It is, of course, too early to declare victory, but through the fog of war an interesting landscape is coming into view: the Right, drunk with power, may have gone too far, bitten off more than it can chew, and upset the great center of Jewish Israelis.
The very possibility raises at least a chance, however small, of saving the Zionist enterprise – a fascinating historical project that had appeared headed for spectacular self-destruction.
One can understand the complacency of the Right in subjecting the country to an accelerated Putinization process. After all, it has been clear for years that the majority of Israelis will not really fight against the transformation of their country into an undemocratic binational state (through the settlement in the occupied territories).
They are quite reasonably afraid of missiles being fired at them from the West Bank, but this justifies the military occupation only, not the mixing of populations with unequal rights. Mostly they’re complacent.
Also, most Israelis have not displayed the presence of mind to spur decisive action to prevent the country from becoming a theocracy. They have a certain weakness for religion and yiddishkeit, and they find it difficult to impose a core education and speak openly about the recklessness of the haredi birthrate.
Will Israel be like Iran?
The process is slow, societies adapt and, in the end, Israel will be like Iran. Liberals have perspective about things: sure, a halachic state is bad, but death is even worse, and not much can be done about either.
The result is that although the majority of the public as of today does not really want to destroy the modern Jewish state, the Right (whose policies almost certainly lead to this) has not been wiped out. My assessment has been that at this rate the Zionist project in its current form would not make it to the centennial celebrations in 2048.
The world will abandon Israel, the secular engine of the economy will relocate, and the Palestinians will overwhelm the yeshiva students who remain. If the world is not under nuclear fallout by then, Tel Aviv will change its name to Jaffa, Palestine.
THIS WAS the forecast until the last few weeks, when Benjamin Netanyahu’s government embarked upon a coup designed to mutate Israel into an authoritarian state. As we know, the so-called “judicial reform” will empower the government to appoint judges and prevent even these poodles from any oversight of its actions. Every law could be declared a “Basic Law” placing it out of bounds, and any ruling it dislikes could be overridden by parliament, by a simple majority.
In the absence of a constitution or a bicameral parliament, and with legislators not elected personally by voters, this would give the prime minister near-total control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Nothing would prevent the executive from canceling elections, shutting down newspapers and arresting Israelis in the middle of the night.
It would quite literally be possible to decide that a vote for the right is equal to two votes for the left. Did the majority not decide in November? (Hint: no it didn’t, not even close; the election was a tie.)
Down this path lies the Hungary model, to be followed by Turkey, en route to Russia. And yet something went amiss for Israel’s would-be Putin: the plan ignited a wave of opposition on a scale the country had never known before – not during the debate over reparations from Germany, not after the failure of the Yom Kippur War, not even during the Oslo agreements and the Gaza withdrawal agitation. It is not just about the mass demonstrations – tens and hundreds of thousands of people each week taking to the streets. Nor is it just the outrage on social media, where hysteria is the rule.
It goes deeper than that: there is deep, overpowering concern, also on the Right, for the stability of society. There is a growing understanding of an unacceptable crossing of a Rubicon.
Talk of civil war from people who are usually polite and civilized cannot be ignored. It is impossible to overlook the clear message coming from the financial sector and the hi-tech community, which is responsible for one-sixth of Israel’s economy, a quarter of tax revenues and half of exports.
The shekel has already lost almost 10% of its value as S&P warned that Israel’s credit rating would suffer, former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frenkel fretted that the achievements of recent decades will be blown up, and companies began withdrawing their money from Israel. All this is a direct blow to average Israelis confidence in continued prosperity.
It is very clear that volunteerism to elite IDF units and even simply to reserve duty will plummet. People are talking about versions of secession of secular areas from the state.
EVERYTHING IS now on the table: from the automatic US veto in the Security Council to back Israel, to the ability of IDF veterans to travel abroad without fear of arrest, to the annual ticket to Eurovision and the Euroleague.
This stupendous calamity is taking place in order to save Netanyahu from his bribery trial and give succor to the likes of MK Simcha Rothman, who believes that democracy means obeying Jewish edicts.
The realization of the huge price that has and will be paid is beginning to sink in. All polls show that only a quarter of the public wants to continue with “reforms” in the proposed format: to a large extent, it is the ultra-Orthodox and the fascist Right. Most Likudniks – the other half of the roughly half that votes to the Right – don’t really want it. They are beginning to understand that it will harm the standard of living.
It seems that Netanyahu and his henchmen did not foresee the extent of the resistance, and do not know exactly how to climb down. I see no reason not to engage them, as long as the process ends while the talking is going on. It would be a mistake to agree to the essence of this coup, but other reforms are possible.
How about adding judges and an appellate court to shorten the absurd prolonged proceedings that are an affront to all Israelis, including the prime minister in his own interminable trial? There will be a consensus on this – and there you have it. Reforms.
If Netanyahu’s gang nevertheless carries out its plan, in the next election every Israeli will know that a vote for the Right is a vote for authoritarianism, global isolation, social disintegration and economic impoverishment. If most do so anyway, then this will be the system of government and reality they deserve. The state will collapse, just like the two previous attempts at Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.
But the opposite is possible as well. There is a chance, now that everything is very clear, that the Right will receive the punishment it so richly now deserves. Then Israel will be able to begin the long healing process, not only as a democracy: on the Palestinian and ultra-Orthodox fronts as well.
It seems that Netanyahu has forgotten Ahmad Tibi’s famous statement about the “Jewish and democratic state” – that it is Jewish for the Arabs and democratic for the Jews. In so ham-fistedly striking at the Jews, he may have awoken them at last from their suicidal slumber.
The writer is the former Cairo-based Middle East editor and London-based Europe/Africa editor of the Associated Press. He served as the chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem and is a managing partner of the New York-based communications firm Thunder11. Follow him at https://danperry.substack.com.