Imagine you woke up after the 2024 US presidential election and found that
Donald Trump had been reelected and chose Rudy Giuliani for attorney general,
Michael Flynn for defense secretary, Steve Bannon for commerce secretary,
evangelical leader James Dobson for education secretary, Proud Boys former
leader Enrique Tarrio for homeland security head, and Marjorie Taylor Greene
for the White House spokesperson.
you would say. Well, think again.
As I have noted
before, Israeli political trends are often a harbinger of wider trends in
Western democracies — off-Broadway to our Broadway. I hoped that the national
unity government that came to power in Israel in June 2021 might also be a
harbinger of more bipartisanship here. Alas, that government has now collapsed
and is being replaced by the most far-far-right coalition in Israel’s history.
Lord save us if this is a harbinger of what is coming our way.
that Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu is riding back into power is the Israeli
equivalent of the nightmare US Cabinet I imagined above. Only it is real — a
rowdy alliance of ultra-Orthodox leaders and ultranationalist politicians,
including some outright racist, anti-Arab Jewish extremists once deemed
completely outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics. As it is
virtually impossible for Netanyahu to build a majority coalition without the
support of these extremists, some of them are almost certain to be Cabinet
ministers in the next Israeli government.
previously unthinkable reality takes hold, a fundamental question will roil
synagogues in America and across the globe: “Do I support this Israel or not
support it?” It will haunt pro-Israel students on college campuses. It will
challenge Arab allies of Israel in the Abraham Accords, who just wanted to
trade with Israel and never signed up to defend a government there that is
anti-Israeli Arab. It will stress those US diplomats who have reflexively
defended Israel as a Jewish democracy that shares America’s values, and it will
send friends of Israel in Congress fleeing from any reporter asking if America
should continue sending billions of dollars in aid to such a
You have not
seen this play before, because no Israeli leader has “gone there” before.
been propelled into power by bedfellows who: see Israeli Arab citizens as a
fifth column who cannot be trusted; have vowed to take political control over
judicial appointments; believe that Jewish settlements must be expanded so
there is not an inch left anywhere in the West Bank for a Palestinian state;
want to enact judicial changes that could freeze Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption
trial; and express contempt for Israel’s long and strong embrace of LGBTQ
We are talking
about people like Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted by an Israeli court in
2007 of incitement to racism and supporting a Jewish terrorist organization.
Netanyahu personally forged an alliance between Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party
and Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism party, which turned
them (shockingly for many Israelis) into the third-largest party in the country
— giving Netanyahu the allies Likud needed to win a parliamentary majority in
this week’s election.
known for, among other things, suggesting that Israeli Jewish mothers should be
separated from Arab mothers in the maternity wards of Israeli hospitals. He has
long advocated outright Israeli annexation of the West Bank and argued that
there is “no such thing as Jewish terrorism” when it comes to settlers
retaliating on their own against Palestinian violence.
increasingly sought over the years to leverage the energy of this illiberal
Israeli constituency to win office, not unlike how Trump uses white
nationalism, but Netanyahu never actually brought this radical element — like
Ben-Gvir, who claims to have moderated because he has told his supporters to
chant, “Death to terrorists,” instead of, “Death to Arabs” — into his ruling
faction or Cabinet. As more of Netanyahu’s allies in Likud split with him over
his alleged criminal behavior and lying, however, Bibi had to reach further and
further out of the mainstream of Israeli politics to get enough votes to rule
and pass a law to abort his own trial and possible jail time.
fertile political soil to work with, the Yediot Ahronot Israeli newspaper
columnist Nahum Barnea explained to me. There has been a dramatic upsurge in
violence — stabbings, shootings, gang warfare, and organized crime — by Israeli
Arabs against other Israeli Arabs, and Israeli Arab gangs and organized crime
against Israeli Jews, particularly in mixed communities. The result is that
“like in America, ‘policing’ has become a huge issue in Israel in recent
years,” said Barnea — and even though this upsurge started when Netanyahu was
previously prime minister, he and his anti-Arab allies blamed it all on the
Arabs and the national unity Israeli government.
But Netanyahu was also aided by the fact that while
the right and the far right were highly energized by both growing fears of and
distrust of Arabs — whether Israeli Arab citizens or Palestinians in the West
Bank — their centrist and center-left opponents had no coherent or inspiring
As Barnea put it
to me: “Israel is not divided down the middle,” with 50 percent being pro-Netanyahu
and the other 50 percent with a unified message and strategy opposing him. “No,
Israel is divided between the 50 percent who are pro-Netanyahu and the 50
percent who are pro-blocking Netanyahu. But that is all they can agree on,”
Barnea said. And it showed in this election. And it was not enough.
Why is all of
this so dangerous? Moshe Halbertal, the Hebrew University Jewish philosopher,
captured it well: For decades, members of the Israeli right, a vast majority of
whom were “security hawks,” have believed that the Palestinians have never and
will never accept a Jewish state next to them, and therefore Israel needed to
take whatever military means were necessary to protect itself from them.
hawkishness toward the Palestinians, explained Halbertal, “is now morphing into
something new — a kind of general ultranationalism” that not only rejects any
notion of a Palestinian state but also views every Israeli Arab — who make up
about 21 percent of Israel’s population, nearly 20 percent of its doctors,
about 25 percent of its nurses and almost half its pharmacists — as a potential
At the same
time, not only is this election a struggle about the future of Israel, he said,
but also “about the future of Judaism in Israel. The Torah stands for the
equality of all people and the notion that we are all created in God’s image.
Israelis of all people need to respect minority rights because we, as Jews,
know what it is to be a minority” — with and without rights. “This is a deep
Jewish ethos,” Halbertal added, “and it is now being challenged from within
Israel itself. But, when you have these visceral security threats in the street
every day, it becomes much easier for these ugly ideologies to anchor
This is going to
have a profound effect on US-Israel relations. But do not take my word for it.
On October 1, Axios published a story quoting what sources said Sen. Bob
Menendez, D-N.J., who leads the Foreign Relations Committee, told Netanyahu
during a trip to Israel in September. In the words of one source, the senator
warned that if Netanyahu formed a government after the November 1 elections
that included right-wing extremists, it could “seriously erode bipartisan
support in Washington”.
That is now
about to happen.
I have reported from Israel
for this newspaper for nearly 40 years, often traveling around with my dear
friend Nahum Barnea, one of the most respected, sober, balanced, and careful
journalists in the country. To hear him say to me minutes ago on the phone that
“we have a different kind of Israel now” tells me we are truly entering a dark
Read more Opinion and Analysis
Read More: The Israel we knew is gone…