By Carlton Joseph
Recent elections in Israel revealed that far-right political parties in Israel are deploying the tactics of the far-right Republicans in the United States (US). Netanyahu, following Trump’s and Make America Great Again (MAGA) Republicans playbook, branded his rivals as a “dangerous left-wing government,” and that if approved, the coalition would be the result of “the greatest election fraud” in Israel’s history. He also appeared to be criticizing President Biden, when he charged that right-wingers were being singled out unfairly for criticizing their political opponents, in an effort to frame the right as something violent and dangerous to democracy.
Although the role and power of the Israeli PM, and US House Speaker are not the same, the far-right wing strategy for obtaining and using power is similar. In the US, Republicans won control of the House of Representatives. A few far-right, MAGA, republican congressmen forced 15 rounds of voting, over 4 days, in order to extract significant concessions from the mainstream conservatives of the party, because they wanted to elect Kevin McCarthy as House speaker.
Although coalition governments and making concessions are not new to Israel’s political system, the extreme concessions that Netanyahu had to make are not normal. In addition, similar to Trump’s legal issues, Netanyahu was desperate to return as PM; in order to evade the charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust for allegedly advancing regulatory benefits worth the equivalent of more than $250 million. To secure backing to form his new government Netanyahu agreed to significant concessions, and since taking office, Israeli’s lawmakers have passed legislation that have exposed how intent this extreme right-wing government is on advancing its policies.
Since taking over the government, Israeli lawmakers passed legislation that allow anyone convicted of offenses, but not given a custodial sentence, to serve as a minister. This cleared the way for Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, to serve as a minister, despite a conviction for tax fraud. Also, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, an ardent supporter of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, is tasked with overseeing the Civil Administration, and would have power over the West Bank and the lives of many Palestinians. And Itamar Ben Gvir, who has a long history of incendiary rhetoric against Arabs, has been appointed Minister of National Security.
Even more disturbing, Mr. Netanyahu, despite criticism from top legal officials, and protests against the changes that drew tens of thousands of people, has announced that his government plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system. The overhaul would weaken the power of the Supreme Court, granting legislators the ability to pass laws the court has struck down with a simple majority, as well as give the government greater power over the appointment of judges, and limit the independence of government legal advisers. The Supreme Court’s top justice, called the overhaul an “unbridled attack on the justice system,” and the country’s Attorney General spoke out against the plan. Opponents say the changes could help Netanyahu evade conviction in his corruption trial, or make the court case disappear altogether.
It will be interesting to see how President Biden deals with this extreme right-wing government, especially since he has accused the US right-wing MAGA republicans, as being a threat to America’s democracy. Trump’s tenure as US President, and his decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, plus his close relationship with Netanyahu, has solidified the dominance of the right-wing parties in Israeli politics. An Israeli Democracy Index (IDI) poll reveals that 60 percent of the country identifies as right wing, and that goes up to 70% among young people. If Biden continues US unconditional support for this government, he will be endorsing right-wing ideology, and accepting growing Fascism, and, therefore, cannot claim that MAGA republicans are a threat to US Democracy. Also, if Trump wins the next election, right-wing ideology and fascism will spread quickly into Europe.
Netanyahu has vowed to defy US and international pressure, and to keep building settlements in the West Bank, and to rebuild an American consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem; placing the division of Jerusalem back on the agenda, and to possibly initiating “daring operations” in Iran. The international community can abandon any hope of peace, or the renewal of a peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, because this government is totally against the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In spite of the billions of dollars in aid given and pledged to Israel by the US, and both nations calling each other indispensable allies, it is obvious that Israel believes that only she is indispensable. When the FBI launched an investigation into the murder of American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, Israel made it clear that it would not participate in the investigation. After blaming the murder on Palestinians, Israel finally admitted that Shireen was killed by their soldier, but that under no circumstance would they be charging any of their soldiers with the crime. Israel obviously understands her geopolitical role, and her value to the US power projection in the Middle East, and knows that the US won’t pull their aid. Also, Israeli leaders understand her belligerent behavior is only mimicking what the US does around the world, without even a remote expectation that they will ever be held accountable for it.
Liberals and progressives in the US, Canada, and the EU must be vigilant. Extreme right-wing politicians are leading governments in Italy, Sweden and Hungary. In Toronto, Premier Ford introduced “strong mayor” legislation, and in the US, the concessions made by McCarthy has embolden radical Republicans and increased their ranks. Creating confusion by using the terms democracy and capitalism interchangeably, decimating the middleclass through outsourcing manufacturing, and subjecting the population to non-career jobs in the low paying service industries, is a recipe for revolution. Remember states collapse because of catastrophic mistakes of their leadership, when these mistakes accumulate to critical mass, previously marginal right-wing groups become mainstream, and fascism wins.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)