Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, comments on the latest developments in the Jewish state
Prime Minster Netanyahu’s insistence on passing a bill that will define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is as disgraceful as his denial that Israel is not an occupying power. If the bill were to pass now or in the future, it would blow up what’s left of Israel’s democracy and destroy rather than save the Jews’ last haven for which they have yearned for centuries.
The collapse of Netanyahu’s government is indicative of how divisive this bill was. The more cogent question, however, is why Netanyahu, who is supposed to be politically savvy, pressed on with such a bill at a time when Israel is under intense international pressure to end the occupation and is soundly criticized for discriminating against its significant Arab minority?
Netanyahu is motivated by a narrow religious conviction that bequeaths the “Land of Israel” in perpetuity to the Jewish people, which requires no evidence to prove its correctness, and his upbringing as a zealous ideologue reinforced by his father, which blurs his vision and prevents him from seeing the changing reality on the ground.
Netanyahu really believes that he has been ordained to pursue this ‘sacred mission’ to shape Israel’s destiny regardless of any domestic or international opposition. He feels ‘obliged’ to do whatever it takes to enshrine the exclusive right of the Jews in their homeland, including the West Bank.
Even before he dismissed his government, Netanyahu had already begun to negotiate with the religious political parties to join him in a new government, promising generous financial appropriations to run their ministries as long as they stand behind him and support his misadventures.
It is hard to believe how Netanyahu has lost complete sight as to why Israel was created in the first place. The purpose behind Zionism was not the creation of a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinians by pushing them out of their place of birth, building settlements on their land, and discriminating against the country’s own Arab citizens. Israel was created to provide a home for the Jewish people as a democratic and just nation so that the Jews would cease to be the bastards of humanity and instead, offer hospitality like any other nation and live with security and peace.
What Netanyahu and his misguided ministers—Lieberman, Bennett, Ya’alon and company—have done is the precise opposite: making Israel an isolated pariah state, sticking its finger in the eyes of the international community and portraying the Jews as uncompromising and arrogant who can defy their critics—be they friends or foes—with impunity.
Netanyahu and his cohorts not only give rise to anti-Semitism but give anti-Semites all the ammunition they need to justify their anti-Israeli sentiments and acts of violence against Jews nearly everywhere.
If he seized the premiership again, Israel’s very existence would be in jeopardy, not because the Palestinians are bent on Israel’s destruction or because Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map with nuclear weapons, but because by his own actions he is chipping away Israel’s right to exist.
A multitude of current and former Israeli officials, including President Rivlin, former President Peres, scores of scholars and security professionals, millions of Israelis, and all of Israel’s allies see no rhyme or reason to suggest that such a bill will make Israel more secure or more Jewish than it is today.
The 1947 UN partition plan called for the establishment of a Jewish state, and every symbol of the country attests to its Jewishness: it has a Jewish majority, a Jewish national identity, Jewish symbols, and a national anthem that invokes the Jews’ yearning “to be a free people in our land.”
For a country that presumably honors the freedom and rights of every citizen, this bill will trash every principle of democracy and freedom. The Israelis will never be free and at peace as long as the Israeli Arabs are discriminated against and the occupation persists.
No bill or legislation or recognition by the Palestinians as a Jewish state will guarantee Israel’s Jewish identity other than a sustainable Jewish majority. Netanyahu has lost tremendous political ground; it may not manifest itself today but it will eventually sink into the Israelis’ minds what this travesty was all about.
Instead of making peace with the Palestinians and upholding the democratic principles of the country to attract Jews to immigrate to Israel, he is alienating hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews who are fed up with the never-ending conflict with the Palestinians and opting to leave Israel.
By merely introducing such a bill, Netanyahu has already rendered the greatest damage to Israel’s international image and standing and evoked an outcry from hundreds of thousands of loyal Israeli Arab citizens who now feel betrayed and estranged from their fellow Israeli Jews.
Furthermore, Netanyahu’s bill does nothing but pronounce Israel’s Arab citizens as undesirable and unworthy of Israeli citizenship; they basically have no future in their country of birth. In fact, Netanyahu is waging psychological terrorism against a significant segment of the Israeli population while sending a clear message to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza that the two-state solution is a thing of the past.
To be sure, the bill that Netanyahu wants to pass is like the explosives a suicide bomber wears on his chest, with his finger on the trigger. Whether or not Netanyahu releases the trigger, he has already demonstrated how far he will go to satisfy his blind self-proclaimed mission that will rain havoc on Israelis and Palestinians alike.Netanyahu must never be given another chance to present such a vile bill again.
Only the people of Israel can send Netanyahu to a permanent retirement and save the Jews’ millennium-long dream to live as free people with their Arab neighbors with dignity, security and peace.