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.

Why Trump’s Betrayal Won’t Matter

The president’s base is rooted in a cult of personality, not support for the Republican party or conservatism.

.. it also demonstrated his complete indifference to Republican objectives, since it set up another confrontation with the Democrats at the end of the year over the debt ceiling and likely made it much harder to pass a tax-reform package.

.. While Trump’s overall popularity continues to fall, the people who turn out to cheer him at rallies and who were responsible for his routing of his Republican rivals in the 2016 primaries aren’t going to abandon him because he stabbed McConnell and Ryan in the back. The Trump movement, to the extent that one can dignify it with that term, was never about any ideology, let alone conservatism.

.. he is the object of a cult of personality, not the leader of a political party.

.. But despite his vocal disappointment about the failure to pass an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill this summer, Trump was largely AWOL during the battle for votes, avoiding the normal give and take with members of the House and Senate that might have secured his objective. Since then he has publicly feuded with McConnell and made it clear that he blames everyone but himself for this failure.

.. If Trump was willing to give the Democrats everything they wanted, it’s not because, as some conservatives have always suspected, he’s a closet liberal. It’s because he’s in business for himself. Trump wants to be seen getting things done, so, if a three-month debt-ceiling deal will prevent partisan squabbling from interfering with hurricane relief, he’ll do it, even if it strengthens the Democrats’ ability to thwart tax reform, budget cuts, or even funding for the border wall he wants to build.

In theory, that ought to make your average Trump voter as mad at the president as Mitch McConnell is. But it won’t.

.. Trump’s base despises GOP congressional leaders, in some cases more than they do the Democrats.

.. Indeed, with a sidelined Hillary Clinton no longer available as a target of their vituperation, the desire of Trump’s fans to “lock up” their idol’s foes now seems to be focused solely on Republicans.

That the irony of calling a war hero like McCain a traitor is completely lost on Trump backers tells you all you need to know about their blind loyalty to the president and complete indifference to anything other than his interests.

.. Trump’s media cheerleaders, such as Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs. He reacted to Trump’s embrace of the Democrats as being praiseworthy precisely because it cut Speaker Ryan off at the knees. He seems to think anything that undermines GOP leaders is a triumph for Trump, no matter what it means in terms of legislation.

.. The base’s trust in Trump isn’t predicated on a belief that he will be more skillful at advancing conservative issues; it’s rooted in their desire to burn the system down and replace it with one led by someone who is not merely untainted by past failures but also unencumbered by adherence to the traditional values that the political class cherishes.

.. Nor will a possible betrayal on immigration — the one issue that seems to really motivate the Trump base — damage him. If Congress doesn’t pass a solution to the DACA issue that will give legal status to illegal aliens brought here as children, Trump has already threatened to act on his own as Obama did. Or he might again cut a deal with Democrats on the issue — to exchange something his base would call amnesty if it were proposed by anyone else

Robert E. Lee at West Point

Lee embodied the values that West Point seeks to inculcate in its graduates: Duty, Honor, and Country. So I was taught and so I believed.

.. It is my fate to be a quick study and a slow learner. Not until I was in my thirties, therefore, did I begin to wonder how it was that West Point should elevate to the status of role model a serving officer who had abandoned his country in its time of maximum need.

.. My complaint about Lee—I admit this to my everlasting shame—was not that he was a slaveholder who in joining the Confederacy fought to preserve slavery. It was that he had thereby engineered the killing of many thousands of American patriots who (whatever their views on slavery and race) wished simply to preserve the Union. At the beginning of the Civil War, Lee famously remarked that he could not bring himself to take up arms against his home state of Virginia. This obliged him to take up arms against the very nation that as a serving officer he had sworn to defend?

No less than Benedict Arnold, Robert E. Lee was a traitor. This became, and remains, my firm conviction.

.. Elsewhere, however, quietly expunge Lee’s name from gates, roads, halls, barracks, and awards handed out to cadets. To put the matter kindly, he doesn’t deserve the recognition. As with General Koster, there’s no way to excise Lee from the Academy’s history. That he should occupy a place of honor in the Long Gray Line is something of an obscenity, however.