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Is Netanyahu, Stalwart of Int’l Right, Toast?

By TTN

With a virtual tie between Likud and Blue-White, an interesting question is whether Netanyahu must go.  Given his olympic abilities as a survivor, one hesitates to completely rule him out, but it seems unlikely that he can still emerge as prime minister.  Among other open questions: Would he remain Likud leader without being prime minister?  And if he’s not PM but still Likud leader, how might this affect his legal difficulties?   

If there’s a majority coalition anchored by Blue-White and Likud, the leader of the Arab Joint List leader, Ayman Odeh, becomes the first Arab to be official head of the opposition.  Although the dust may not settle for weeks, the winners seem to be Benny Gantz (the head of Blue-White), Odeh, and Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  The losers seem to be Netanyahu, all the rightwing parties (except Lieberman’s), both Haredi religious parties, and both leftwing Zionist parties (but especially the Democratic Union forged by Meretz with Ehud Barak, Stav Shaffir and the Greens).   It will be interesting to see if Labor and Meretz finally manage to form a common list before the next election, in a new effort to reinvigorate the once dominant Zionist left. 

As we await the contentious coalition-building process for this unprecedented second national election within less than six months, our TTN colleague, CUNY prof and Nation columnist Eric Alterman, has penned “Benjamin Netanyahu, best friend of the far right” in Le Monde Diplomatique.  This piece addresses Netanyahu’s international positioning in recent years; here’s a sampling: 

Over the course of Bibi Netanyahu’s recent successful campaign for Israel’s prime ministership, he received a number of gifts … from members of what The New Yorker’s David Remnick has named ‘the ever-growing club of the Illiberal International.’ The largest and best publicised … was Donald Trump’s unilateral recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights . . . . Almost as well publicised was the high-profile visit from Brazil’s new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, … signing six separate bilateral agreements between the two nations. Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin … did find time, just five days before the election, to meet with Netanyahu in Moscow, for what ultimately appeared to be no reason in particular. Romanian prime minister and current president of the EU, Viorica Dăncilă, … dropped by the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to announce that her nation will soon join the US and move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem . . .

. . . Italy’s right-wing foreign minister, Matteo Salvini, has visited. So too, Philippine tough guy, Rodrigo Duterte, who brags about killing people, and says of Netanyahu: ‘We have the same passion for human beings.’ Wang Qishan, China’s vice-president, came for a technology fair in October. Netanyahu, meanwhile has shown up in Oman to see Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al and in Azerbajan to hang out with with Ilham Aliyev. Relations with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi are relatively warm and under-the-radar contacts with Saudis are said to be frequent. . . . There was supposed to be a meeting in Jerusalem of the so-called ‘Visegrad Group’, made up of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, all of whom Netanyahu has been courting. . . . It collapsed however, when Israeli officials, speaking out of turn in public, raised the issue of Polish anti-Semitism  . . .

Israel has long had good relations with bad governments, whether in South Africa or Central America. But it did so a bit shame-facedly and in secret. The argument was that the Jewish state, isolated in the Middle East and always vulnerable to Soviet-sponsored attack by one of its hostile Arab neighbours, had no choice but to make friends wherever it could find them.  . . .

. . . Netanyahu’s Israel cosies up to tyrants and autocrats openly and does so proudly. He clearly prefers them to the democratic members of the European Community, as they do not badger Israel about its illegal and counterproductive occupation of the West Bank. And they do not complain, the way American Jews do, about his open anti-Arab racism and embrace of the same far-right, terroristic elements of Israeli society that led to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (1); nor of course, about the contempt with which he treats their concerns about religious pluralism and respect for diaspora Jewish customs and concerns.  . . .

Consider also reading a lengthy piece in the Washington Post by Robert Kagan on “Israel and the Decline of the Liberal Order,” with similar concerns.  

Postscript: This is not a prediction, but the most likely best-case scenario, given the current electoral reality: a center-right secular coalition that offers an end to Netanyahu and a check on the ultra-Orthodox, with civil law eclipsing religious authorities on personal status issues such as marriage and divorce, plus other reforms to end open-ended subsidies and exemptions from military conscription or alternative national service for tens of thousands of Haredi religious students, and to expand public transit on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.  But there’s little prospect for a breakthrough or even an initiative toward a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.

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