The End of Excuses for Israeli Politics
Or Are There Still Any to Be Made?
With the U.S. midterms at long last over, the consensus is…
Joe Biden did well -- but wait, isn’t he too old at eighty?
Donald Trump lost -- but wait, he never loses, as he says at length on Bob Woodward’s interview tapes.
Next up, possibly decisive developments in the sagas of Biden, Trump, and Vladimir Putin and his reeling Russian military. Meanwhile…
Books and articles that proclaim “the end of” almost always make me skeptical of the premise. Most things evolve to another stage – analog to digital, for example; horse and buggy to automobile to self-driving cars, gasoline-powered to electric. Remember how “the end of history” was so famously a misleading interpretation of the end of the cold war?
But for now, we may really be at an end of excuses for why Israeli politics have evolved the way they have. After five elections in four years, there is a far-right-wing working majority in the Knesset. Israelis have voted – the actual margin is less than the outcome suggests – for Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s political leadership, opposed to progressive social values and coexistence with the Palestinians on territory that is ostensibly shared.
Unrest in the Palestinian enclaves and among Israeli Arabs has been put forward as an explanation for the election results.
If you’ve read this far, I suspect you’ll agree that as an excuse, this problem is far from unprecedented.
Here are some thoughts for consideration about the reality of Israeli politics at the close of 2022:
• American Jews, as far as I can tell, are vexed, to put it mildly, about how to assess the situation in Israel and its effect on the American diaspora. In an interview on “Fresh Air” between Steven Spielberg and Terry Gross (both of whom are Jewish) the present arc of antisemitism in the United States was deemed a serious issue. Is there a connection? Yes, on the far left and the far right. As for the preferred reaction to the next iteration of Bibi and his cabinet, the tendency among many of us American Jews is to avert our gaze.
• Israel has been and probably still will be America’s most important intelligence and strategic partner in the Middle East and maybe the world. What happens when extremists – and they are extremists – have real power in the security ministries?
• Israel marks its seventy-fifth anniversary as a nation next spring. One full lifetime since the Holocaust, it seemed unimaginable that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and even Israeli human rights groups would call the country an apartheid state. They do and base that judgment on international law.
• Israel and Russia? Israel and Iran? Israel and Saudi Arabia? Israel’s straddle at the start of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was expedient but now seems ever more awkward. Israel’s nemesis Iran is now on Russia’s side in Ukraine. These knots are tangled. And as for Saudi Arabia, it may just be that “the enemy of my enemy” (when it comes to Iran) will overcome the longstanding animosities between Muslims and Jews.
• The recent “Abraham Accords” with a number of Arab countries is further proof that commercial and pecuniary interests have superseded doctrine and ideology in that part of the world.
• Around 15 percent of Israel’s population of more than nine million people comes from the former Soviet Union, mainly Russia and Ukraine. They left autocracy for a better life in Israel. Is the political trajectory of their religious homeland what they were expecting? And the 20 percent of Israelis who are Arabs, having briefly been represented in the national government, are certainly disappointed, maybe despairing and possibly harboring sentiments more susceptible to violence.
• And finally, there are the Palestinians. Their fate and future were once bright, as negotiations toward a two-state solution progressed in the early 1990s, only to stall following the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The politics of Rabin’s killer, the right-winger Yigal Amir, are now essentially those of the third-largest party in the Knesset. The Palestinians are comparable to the Kurds, a people without a state. They still have supporters in certain places but fewer than they need and none who are actually firm friends.
Israel at seventy-five has endured against early odds and has prospered. Reflecting all that has happened, I doubt that what its politics have now become is what they were expected to be at the outset.
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