Thursday, June 23, 2016

Not Your Father's Israel

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu

The July/August issue of Foreign Affairs has a series of articles concerning the changing relationship between Israel and the United States. Behind it all is the changing nature of Israel itself.

The journal's managing editor, Jonathan Tepperman, summarizes:
In important respects, [Israel] no longer resembles the image many Westerners still picture – the liberal Zionist state of David Ben-Gurion, Abba Eban, Golda Meir, and Yitzhak Rabin. The socialist Ashkenazi elite that used to dominate Israel's politics has long since fractured and faded away. Sephardic Jews, Soviet immigrants, settlers, the religious right, secular Jews, and Arab Israelis now vie for influence. In foreign policy, meanwhile, what Israel stands for, and who it stands with, is also in play. [My emphasis.]
Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, Israel's oldest daily newspaper, writes about "The End of the Old Israel":
Israel – at least the largely secular and progressive version of Israel that once captured the world's imagination – is over. Although that Israel was always in some ways a fantasy, the myth was at least grounded in reality. Today that reality has changed, and the country that has replaced it is profoundly different from the one its founders imagined almost 70 years ago. Since the last elections, in March 2015, a number of slow-moving trends have accelerated dramatically. Should they continue, they could soon render the country unrecognizable.
Already, the transformation has been dramatic. Israel's current leaders – headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who metamorphosed after the election from a risk-averse conservative into a right-wing radical – see democracy as synonymous with unchecked majority rule and have no patience for restraints such as judicial review or the protection of minorities....
Meanwhile, the two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians has been taken off the table, and Israel is steadily making its occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank permanent. Human rights groups and dissidents who dare criticize the occupation and expose its abuses are denounced by officials, and the government has sought to pass new laws restricting their activities. Arab-Jewish relations within the country have hit a low point, and Israel's society is breaking down into its constituent tribes.
Netanyahu thrives on such tribalism, which serves his lifelong goal of replacing Israel's traditional elite with one more in tune with his philosophy.

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