In an important interview on Friday, Abe Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League and a staunch long-time defender of Israel, said that he would not be able to support a non-democratic Israel.
“I never thought that I would reach that point where I would say that my support of Israel is conditional. I’ve always said that [it] is unconditional, but it’s conditional,” Foxman told The Jerusalem Post’s Zvika Klein. “I don’t think that it’s a horrific condition to say: ‘I love Israel and I want to love Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that respects pluralism.’ I want Israel to be Jewish, absolutely. But I want it to be a democracy.”
“If [presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin] Bibi [Netanyahu] changes the nature of democracy in Israel, he will change the nature of Israel’s support in the US, certainly the American Jewish community, [and] probably the general community and the US government if it continues to be Center-Left,” Foxman said.
“I don’t need to tell you how politically and strategically American Jewry is critical as a cement to the relationship between the two countries, and therefore it is critical that this new government not do damage to relationships; not tamper with Israel’s democracy, its institutions, its legal systems, its civil rights of Arab minorities; [and] not tamper with the Law of Return and the status of Christians and Muslims,” he stressed.
Foxman’s warning needs to go off as a loud alarm bell in Israel. Whether Netanyahu will heed them is another question – but they should not go ignored.
The reason that what Foxman said is important, is because it explains what might happen in the coming year, depending on what the presumed new government of the Likud, the Religious Zionist Party, Shas and United Torah Judaism do in the Knesset.
It also shows Israelis that what they thought the Americans cared about – the Palestinian issue – is not exactly right. The US – and especially many of its prominent Jews – care just as much about the future democratic character of the State of Israel. Sweeping changes to the delicate balance that exists here between the legislature and the judiciary are unlikely to be ignored.
Does this mean that Netanyahu and his political allies cannot legislate what they declare they want to? They can, and they have been elected with the support to do so.
Netanyahu bloc could change separation of powers
Netanyahu won a decisive victory in the recent election on November 1 and his bloc today stands at 64 seats. This is more than enough to alter the balance of the separation of powers as we have known them to be since the state’s founding 75 years ago.
But we should also understand that just because there is a right to do something, it does not mean there won’t be a price. That is what Foxman’s dire warning makes clear. Even people like him – who have dedicated their lives to protecting Israel and the Jewish people – will not stand by as Israel’s democratic norms are trampled by an elected government.
And what might this price look like? We received a taste of that last week in The Washington Post, where two former US diplomats – both Jewish – called on President Joe Biden to consider withholding offensive weapons to Israel “or other assistance for malign Israeli actions in Jerusalem or the occupied territories.”
This is worrisome because the talk today is not coming from the extreme corners of the progressive camp but also from the mainstream camp within the Democratic Party, people like these diplomats and prominent Jewish leaders like Foxman.
Netanyahu would do well to keep this in mind as he considers the policies that his new government will seek to enact. It is one thing to pass legislation like the so-called “French Law” needed to escape his trial, and it is another to pass laws that undermine civil rights or policies that forever bury the Western desire to see a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s government could legitimately decide that the price is worth paying. But it just should not later claim that it was not aware that there would be a price. That is not ignorance – it is negligence.