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Israel Drifts Toward Darkness

At this writing, it seems that former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu will return to power following Tuesday’s elections. What is in store for his country, though, is not more of the same old, same old.

Bibi may be unique in the entire democratic world in having been in power in the 1990s and for much of this century as a center-right leader interested in remaking Israel on neoliberal (Reagan/Thatcher) lines, and yet having remade himself into a far-right populist along the lines of Trump, India’s Narendra Modi, the semi-dictators of Hungary and Poland, and Bolsonaro of Brazil. He must feel that that sort of aggressive völkisch politics, supposedly on behalf of the ethnic majority of the country in question, serves his purposes well.

With his recent sally in defense of Trump’s latest antisemitic spew, it has become clear that Bibi does not care about the fate of any Diaspora Jewish community under a far-right, Jew-hating, but likewise völkisch government (or leader) he thinks he can do business with. Needless to say, this undermines one of the main justifications for Zionism: that the Jewish state would stand up for the rights of Jews everywhere. Just as Bibi disregards the Hungarian Jews who are increasingly worried about the antisemitic signaling of his buddy Victor Orbán’s government, he apparently shrugs at the fear that now stalks the American Jewish community, in large part thanks to his other buddy, Trump. To call this a wildly misguided attitude in the leader of the Jewish state is an understatement. It’s also ironic in the son of one of the foremost historians of the fate of Spanish Jews under the Spanish Inquisition.

It is within Israel and the Israeli-occupied parts of the West Bank, though, that Netanyahu’s return to power promises an earthquake, because his indispensable ally will be a new, far-right, nationalist-religious fusion party helmed by the hard-liner Bezalel Smotrich and the would-be ethnic cleanser Itamar Ben-Gvir. The latter got started in politics the month before the 1995 assassination of peacemaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, when he ripped the hood ornament off Rabin’s official limousine, proudly displaying it for the cameras and accurately predicting that “we’ll get him, too.” He is an outspoken admirer of assassinated American Israeli far right leader Meir Kahane, who wanted to expel all Arabs from sovereign Israel and the occupied territories, a policy Ben-Gvir now claims not to fully back. It is reported that for many years, he hung a picture of Baruch Goldstein, the American-born Jewish terrorist who murdered 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers in Hebron in 1994, in his home, only taking it down so he could play at the sort of pretend-moderation that has worked so well for the likes of the new Italian Fascist-but-don’t-call-her-Fascist Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni. With about 15 seats out of 120 in the new Israeli Knesset (parliament), half as many as Netanyahu’s Likud, the Smotrich-Ben-Gvir ticket is now the country’s third largest party. (I would ask any self-righteous American progressives who would rush to condemn all Israelis as extremists, though, if they can say that no more than one in eight American voters are hardline MAGAs?)

Bibi has shrugged off the warnings of Israel-friendly U.S. senators about partnering with Ben-Gvir, who has demanded the public security portfolio. Bibi also seems to think he can smooth-talk the United Arab Emirates, with which Israel now has diplomatic relations, into not making a fuss. It depends, I suppose, on how far he lets Smotrich and Ben-Gvir go. On the one hand, every single Arab-majority country is a völkisch-religious dictatorship—including the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas-led Palestinian statelet in the Gaza Strip. The current generation of (other) Arab leaders has obviously had it up to here with the Palestinian groups and their impossible demands backed by terrorism. On the other hand, the Arab peoples hate “the Jews” (not just “the Israelis,” or they would not have violently expelled their Jewish neighbors decades ago), and are not about to abandon their sympathy for the Palestinians. They would surely cause trouble if a Netanyahu-led government were to take any major steps against Palestinian Israeli citizens or Palestinian residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (who have never been Israeli citizens). As for America, Bibi is betting everything that Trump or a similarly MAGA-tized Republican will win the presidency in ’24 and, with help from a MAGA-tized Republican Supreme Court and Congress, successfully impose a Hungary-style elected dictatorship on a völkisch (white, Christian) basis that would wink at any action Bibi might take at Ben-Gvir’s prompting against the Palestinians. The latter’s now-moderated position, you see, is to expel all Palestinians whom he deems disloyal to Israel, along with left-wing Israeli Jews like yours truly.

Zionist Jews who have always longed for Israel to become a “normal country” surely never intended this kind of normality: hopping on a global bandwagon of ethnocentric hatred.


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