New Israeli government emerges with the most far-right agenda ever

New Israeli government emerges with the most far-right agenda ever
Parliament (Knesset) building in Jerusalem, credit: Commons Wikimedia

More than a month has passed since the parliamentary elections in Israel took place without a new government has been sworn in but the government in making is already raising concerns about Israel’s future and relations with the EU.

As previously reported, the elections on 1 November resulted in an unexpected victory for former Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His Likud party became the biggest party with 32 seats and will a form a coalition government with two ultra-orthodox parties and a far-right party, supported by 64 members of the 120 members of the parliament (Knesset).

Despite the seemingly reassuring victory for the pro-Netanyahu bloc, Israel remains a polarized country. The other half of the population, which did not vote for his bloc, is becoming increasingly worried about the announced changes, both domestically and relating to the conflict with the Palestinians, that Netanyahu under pressure of his extremist coalition partners might decide on.

He has tried to reassure Israeli voters and the American administration that there will be no significant changes in Israel’s policy and that he will be a Prime-Minister for all in Israel.  He promises to supervise the other ministers and will even decide himself on important issues. In fact, the horse-trading with the other parties have already resulted in far-reaching concessions to them.

If a new government is not be formed by 10 December, the president will decide on an extension of Netanyahu’s mandate to form the new government by 14 days.  What remains for Netanyahu is to allocate key ministries, such a defense, foreign affairs, and judiciary, to his  loyal supporters in his own party.

The outspoken goals of the incoming ‘full’ rightist government with ideologically motivated parties is to turn Israel into a more nationalistic and orthodox country. The new government claims that it has been given a democratic mandate to impose its policies on the minority because it won the elections.

According to the agreements reported in media, the leaders of the far-right party Religious Zionism will be put in charge of among others the ministry of finance, the ministry of public security, settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territories, and external educational programs in the public school system. It will even be granted an extra minister inside the ministry of defense.

Two ‘mutations’ in Israeli society

To clarify what this might imply for Israel, The Brussels Times contacted philosophy professor Asa Kasher at Tel Aviv university. In 2000, he was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize. As professor in ethics and practical philosophy, he drafted the Code of Conduct for Israel Defense Forces. The Code sets rules for the use of military force in situations of war and occupation.

Directly after the recent elections, he posted a comment on Facebook stating that “the image of the Jewish people”, as known from its history, is not the current image because of two “mutations” that have taken place in Israel. One is the “ultra-orthodox mutation” where people absolve themselves from doing military service and paying taxes.

The other one is the “nationalist mutation” where people worship the land and controls its inhabitants by methods lacking all justice, compassion and moral. He concluded his post that he does not recognize the Jewish people as the people he wants to be counted among. The post sparked a controversy and was later removed by Facebook.

“My Facebook post made public two days after the election day only stated the most conspicuous result of the elections,” he told The Brussels Times. “There are now two Israeli groups, represented by parties that under current circumstances control the government in practice, because without their support the government does not have a majority. One group is the Ultra-Orthodox and the other one is the Ultra-Nationalist.”

“Both groups differ very much from traditional mainstream Jewish and Zionist movements. The Ultra-Orthodox nurture a form of life that cannot be economically maintained by the state of Israel. The Ultra-Nationalist nurture a form of life that is racist and incompatible with the idea that Israel should be a democracy and not only the nation-state of the Jewish people.“

His choice of the word “mutations” deflected attention from his message and became an excuse to ignore it but he does not regret that he used it.

“I used the term ‘mutations’ to describe these two changes and forms of life. The usage was accurate. The new forms of life are different from previous ones, and the differences are highly significant. The government in making will be the most despicable and dangerous government Israel has ever had.”

Historical lessons from polarization

He is certainly right that Israel today appears as divided as it was during the great revolt against the Roman empire two thousand years ago which resulted in the destruction of the second temple and the loss of independence. If professor Kasher in his Facebook post was careful not to specify the dangers Israel is facing now, and did not even use the word “occupation”, he is now more outspoken.

“The continued policy of ultra-orthodox forces is expected to result in socio-economic frictions and the economic collapse of the state. The continued settlement activity of ultra-nationalist forces will result in Arab revolts, both in the Occupied Territories and within Israel. There is also a risk of civil war between nationalist fascists and humanist adherents of democracy, including secular Zionists.”

This might sound as a Biblical doomsday prophecy which incoming Prime-Minister Netanyahu himself assured will not happen. What is probable to happen, following the agreements with his ideologically minded partners, is enough worrying and has already sparked protests among Israeli lawyers, security experts, school principals, municipalities and ordinary people.

If there are no checks and balances, the rule of law will erode. Appointments of senior civil servants and supreme court judges will be politicized. Orthodox parties and their electorates will be funded at the expense of the secular population. Nationalist provocations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank will escalate to more violence and even a new intifada.

The incoming far-right minister of public security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, himself a settler in Hebron who has been charged for hate speech, claims that he will restore security by harsh methods, including changing the rules for open live fire. He already acts as he is in charge. This is recipe for a vicious circle, where more repression fuels more violent protests and terrorist acts which triggers more suppression.

In the Facebook message you were advocating another Israeli policy in the occupied territories in line with Jewish moral values and presumably also with international humanitarian law. Is there such a thing as a human or enlightened occupation?

“According to international law, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will be obliged to leave the West Bank if there is an agreement to the conflict between the parties or if ordered to do so by the Israeli government,” Professor Kasher replied.

“Military occupation as such can be moral. However, the appearance of settlements, racist violence and ultra-nationalism makes it more difficult for Israel to control the territories in a moral way. “

“The constant Palestinian pursuit of political goals by resort to terrorism and avoidance of any serious negotiations for a just peace solution makes life for the IDF even more complicated. The major focus of problems is never on the military or the police. The responsibility lies on the government level on both sides.”

A turn to illiberal democracy, nationalism and xenophobia in Israel reflects demographic changes in society, including the growing number of settlers in the occupied territories. The change might not be different to what is happening in some EU member states but is aggravated by the on-going occupation.

Another difference is that the victory of the pro-Netanyahu bloc was self-inflicted by the previous government. It was not supposed to happen if two anti-Netanyahu parties had cooperated with other parties and had passed the election threshold. According to the polls neither political bloc was expected to gain majority which would have resulted in new elections.

But also, the gatekeepers did not react in time. The former state attorney delayed a decision to indict Netanyahu for suspected breach of trust, fraud and corruption. The current president of the supreme court hesitated to support an appeal to disqualify Netanyahu to serve as Prime-Minister while being prosecuted.

“The difference in numbers of citizens voting for parties in the outgoing government and those voting for the pro-Netanyahu bloc is marginal and undoubtedly a result of organizational causes,” Professor Kasher commented. “In my opinion of democracy, the whole idea of a threshold (3,25 % of eligible votes) is unacceptable. Pursuit of stability? Reducing the number of parties? These are silly arguments hiding current political interests.”

Positive trend in EU-Israel relations

The outgoing Bennet-Lapid government started a process of improving political relations with the EU with mutual high-level visits. The EU-Israel Association Council was reconvened in beginning of October in Brussels for the first time in 10 years.

The EU is reluctant to comment on the emerging government. A spokesperson told The Brussels Times that EU is prepared to cooperate with the democratically elected government once it has been established. But concerns have been reported in media that the emerging changes in Israeli policies will affect the deepening of relations between Israel and the EU and the signing of new agreements.

“We are following the democratic process in Israel and look forward to work closely with the new Israeli government,” an anonymous source in the EU told Israeli daily Haaretz on Thursday. “The EU will continue to support the positive trend in the relations between us and Israel irrespective of the identity of the Prime-Minster, the government and the opposition.”

“We share with Israel the values of an open society, democracy, based on the rule of law. These values need to continue to be the basis of our relations. In our relation we will continue to ensure sustainable peace based on the two-state solution and encourage Israel to work for this goal.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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