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Prior to the recent Israeli election, it was clear that Benjamin Netanyahu’s left-wing opponents and their sympathizers in the United States wouldn’t meekly accept defeat if they were unable to prevent the Likud Party leader and his allies from winning. But now that Netanyahu has won and appears to be on the verge of forming a government with a stable majority, it’s clear that what’s about to unfold goes beyond even the usual histrionics and plotting that ensue whenever the parties of the right succeed.
Having campaigned on a platform that depicted Netanyahu as an enemy of democracy, they continue to push that argument regardless of the facts or the consequences for Israel and its alliance with the U.S. Much like the cultural tribal war that characterizes American politics, the Israeli left and their friends in the organized American-Jewish world, the foreign-policy establishment and the Democratic Party believe that no smear or tactic is too awful to employ if it can somehow hurt him.
This means they are not only prepared to undermine the already shaky ties between Israel and American Jews and heighten tensions between Netanyahu and the Biden administration. They also seem to think that encouraging the Palestinians to double down on their destructive attitudes is not beyond the pale.
The belief that behaving like a loyal opposition is the proper response to losing an election has gone out of style in both the U.S. and Israel.
In Israel, the right did its best to undermine the left-wing governments led by Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, as well as the “anyone-but-Bibi” coalition led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid in the last year and a half. But those efforts were tame compared to the scorched-earth approach of the left every time it finds itself shut out of what it still absurdly thinks of as its natural role governing the Jewish state. Likud-led governments have been routinely demonized at home and abroad.
As bad as the invective directed at Netanyahu has been in the past, it pales in comparison to what’s being said about him now. As the statements from both outgoing interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid and some of the veteran members of the American foreign-policy establishment indicate, their method of dealing with Netanyahu’s democratically elected government will be to treat it as if it is the moral equivalent of Iran’s Islamist tyrants.
Part of the focus of this campaign is centered on the past behavior of Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich and that of the anti-LGBTQ Noam faction in the coalition.
Concerns about whether Ben-Gvir and Smotrich will behave responsibly as ministers leading government departments are reasonable, as is disgust with Noam’s pronouncements.
Still, given that they have a lot to lose if they are seen as provocateurs rather than problem-solvers, and that Netanyahu has made it clear that they will not get their way when it comes to making Israel a religious state, the fears about them are not merely overstated. They are, instead, partisan talking points that ignore the fact that the Israeli voters who put them in this strong position see them as proposing sensible responses to a security crisis the previous government didn’t sufficiently address.
Some of the talk coming from Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and others in the religious parties is upsetting to American Jewry, which remains overwhelmingly non-Orthodox. But the pearl-clutching about them disregards that Netanyahu and the Likud will act as an effective check on their ambitions.
Equally specious are the claims that the new government’s plans for restoring some democratic accountability to Israel’s out-of-control left-wing-dominated judiciary is a threat to democracy.
Moreover, the notion that there is something peculiarly extreme about this coalition is rich, coming from some of the same people who never questioned the inclusion of far-left parties in Israeli governments, and even applauded the presence in the Bennett-Lapid coalition of radical Islamists who oppose the existence of a Jewish state.
Such critics were prepared to accept, at face value, assurances that Mansour Abbas and his Ra’am Party were reformed or didn’t actually support their platform. But they won’t even consider the possibility that Ben-Gvir and Smotrich will behave like grown-ups now that they have responsible jobs on which their political futures will hinge.
Yet that’s not the most dangerous aspect of the anti-Bibi resistance. Far worse is the rhetoric coming from American Jews, like the Union of Reform Judaism’s Rabbi Rick Jacobs and veteran U.S. State Department peace-processors Aaron David Miller and Daniel Kurtzer.
The latter two penned an op-ed in The Washington Post this week not just at taking potshots at their old antagonist as he returns for another term in what is already a record run as prime minister. Their aim was to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position, both in Washington and in international forums.
Their premise is that not only is this new coalition more “extreme” than any other in Israel’s history, but that Netanyahu—who, like him or not, has been one of the most able statesmen and effective democratic politicians on the international stage in recent decades—is no longer a legitimate partner in the alliance. They also believe it is the Biden administration’s responsibility to intervene in Israel’s domestic debates; place limits on aid to it; and condemn it in order to ensure that this government is effectively prevented from following the allegedly “malign” policies on which it was elected.
At the core of their approach is not just a deliberately disingenuous mischaracterization of Netanyahu and his government. It is based on the same Oslo-inspired delusion about the Palestinians that was the foundation of a quarter-century of failed American Middle East policy.
While acknowledging that neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas want to make peace, the co-authors continue to cling to the myth that what the Palestinians seek is an independent state alongside Israel, and that America must force Israel to pretend that this is still true. They are ready, as they have been in the past, to blame Palestinian terrorism and rejection of peace on the assertion of Jewish rights and the defense of Israel’s security, rather than on the fact that both the Fatah kleptocrats in Ramallah and the Hamas Islamists in Gaza refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its boundaries are drawn.
Worse, they are prepared to condition U.S. aid, and even support for Israel in international forums against antisemitic libels, on Israel’s agreeing to forgo building infrastructure for already existing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and not demand the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.
As with past efforts to deny agency to intransigent Palestinians, their position effectively legitimizes Arab terrorism against Jews and antisemitism at the United Nations by branding Israeli actions that might protect its interests and security as the behavior of a rogue state. We have already witnessed the consequences of such American stands, which encouraged terror and rejectionism. But unchastened by their record of consistent failure, Miller and Kurtzer, cheered on by other American-Jewish left-wingers, want to repeat the disasters of the past.
Strip away the falsehoods that cloak their position, these advocates for the new anti-Bibi resistance must be seen for what they are and what they aren’t; they aren’t defending democracy, peace or the U.S.-Israel alliance. Their objective is to thwart the verdict of Israeli democracy and promote instability and violence by reverting to Oslo fantasies. But it is Israeli Jews, not those enjoying comfortable American sinecures like Miller, Kurtzer and Jacobs, who will pay a price in blood for their blind hatred for Netanyahu and the parties to his right.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.