Tens of thousands of Israelis attended a recent protest against the government in Tel Aviv. / GILI YAARI/FLASH90

A misguided attack on Netanyahu threatens to torch Israeli democracy

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A misguided attack on Netanyahu threatens to torch Israeli democracy

Tens of thousands of Israelis attended a recent protest against the government in Tel Aviv. / GILI YAARI/FLASH90

We’ve already seen how the apocalyptic warnings about the government’s plans for establishing some checks on an out-of-control Supreme Court of Israel has led to extremist rhetoric, including death threats against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This speaks to the anger that members of Israel’s liberal political establishment feel about losing an election to Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing and religious parties. But they are being driven out of their minds by the prospect that the Supreme Court may no longer have the power to essentially nullify the verdict of Israeli democracy on any issue or controversy without reference to legal principles, acting solely on the basis of what it considers “reasonable.”

The claims that the proposed judicial reforms will shred democracy are risible, as this deep dive into the issue demonstrates. The government’s enacting of the policies on which it campaigned is being depicted as a “tyranny of the majority” by those who can’t stomach an Israel in which the concerns of Mizrachi, religious, and other right-of-center voters are treated as equally important as those affecting the “enlightened” left.

The talk about the majority being tyrants is coming from people who claim to be defending democracy against the supposedly authoritarian Netanyahu. All the government wants is to move Israel’s judiciary into line with those of other democracies, in which the courts may be powerful but do not operate as unchallenged rulers of the country – not only with the unlimited power that they arrogated to themselves, but with the ability to perpetuate it by naming their successors. This is something that Americans wouldn’t tolerate in their courts, yet the Israeli left has convinced their foreign allies that preserving such a system is essential to safeguarding democracy.

The anti-Bibi resistance, therefore, is engaging in gaslighting. Over-the-top rhetoric about the government may be in keeping with Israel’s tradition of gutter politics. What’s new is the way the current disingenuous arguments are being deployed to draft the Diaspora – and even the Biden administration – to bolster the resistance and bring down Netanyahu. Worse are the calls of some pundits, who previously played an important role in explaining Israel’s complexities to its foes, for the Jewish world to join their attack on the government.

There have been some egregious examples of this sort of appeal in recent months. But none is more outrageous than “An open letter to Israel’s friends in North America,” penned by Matti Friedman, Daniel Gordis, and Yossi Klein Halevi in The Times of Israel.

Friedman is a journalist whose reporting about Israel has added immeasurably to the understanding of his audience. Gordis is a distinguished scholar, educator, and advocate for Israel. Halevi is a journalist and author whose book, “Like Dreamers,” is essential reading for anyone trying to understand Israel in the post-Six-Day War era. Similarly, his “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” was a good introduction to the conflict for anyone on either side of the divide.

Yet the good sense that characterizes the past work of all three is absent from their “open letter.” In its place is a hodgepodge of misrepresentations of the issues surrounding judicial reform that constitutes more than just hyperbole from Netanyahu critics.

At its core is the sort of mindless partisanship that is instantly recognizable to those who followed “resistance” politics in America. Behind the noble phrases about democracy is a seething anger that the wrong people win elections in Israel, and why that can’t be tolerated.

As a classic example of gaslighting, it can’t be bettered. Everything they say about Netanyahu’s “stoking hatred and schism” is actually true about what they – and those who agree with them – are doing, not the prime minister.

As bad as that might be, the use of their prestige in American-Jewish circles to delegitimize a democratically elected government is worse. They’re not seeking support for democracy. Rather it is backing for mob action. This is not so much an example of the lawful exercise of the right of the minority to dissent as it is an effort for elites to use the media and various institutions – with the help of foreign allies – to overturn the results of an election. Far from preserving Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, as they claim, the trio is asking Americans to squelch Israeli democracy.

The irony here is that like Halevi’s book – written to persuade Palestinians to try to understand Jews, but whose real audience was American readers equally ignorant about the justice of Israel’s cause – this appeal is similarly misdirected. The ones most eager to lap up the trio’s slanders of Netanyahu are not so much liberal or centrist supporters of the Jewish state as they are left-wing foes of Zionism who will use the libels in their ongoing efforts to brand Israel as an undemocratic “apartheid state.”

American Jews who actually care about Israel – as opposed to the left-wing groups that can always be relied upon to rally against it at every opportunity – should recognize the trio’s deceitful arguments for what they are and ignore their request. We can respect these writers for what they’ve done in the past, but they don’t deserve a pass for this disgraceful act that will aid their country’s enemies more than it will hurt Netanyahu. Θ

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.org

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