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.

Thomas Friedman: Everyone Is Going All the Way

It is hard to spend a week in Israel and not come away feeling that Israelis have the wind at their backs.

  • They’ve built an awesome high-tech industry
  • Regionally, the Arabs and Palestinians have never been weaker
  • Israel has never had a more unquestioningly friendly United States.
  • Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, asking Israel for nothing in return. The Arab states barely made a peep.

this wind has whetted the appetite of Israel’s settlers and ruling Likud Party to go to extremes

.. the “Likud Party unanimously urged legislators in a nonbinding resolution … to effectively annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, land that Palestinians want for a future state.”

.. Sure, the world would scream “apartheid,” but Israeli rightists shrug that the world will get used to it.

  • Nikki Haley will cover for Israel at the U.N.
  • Sheldon Adelson will keep Trump and the G.O.P. in line.
  • And the Arab regimes, which need Israel to counter Iran, will look the other away.

They think they can annex the West Bank without giving Palestinians citizenship; they’ll just let the Palestinians vote in their own elections.

.. May 17, 1983  .. Israel (backed by the U.S.) imposed virtually all its security demands on a weak Lebanese government, including a framework for normalizing trade and diplomacy.

.. “Going All The Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon.”

I always loved that title — going all the way. It’s a recurring theme out here, and it almost always ends with a “Thelma and Louise” moment — partners driving over a cliff — and so it did with Israel in 1983.

.. everywhere I look today I see people going all the way.

  • I see Republicans trashing two of our most sacred institutions — the F.B.I. and the Justice Department — because these agencies won’t bend to Trump’s will.
  • I see Iran controlling four Arab capitals: Damascus, Sana, Baghdad and Beirut.
  • I see Hamas still more interested in building tunnels in Gaza to kill Israelis than schools to strengthen Palestinian society.
  • I see the crown prince of Saudi Arabia with one hand undertaking hugely important steps —
    • moderating Saudi Islam,
    • letting women drive and
    • opening Saudi society culturally to the world
  • and, with the other hand,
    • abducting the prime minister of Lebanon,
    • buying ridiculously expensive paintings and
    • seizing businesses in the name of combating corruption
  • I see the Taliban killing 103 people in Kabul by packing an ambulancewith explosives and driving it into a crowd.
  • I see Houthis, Yemeni warlords, Iranians, Saudis and the U.A.E. all tearing Yemen apart in the name of God knows what.

  • I see Turkey’s president silencing every critical journalist in his country.

  • I see the Egyptian and Russian presidents eliminating all serious rivals in their upcoming elections.

  • I see Bibi Netanyahu trying to derail a corruption investigation by weakening Israel’s justice system, free media and civil society — just like Trump and for the same purposes: to weaken constraints on his arbitrary use of political power.

  • I see an American president threatening to tear up, or actually tearing up, global agreements he doesn’t like —

    • the Iran nuclear deal,

    • Nafta,

    • the Trans-Pacific Partnership,

    • the Paris climate accord and

    • aid to Palestinians and Pakistanis —

  • but without any clear plan or alternative for the morning after that will improve on the status quo.

  • Worst of all, I see an America — the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms — now led by a serial liar and norms destroyer, giving license to everyone else to ask, why can’t I?

Can anything stop this epidemic of going all the way? Yes: Mother Nature, human nature and markets. They’ll all push back when no one else will.

.. How so?

Gaza has limited hours of electricity each day.

Result: Gaza’s already inadequate sewage plants are often offline, and waste goes untreated straight into the Mediterranean.

Then the prevailing current washes Gaza’s poop north, where it clogs Israel’s big desalination plant in Ashkelon — which provides 15 percent of Israel’s drinking water

.. In both 2016 and 2017, the Ashkelon plant had to close to clean Gaza’s crud out of its filters. It’s Mother Nature’s way of reminding both that if they try to go all the way, if they shun a healthy interdependence, she’ll poison them both.

.. then out of nowhere Iranians back home start protesting against Suleimani’s overreach; they’re tired of seeing their money spent on Gaza and Syria — not on Iranians. And, just as suddenly, the biggest internet meme in Iran becomes an Iranian woman ripping off her veil and holding it upon the end of a stick.

.. And if you don’t think markets have a way of curing excesses, you didn’t read the top story in The Times.

.. Watch out for

  1. the market,
  2. Mother Nature and
  3. human nature.

.. One is the relentless product of chemistry, biology and physics; one is the balance between greed and fear; and the third is the eternal human quest for freedom and dignity. In the end, they’ll shape the future more than any leader or party who tries going all the way.

Mike Pence’s Self-Serving Trip to the Holy Land

When Mr. Pence announced his first trip to the Middle East, he initially hoped to draw attention to the persecution of Christians in the region, as well as nudge Israelis and Palestinians toward peace.

.. Mr. Pence wrapped up the trip to Israel, Egypt and Jordan on Tuesday, having been rebuffed by top Christian leaders in those countries in protest over Mr. Trump’s decision last month to break with decades of American policy — and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

.. It’s still mysterious just how Mr. Trump believes he has advanced the cause of peace, or fortified America’s standing in the world, with that decision. Its costs in terms of American isolation, on the other hand, were evident throughout the trip. Mr. Pence also didn’t meet with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who flew instead to Brussels to ask European leaders for protection from Mr. Trump’s bad decisions. Neither did Mr. Pence sit down with other Palestinian leaders, any Israeli-Arab citizens, or Israeli opposition members.

.. One place Mr. Pence did strike an enthusiastic chord was in Parliament in Israel, where a hard-line government is largely hostile to a two-state solution. Members interrupted him with standing ovations. His address was replete with biblical references to Jewish ties to the Holy Land. He referred to God’s promise to the Jews that “he would gather and bring you back to the land which your fathers possessed” and to “the Jewish people’s unbreakable bond to” Jerusalem.

.. He has weakened the Palestinians by cutting millions of dollars in aid for health and education projects for Palestinian refugees and then fanned new tensions with his one-sided decision on Jerusalem. At the same time, the gulf between the United States and Europe, once close partners in the peace process, is growing. Such divisions only serve to make good outcomes harder to achieve.

How America’s Charismatic Christianity Helped Fuel the Fantasyland Pesidency of Donald Trump

The United States is suffering through an epistemic crisis. From day to day it seems increasingly difficult to know the truth with real certainty. The nation’s leadership came to power atop a wave of “fake news,” only to appropriate the term and wield it alongside its own “alternative facts.” The official propaganda is further muddled by opposing conspiracy theories, heightened by international intrigues, entangled in the pop culture industry, circulated on social media, and blessed by prominent televangelists. Citizens are divided over their trusted sources, forming rival camps according to which websites they are willing to read and which channels they are willing to watch. Along the way, the possibility of knowledge seems to have fallen into a fog of beliefs.

.. First, the great historian Daniel Boorstin—who I quote in the book—has said that, at the very beginning, Americans self-selected for their belief in advertising. The “New World” was this empty slate being advertised to English settlers, and the people who came over in those first few decades were people who believed the promises when, in fact, there was nothing here. Does that count as credulity? It certainly counts as a wishful pre-disposition to believe.

.. Americans are generally too quick to disbelieve official accounts and too quick to believe alternative theories?

Yes, I think that is precisely correct, and I think it is in large measure a result of the nation having been born of the Enlightenment and of fervent Christianity. These are flipsides, too. This extreme credulity and extreme skepticism are yin and yang, or flipsides of the same coin—the operative word being extreme.

.. the sort of extravagant and flamboyant Christian belief and practice that is virtually unique to this country.

..  in the last couple of decades, one of our major political parties has become explicitly and aggressively Christian in this unique sense. Many of its members believe more and more empirically insupportable things about supernatural interventions in contemporary life, and that then bleeds over into believing things that are untrue outside of the religious realm, as with the claim that climate change is a hoax, for example.

.. It’s in the mix with other forces, such as our over-amped Enlightenment skepticism, our extreme individualism, and even our knack for show business fantasies and our obsession with entertainment.

..  If the religious free market was responsible for such widespread and extreme and fervent beliefs in the United States, then why now, when a very similar degree of freedom exists throughout the developed world, are charismatic churches not popping up in Australia or Canada or Denmark at the rate that they do in the United States?

..  it’s not just the religious free market that makes Americans so religious, but a combination of other character traits.

..  When religious belief relies on a literal reading of scripture as history, suggesting that nothing is a coincidence, that there is a certain grand plan worked out in specific detail—that does correlate with belief in conspiracy theories.

.. So why is it that our most fervently Christian fellow citizens support him so strongly?

.. I think there is something there—it suggests that there are other reasons, cultural and economic reasons,

.. Trump has shown a unique willingness to embrace claims that are demonstrably untrue—that Barack Obama wasn’t born here and a conspiracy covered that up; that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination; that five million illegal immigrants voted against him in the 2016 election; and on and on and on. The fact that he is so indifferent to empirical reality and so willing to stand up and embrace explanations that simply confirm his pre-existing ideas or are convenient for him because they make him seem better or his enemies worse—it’s somewhat unkind, I understand, to say that he shares that tendency with religious people, but I think that is shared.

.. you might identify with a guy who is willing to take strong stands on unprovable claims.

.. As Thomas Jefferson said, basically, “people can believe in 20 gods or no god as long as it doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg.” That is my live-and-let-live feeling, until it starts having consequential and problematic effects on public policy—until it starts dictating our foreign policy toward Israel or our response to climate change or our public school curricula, for instance. At that point, when clear principles of science are denied, or when important political leaders are making official decisions according to their belief in the imminent return of Christ—that’s when problems arise.