Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, May 27, 2018..
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
With May nearly behind us, and without wishing to tempt fate, it seems fair to say that former IDF military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin’s grim warning that “there hasn’t been a May this dangerous since ’67 or ‘73” has thankfully not played out.
To be fair to Yadlin, he didn’t claim that Israel was on the brink of war. Rather, he was pointing out that May was host to a series of events – from US President Donald Trump’s decision to rip up the Iranian nuclear deal, to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, to Palestinian plans for protests to mark Nakba Day, the day of Israel’s creation – that all had the potential to spark wider conflict.
The reality though has been totally different. Not only did these events pass without any loss of life on Israel’s side – unlike for the Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza – but Israel also unleashed its most extensive and successful air strike in decades against an Arab country, attacking dozens of Iranian sites in Syria. And on top of this, Israel also won the Eurovision Song Contest!
Not surprisingly then, May 2018 will probably go down as one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most successful months in office. In an opinion poll earlier this month, the Likud surged to its best showing in over a decade, with a projected 35 seats should elections be held now, as compared to the 30 it currently holds in the Knesset. The multiple corruption investigations surrounding Netanyahu and other members of the Likud are so far having no effect on the premier’s popularity among the electorate.
Some members of the opposition already seem to be throwing in the towel. In a gloomy opinion piece this weekend in Haaretz
, Labor Knesset member Eitan Cabel wrote it was time for the Labor movement to wise up. In the eight elections since Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, Cabel argued, Labor has only won once, as “we’re failing to provide the Israeli public with a reason to vote for us.” His long and rambling article in favor of unilaterally annexing the major settlement blocs is unlikely to change this state of affairs.
Instead, if the opposition are serious about presenting a challenge to Netanyahu, they have to clearly make the case that Netanyahu and his coalition allies, despite temporary successes such as the air strikes in Syria and Netanyahu’s status as Trump’s favorite foreign leader, are leading Israel on an ultimately downward path that is endangering the country’s future.
As World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder wrote in The New York Times earlier this month, there are two grave threats to Israel’s existence: “the possible demise of the two-state solution” and “Israel’s capitulation to religious extremists and the growing disaffection of the Jewish diaspora.”
These are not the words of your typical left-of-center anti-Netanyahu critic, but the considered statements of a self-identifying American conservative and Republican, and Likud supporter since the 1980s. At one time, Netanyahu even entrusted Lauder to hold secret negotiations with then Syrian president Hafez Assad over the future of the Golan Heights.
In terms of religious extremism, Netanyahu’s alliance with the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) is an obvious and proven target for the opposition to home in on. Mainstream Israelis have no interest in subsidizing the haredi way of life or supporting their state-sanctioned draft dodging, and are resentful of the influence this uncompromising minority has on the wider society.
Meanwhile, Lauder’s warning that the increasing political power of the haredim is alienating a large segment of the Jewish people might have garnered less attention than Yadlin’s about the perils of May, but could prove, in the long run, more telling.
“An increasing number of Jewish millennials,” Lauder wrote, “are distancing themselves from Israel because its policies contradict their values. The results are unsurprising: assimilation, alienation and a severe erosion of the global Jewish community’s affinity for the Jewish homeland.” Such a trend, ultimately, will be more significant for the future of the Jewish state than the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
As regard to the two-state solution, Lauder’s argument is hardly new, but it is one Israel’s Center-Left opposition have to continue hammering home: with 13 million people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, almost half of them Palestinians, the current status quo is untenable. At some point, if no Palestinian state comes into being, Israel will have to either grant Palestinians living in the territories full rights and cease being a Jewish state or deny Palestinians citizenship and stop being a democracy.
No amount of Eurovision victories can make up for the loss of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.