Israel Doubles Down on Illiberal Democracy

TEL AVIV – It is Bibi again. Having unapologetically allied with a racist, Jewish-supremacist party, Binyamin Netanyahu has secured a fourth consecutive term as Israel’s prime minister. The Union of Right Wing Parties says Netanyahu promised it both the education ministry and the justice ministry, and who are we to doubt it? Along with Netanyahu’s other right-wing allies, the URWP has already backed a new law that would protect the prime minister from being indicted on pending corruption charges

Israel’s latest parliamentary election has consolidated the country’s position within a growing bloc of illiberal democracies around the world. Once again, Netanyahu has won by mobilizing the people against the very state institutions that he is supposed to uphold and defend. In this election cycle, he shamelessly lambasted the judicial system and the police for doing their jobs. He attacked the media for uncovering improper behavior by his family and cronies. He pilloried public intellectuals for refusing to acknowledge his greatness. And he depicted the old Zionist “left” as traitors.

As for the Arab parties, they lost around 25% of their seats, owing partly to voter abstention. With Netanyahu having pushed through a “” declaring the pursuit of “national self-determination” in Israel as “unique to the Jewish people,” Israel’s Arab citizens apparently are through lending credibility to a sham democracy. Throughout the campaign, they were treated as political lepers by practically every segment of the Israeli body politic.

The Israeli left, in particular, has been exposed as a bankrupt political project. In fact, Netanyahu’s Israel has swung so far right that the term “leftist” itself is now a smear. Both his party’s main challenger, the centrist Blue and White alliance, and the Labor Party have run away from the label. And both not only lacked the courage to stand up to Netanyahu’s maligning of Israeli Arabs as enemies of the state, but also refused even to consider forming a parliamentary alliance with Arab parties. On the Arab question, liberal Zionists have acceded to Netanyahu’s project of making Israel into a one-race, one-party state.

All told, the election amounts to a monumental indictment of Israel’s democracy. In a campaign dominated by personal smears and disinformation, not one substantive issue was debated seriously. It was as if the consequences of Netanyahu’s cruel neoliberal policies – a weakened welfare state and squeezed middle classes – did not matter at all. Nor was there any discussion of the unproductive Orthodox community’s dependence on state subsidies, which have grown substantially under Netanyahu.

And then there is the elephant in the room: the Palestinian question. Fearing the loss of conservative votes, the left and center parties did not make a single convincing statement – let alone offer a policy program – to address the greatest existential and moral challenge facing the country. Yes, candidates on the left paid lip service to the problem, and Benny Gantz, the colorless leader of Blue and White, muttered something about the need for a “diplomatic move” with respect to the occupied territories, but that was it.

Meanwhile, Gantz and those on the left said almost nothing when Netanyahu boasted that he could get US President Donald Trump to greenlight a partial Israeli annexation of the West Bank. And they were equally nonresponsive when Netanyahu took credit for the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

In fact, US-Israeli relations were another key issue that went almost unmentioned in the election campaign. Never mind that Netanyahu’s alliance with Trump and American evangelicals has cost Israel the support of a growing portion of the US Democratic Party establishment, or that his blank check to the Israeli Orthodox community has alienated America’s predominantly liberal Jewish community. After Beto O’Rourke, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, warned that Netanyahu is a “racist” who is damaging America’s special alliance with Israel, Israelis responded by extending that racist’s grip on power.

Throughout the campaign, Netanyahu touted his foreign-policy record. In addition to cozying up to illiberal Eastern European governments and Brazil’s new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, he claims to have bolstered Israel’s economic clout in Asia, made diplomatic breakthroughs in Africa, and forged covert partnerships with neighboring Arab countries, not least Saudi Arabia.

And here, too, Netanyahu’s opponents dropped the ball. They could have pointed out that his goal in brokering new partnerships is to head off international opposition to his planned annexation of Palestinian territory. Instead of using Israel’s diplomatic relationships to work toward an acceptable solution to its primary existential challenge, he has exploited them for his own chauvinist agenda.

Sadly, the election leaves no doubt about what awaits Israel in the coming years.

  • A cabal of Netanyahu cronies and family members,
  • racist messianic settlers, and
  • Orthodox parties with opportunistic designs on the state budget

will drag Israel toward a new single-state reality that will resemble apartheid South Africa.

If there is any consolation, it is that the Israeli left and center – from Meretz and Labor to the Arab parties and Blue and White – still collectively represents almost half of the electorate. A bold leader who is willing to fight for Israel’s soul could prevail, but only by unapologetically allying with Israeli Arabs. That is not just the best electoral strategy. It is also the right thing to do.

The West Must Face Reality in Turkey

Turkey’s currency crisis and standoff with the United States over the imprisonment of an American pastor have exposed the crumbling edifice of the two countries’ Cold War-era partnership. Rather than hold out hope that Turkey will return to the Western fold, US and European policymakers must consider a new policy toward the country.

..  Moreover, tariffs allow Erdoğan to blame his country’s economic woes on America, rather than on his own government’s incompetence.
.. It is still possible that the Turkish government will find a way to release Brunson, and that US President Donald Trump, anxious to demonstrate fealty to the evangelicals who form a core part of his base, will rescind the tariffs.
.. But even if the immediate crisis is resolved, the structural crisis in US-Turkish relations – and Western-Turkish relations generally – will remain.
We are witnessing the gradual but steady demise of a relationship that is already an alliance in name only. Though the Trump administration is right to have confronted Turkey, it chose not only the wrong response, but also the wrong issue.
The relationship between Turkey and the West has long been predicated on two principles, neither of which obtains any longer.
  1. The first is that Turkey is a part of the West, which implies that it is a liberal democracy.
    • Yet Turkey is neither liberal nor a democracy. It has effectively been subjected to one-party rule under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and power has become concentrated in the hands of Erdoğan, who is also the AKP’s leader.
    • Under Erdoğan, checks and balances have largely been eliminated from the Turkish political system, and the president controls the media, the bureaucracy, and the courts.
  2.  The second principle underlying Turkey’s “Western” status is alignment on foreign policy. Turkey recently bought more than 100 advanced F-35 fighter jets from the US. Yet, in recent years, Turkey has also supported jihadist groups in Syria, moved closer to Iran, and contracted to purchase S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia.

.. The Turks were not happy with the US decision to withdraw medium-range missiles from Turkey as part of the deal that ended the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

.. Turkey refused to give US military forces access to Incirlik Air Base during the Iraq war in 2003.

.. the Turkish government has been infuriated by America’s refusal to extradite the Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdoğan believes masterminded the 2016 coup attempt.

..  The anti-Soviet glue that kept the two countries close during the Cold War is long gone.

.. The problem is that the NATO treaty provides no mechanism for divorce.

.. Turkey can withdraw from the alliance, but it cannot be forced out.

  1. .. First, policymakers should criticize Turkish policy when warranted.
    •  they must also reduce their reliance on access to Turkish bases such as Incirlik,
    • deny Turkey access to advanced military hardware like F-35s, and
    • reconsider the policy of basing nuclear weapons in Turkey.
    • Moreover, the US should not extradite Gülen unless Turkey can prove his involvement in the coup with evidence that would stand up in a US court and satisfy the provisions of the 1981 mutual extradition treaty.
    • Nor should the US abandon the Kurds, given their invaluable role in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
  2.  Second, the US and Europe should wait until the Erdoğan era is over, and then approach Turkey’s new leadership with a grand bargain.
    • The offer should be Western support in exchange for a Turkish commitment to liberal democracy and to a foreign policy focused on fighting terrorism and pushing back against Russia.

 

Viktor Orbán Is Europe’s Future

I have formulated five tenets for the project of building up Central Europe. The first is

  1. that every European country has the right to defend its Christian culture, and the right to reject the ideology of multiculturalism. Our second tenet is that
  2. every country has the right to defend the traditional family model, and is entitled to assert that every child has the right to a mother and a father. The third Central European tenet is that
  3. every Central European country has the right to defend the nationally strategic economic sectors and markets which are of crucial importance to it.
  4. The fourth tenet is that every country has the right to defend its borders, and it has the right to reject immigration. And the fifth tenet is that
  5. every European country has the right to insist on the principle of one nation, one vote on the most important issues, and that this right must not be denied in the European Union. In other words, we Central Europeans claim that there is life beyond globalism, which is not the only path. Central Europe’s path is the path of an alliance of free nations.

 

..  a pattern in which matters in Europe have effectively been decided by competition between two camps: on one side, communities based on the continuing foundations of Christian tradition – let us call them Christian democratic parties; and, on the other side, the organisations of communities which question and reject tradition – let us call them left-wing liberal parties.

..  a situation can arise in one country or another whereby ten per cent or more of the total population is Muslim. We can be sure that they will never vote for a Christian party. And when we add to this Muslim population those of European origin who are abandoning their Christian traditions, then it will no longer be possible to win elections on the basis of Christian foundations.

Those groups preserving Christian traditions will be forced out of politics, and decisions about the future of Europe will be made without them. This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the situation, this is the goal, and this is how close we are to seeing it happen.

.. we must demonstrate that there is an alternative to liberal democracy: it is called Christian democracy. And we must show that the liberal elite can be replaced with a Christian democratic elite.

.. Christian democracy is not about defending religious articles of faith – in this case Christian religious articles of faith. Neither states nor governments have competence on questions of damnation or salvation. Christian democratic politics means that the ways of life springing from Christian culture must be protected. Our duty is not to defend the articles of faith, but the forms of being that have grown from them. These include

  1. human dignity,
  2. the family and
  3. the nation

– because Christianity does not seek to attain universality through the abolition of nations, but through the preservation of nations

.. The bait for this trap is hanging right in front of our noses: it is the claim that Christian democracy can also, in fact, be liberal. I suggest we stay calm and avoid being caught on that hook, because if we accept this argument, then the battle, the struggle we have fought so far will lose its meaning, and we will have toiled in vain. Let us confidently declare that Christian democracy is not liberal. Liberal democracy is liberal, while Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal: it is, if you like, illiberal.

  1. .. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues – say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favour of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept.
  2. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept.
  3. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.

.. Liberalism, he says, has become a system and a way of looking at the world that destroys nations and traditions, especially the Christian tradition. He’s right about that: it’s not a bug of liberalism, but a feature. It’s something that’s very hard for Americans to see, because we were founded as a liberal nation, and unlike contemporary Europe, we have not yet faced mass migration from non-Christian civilizations. For traditional Europeans, this is not an abstract discussion. They are fighting to save their civilization. If that requires illiberal democracy, fine.

.. they recognize that the kryptonite they’ve been able to use so effectively for so long to paralyze opposition no longer works on people like Orbán.

.. Americans rarely stop to ask if the people there actually want liberalism, at the expense of the things that make them a people.

.. Who is a more trustworthy contemporary steward of European faith and culture:

Viktor Orbán, or bishops who preach more immigration and more gay pride parades?

Did Israel Just Stop Trying to Be a Democracy?

In 1948, the Declaration of Independence, the text that marks the founding of Israel, created a Jewish state that would ensure “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Since then, the question of how Israel could be both Jewish and democratic has been the object of fierce controversy.

.. In fact, its primary function is to build a formal foundation for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank — and for a Jewish state eventually to stretch over the whole of Palestine.

.. The new law only exposes an old dirty truth, an unspoken quid pro quo dating back to the creation of modern Israel.

.. In May 1948, there were about 600,000 Jews and some 1.2 million Arabs living within Palestine’s borders. With Jews in the minority, the Jewishness of a democratic Israel could only be ensured if Palestinians had a chance at self-determination.

.. Israel’s foundational twin pledge (to be both Jewish and democratic) was hypocritical: Arabs would be equal (in rights) so long as Jews were superior (in numbers).

.. The system’s original contradictions are now being laid bare.

..  last week’s nation-state law says that, “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

.. The nation-state law doesn’t create any such hierarchy because it doesn’t need to; other laws already do.

.. As Ahmad Tibi, an Arab-Israeli member of the Knesset quipped back in 2009, “This country is Jewish and democratic: Democratic toward Jews, and Jewish toward Arabs.”

.. In particular, the new law says that “the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” In the context of Israel’s ongoing conflicts over demography and land, promoting Jewish settlement doesn’t just mean favoring the interests of Jews; it also means undermining the interests of Arabs.

..  To set up these villages, the government confiscated the land of Arab Israelis and isolated their towns from one another. Their economic prospects waned; their national aspirations — such as for autonomy within Israel — were undermined. Last week’s law will give these old methods a fresh boost, including before the Supreme Court, where they have been challenged in the past.

.. Israel’s policy of promoting Jewish settlements has created de facto apartheid in the occupied territories of the West Bank. The nation-state law now formally endorses the use of similar apartheid methods within Israel’s recognized borders. What was long suspected has finally been made brutally clear: Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a liberal democracy.