the isolated, traumatized “Jew” – still at odds with the “gentiles,” not to mention the “Arabs” – above the secular, liberal, and globalized “Israeli” envisioned by the country’s founding fathers.

Netanyahu himself is a secular, cynical hedonist who faces an ongoing investigation into his alleged acceptance of lavish illicit gifts from a Hollywood mogul. Yet he is adept at playing the “Jewish card” to his own benefit. In 1996, his promise to be “good for the Jews” won him power. In 2015, his warning that Jews must rush to vote for him, or have their fate decided by “droves” of Arabs supposedly headed to the polling stations, did the same.

Just as appealing to people’s Jewishness wins elections, it blocks negotiations on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state in 2014 became the last nail in the coffin of an already dying peace process.

In many ways, Netanyahu’s political profile matches that of the most hardline Republicans. His wife once boasted that, had he been born in the US, he could have been president. He probably would have preferred such a life, largely for the sheer power it would afford him. It also would have enabled him to avoid eight frustrating years at loggerheads with President Barack Obama.

Now, however, Netanyahu is relieved to have in the White House Donald Trump, a like-minded Republican who is, in practically every way, the polar opposite of Obama. The last US president showed empathy for minorities and immigrants; defended human and civil rights; achieved a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran; sought peace in Palestine; and, most problematic, attempted to hold the Israeli leader to account. One of Obama’s last acts as president was to have the US abstain from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution against Israeli settlement-building in the occupied territories, rather than vetoing it.

Netanyahu far prefers Trump’s crude charlatanism to Obama’s professorial liberalism. In fact, Trump and Netanyahu share much in common with each other – and with other illiberal leaders, such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. All three view open hostility toward the mainstream media as a means of securing and consolidating power.

Trump has launched, in so many words, a “war on the media.” Erdoğan, for his part, has cracked down on press freedom, arresting journalists on accusations of involvement in last July’s failed military coup. Netanyahu has been Israel’s acting communications minister since late 2014.

The logic is not difficult to discern. News media are supposed to hold those in power accountable. So those in power try to muffle the news media. One way to do that is to amplify the voices of more agreeable alternatives, such as Israel Hayom – a Hebrew-language free daily newspaper dedicated to singing Netanyahu’s praises.

The goal of this North Korea-style pamphlet is not to turn a profit. In 2014, Sheldon Adelson, an American casino mogul who has long supported Netanyahu and also helped to finance Trump’s campaign, invested an estimated $50 million in Israel Hayom, which has lost more than $250 million since its launch in 2007. Netanyahu held an early election in 2014, in order to protect his mouthpiece – which now has the largest circulation of any Israeli newspaper – from parliamentary bills threatening to hobble it.

Netanyahu has always denied that he had anything to do with Israel Hayom, though the truth is that he is practically its editor-in-chief. In what other capacity could he have discussed with the owner of its main competitor, Yedioth Ahronot, the possibility of curtailing the distribution of Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage?

Of course, Netanyahu is not doing all of the heavy lifting in pushing Israel toward illiberalism, and censorship and harassment are not reserved exclusively for the media. The minister of education, Naftali Bennett – Chairman of the Jewish Home party, a key ally in Netanyahu’s far-right coalition and a leading advocate for annexing Palestinian lands – is now instructing schools that “studying Judaism is more important than math and science.” A novel describing a love affair between a Palestinian boy and a Jewish girl has been banned from school curricula.

The minister of justice, Ayelet Shaked, also a member of the Jewish Home party, is second only to Bennett in her ultra-Zionist ardor. She is now spearheading an attack on Israeli democracy’s last frontier, the Supreme Court, condemning it for rulings such as last April’s decision holding that Israel’s natural-gas policy was unconstitutional.

More recently, Shaked approved the “loyalty in culture bill,” which would make government cultural funding contingent on the recipient’s “loyalty” to the Jewish state. Right-wing groups supporting annexation, meanwhile, receive lavish support from the government, as well as from foreign Jewish donors.

Notions of loyalty are used as weapons not just against artists. A newly passed bill – clearly aimed at Israeli Arabs’ representatives in the Knesset (parliament) – would allow MKs to be dismissed for disloyalty to the state. NGOs focused on human rights and peace-seeking are scrutinized as foreign agents.

For Israel, democracy has always been a strategic asset, because a democratic Israel was a natural fit in the Western alliance. Whereas the West lost no time in imposing sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s Russia following its annexation of Crimea, it has not punished Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The more Israel embraces Putin-inspired practices, however, the weaker becomes its connection to its strategic rearguard in the West.

It remains to be seen whether the unpredictable Trump will meet Israel’s expectations. What is clear is that by weakening its democratic credentials, Israel imperils its lifeline to the West – including post-Trump America.


Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
www.project-syndicate.org



TO FOLLOW WHAT'S NEW ON FACTS & ARTS, PLEASE CLICK HERE!

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 23.07.2018
How does the current global economic outlook compare to that of a year ago? In 2017, the world economy was undergoing a synchronized expansion, with growth accelerating in both advanced economies and emerging markets. Moreover, despite stronger growth, inflation was tame – if not falling – even in economies like the United States, where goods and labor markets were tightening.
Added 22.07.2018
While the US is busy slipping off of its precipice, many of its best known political figures are beating a rather tired old drum – the new Cold War, Russia, China, North Korea. It is boring, predictable, and dated. In the meantime, Russia and China are proceeding apace to reshape world order – without America.
Added 12.07.2018
The cabinet members who resigned this week apparently feared that politics is taking May toward a “soft Brexit,” their worst of all possible worlds........“soft Brexit,” maintains the status quo, more or less, letting Europeans freely circulate into British labor markets and allowing European firms to operate easily in the UK. The problem with “soft Brexit” is that it raises questions about why the UK is leaving at all, since it will still have the same obligations to Europe as before, it just won’t have a voice when the remaining 27 members of the European Union meet to make decisions.
Added 12.07.2018
One study on the 2010 World Cup found that there was a 37.5% rise in admission rates across 15 accident and emergency departments on England match days........Examining reports of domestic abuse in Lancashire (a county of approximately 1.5m people in Northern England), across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments, we discovered a 26% increase in reports of domestic abuse when England won or drew, and a 38% increase when England lost. Reports were also more frequent on weekends, and reached their peak when England exited the tournament.
Added 10.07.2018
If, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the US government, rather than arguing for Chinese economic opening, had prohibited any US company from investing there, China’s rise would have been significantly delayed, though not permanently prevented. Because that did not happen, China’s rise is now self-sustaining. A huge and increasingly affluent domestic market will make exports less vital to growth.
Added 10.07.2018
Comparing today’s demagogues with Adolf Hitler is almost always unwise. Such alarmism tends to trivialize the actual horrors of the Nazi regime, and distracts attention from our own political problems. But if alarmism is counterproductive, the question remains: At what point are democracies truly in danger? What was unimaginable only a few years ago – a US president insulting democratic allies and praising dictators, or calling the free press “enemies of the people,” or locking up refugees and taking away their children – has become almost normal now. When will it be too late to sound the alarm?
Added 09.07.2018
In view of such actions, expectations for Trump’s behavior at the upcoming summit have gone from prickly to dangerous. The sense of foreboding has been heightened by the announcement that, just four days after the summit ends, Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki. The nightmare scenario is easy to imagine: Trump lays bare NATO’s fractures, including by questioning mutual defense, before selling his allies down the river by publicly embracing Putin. But this does not need to be the outcome.
Added 09.07.2018
After 2027 (or maybe even 2025, only 7 years from now), the number of EVs will rapidly accelerate, as virtually all new vehicles bought will be electric (an effect of rapidly falling battery and other component costs and of the fuel for electric cars being essentially free; you can power one off your rooftop solar array).
Added 03.07.2018
Most pundits interpret Trump’s outbursts as playing to his political base, or preening for the cameras, or blustering for the sake of striking future deals. We take a different view. In line with many of America’s renowned mental-health experts, we believe that Trump suffers from several psychological pathologies that render him a clear and present danger to the world.
Added 03.07.2018
In the United Kingdom, Brexit looms large, with everyone from government ministers to tabloid newspapers frothing daily about the deal that will be struck with the European Union and the effects that it will have. But the EU faces too many pressing challenges to be obsessing about Britain. The UK’s concern is understandable: evidence is mounting of the likely damage a departure from the single market and customs union will do to the UK economy. According to new research from the Centre for European Reform, the UK economy is already 2.1% smaller than it would have been had voters chosen to remain. The hit to public finances totals £440 million ($579 million) per week.
Added 26.06.2018
Nowadays, Britain’s words and actions on the world stage are so at odds with its values that one must wonder what has happened to the country. Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, British foreign policy seems to have all but collapsed – and even to have disowned its past and its governing ideas. Worse, this has coincided with the emergence of US President Donald Trump’s erratic administration, which is pursuing goals that are completely detached from those of Britain – and of Europe generally. 
Added 26.06.2018
With each passing day, it becomes increasingly evident that US President Donald Trump’s administration cares less about economics and more about the aggressive exercise of political power. This is obviously a source of enormous frustration for those of us who practice the art and science of economics. But by now, the verdict is self-evident: Trump and his team continue to flaunt virtually every principle of conventional economics.
Added 26.06.2018
The sights and sounds of Central American children being ripped from their parents by US Border Patrol officers have, by now, spread across the globe. The experience has been traumatizing to its victims and deeply painful to watch. It has also done incalculable damage to the very idea of America. This is June when we are supposed to be celebrating "Immigrant Heritage Month". Each year, I have taken this opportunity to recall my family's immigrant story - the opportunity and freedom they sought, the hardships they endured, and the remarkable progress they made in just one generation. 
Added 24.06.2018
State terrorism comes in many forms, but one of its most cruel and revolting expressions is when it is aimed at children. Even though U.S. President Donald Trump backed down in the face of a scathing political and public outcry and ended his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, make no mistake: His actions were and remain a form of terrorism.
Added 22.06.2018
It is now clear that the twenty-first century is ushering in a new world order. As uncertainty and instability associated with that process spread around the globe, the West has responded with either timidity or nostalgia for older forms of nationalism that failed in the past and certainly will not work now. Even to the most inveterate optimist, the G7 summit in Quebec earlier this month was proof that the geopolitical West is breaking up and losing its global significance, and that the great destroyer of that American-created and American-led order is none other than the US president. To be sure, Donald Trump is more a symptom than a cause of the West’s disintegration. But he is accelerating the process dramatically.
Added 20.06.2018
Sessions quoted a line written by the apostle Paul to a small community of Christians living in Rome around 55AD to defend the Department of Justice’s approach. He said: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." Sessions used the Bible because one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases has been the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that Sessions appealed to Romans chapter 13 verse 1 in response: not only did he hope to undermine Catholic authority by using the Bible against them, he cited a statement so broad that one might use it to defend anything a government does, good or bad. Picture below St Paul writing his epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne, via Wikimedia Commons.
Added 19.06.2018
 

I find it exceptionally irritating when I hear liberals worry about whether Israel will be able to remain a "Jewish and Democratic State" if it retains control of occupied Palestinian lands.

Added 18.06.2018
Daniel Wagner: "My prediction Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result."
Added 14.06.2018
Extract: PiS [ the ruling Law and Justice party] has established the most significant addition to the Polish social safety net since 1989: the Family 500+ program. Launched in 2016, Family 500+ embodies the nationalism, traditional family values, and social consciousness that the PiS seeks to promote. The program pays families 500 złoty ($144) per month to provide care for a second or subsequent child...........The program has been enormously popular. Some 2.4 million families took advantage of it in the first two years. The benefit, equivalent to 40% of the minimum wage, has almost wiped out extreme poverty for children in Poland, reducing it by an estimated 70-80%........... Liberal pro-European politicians and policymakers are not convinced. They complain that such a generous family benefit will weaken work incentives and blow up the government budget. But initial evidence suggests that Family 500+ has actually increased economic activity. It has also reversed the post-communist decline in fertility, increased wages (particularly for women), and enabled families to buy school materials, take vacations, buy more clothes for their kids, and rely less on high-priced credit for basic household needs. And, thanks to rapid economic growth, the government deficit has steadily fallen, not grown.