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  • Writer's pictureBrendan Szendrő

Israel and the Viability of Democracy

Can Israel's left-wing and centrist parties work together amidst a burgeoning crisis of democracy?

Israel is not an apartheid state - yet. It absolutely will be if the centrists and leftists can’t figure out a way to divert course, soon. It’s an old story that right-wing factions can work together more easily than left-wing ones. Right now the right is dominating Israel by preying off people’s insecurities and frustrations. I have a lot of sympathy for Israelis who are sick of the terrorism and the rocket attacks, but all the right-wing is doing is inciting Palestinians further.

The Gaza Strip is, currently, suffering some of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. An entire generation of Gazans has grown up under siege. Several generations of Palestinians in the West Bank have grown up under checkpoints and restrictions of movement and property ownership. The right-wing thinks that Israelis can only be secure if the beat the Palestinians into submission, but the more they do, the more the Palestinians turn to violence.

Israel’s right-wing uses short-term “solutions” that have devastating impacts on the Palestinian population. Beyond the toll it takes on the people of the West Bank and Gaza, it also endangers Israelis in the long-term. Bulldozing homes of terrorists, destroying infrastructure through targeted bombings and repressing protests with live ammunition only embitters the occupied people further.

By manipulating public fears in regards to short-term violence, the Israeli right has completely changed the game and the goals of the country. In the past, Israel’s right-wing Prime Ministers made steps towards negotiation and land compensation with the Palestinians. I do not buy the arguments that Rabin and Sharon were insincere in their proposals, if nothing else because they did so at tremendous personal cost to their safety and health. These were staunchly-right wing politicians who died in pursuit of this negotiation. Netanyahu’s coalition has changed the paradigm.

The end goal for Netanyahu is the annexation of the West Bank. In order to accomplish this, his allies will wipe away every last vestige of democracy in Israel. Taking control of the West Bank will mean an influx of non-Jewish people into the Jewish state. In other words, the Israeli government can’t maintain control unless it deprives those Palestinians of basic rights. The “apartheid” analogy in Israel has always been misplaced but if this were to occur it would not be inaccurate.

Many of Netanyahu’s allies do not believe in democracy. A number of parties in his coalition have openly expressed a desire to weaken the courts in favor of traditional religious laws. One of the parties that recently won seats includes “Kahanists,” an extremist faction that believes in establishing a monarchy in the State of Israel and banning all non-Jews from residence. If you want an illustration of how much the game’s changed, the Israeli government previously banned Kahanists from running for office for its “racist” views - and that’s the actual wording used at the time.

Netanyahu is currently under investigation, but his allies have agreed to support legislation that will shield him from the law. This includes weakening the power of the Supreme Court and forbidding prosecution of sitting ministers. In other words, in order to accomplish their goals, these parties will push Israel towards an outright dictatorship. For many of them, this is based on traditional religious laws. One of these such people is now the Minister of Education, if you’re keeping track.

Beyond the worsening treatment of the Palestinians and the threat against legal accountability for its politicians, Israel also faces the reality that its continued descent into fascism, segregation and legal decay will further isolate it on the world stage. Apartheid South Africa was isolated out of existence; this may very well be the case if Israel does not change its path.

The Israeli-right can only view things in the short-term. They believe that the continued support of a Republican administration in the United States will protect them from isolation. In reality, the Trump administration has already begun to tire of the Israeli right, with certain officials including the president himself indicating that they will pressure the Israelis to make concessions that the right doesn’t want.

Given that administrations in the United States turn over, it’s only a matter of time before a change of hands changes policy direction anyway. The American public’s increased fatigue with the conflict, along with its growing Muslim population and increasingly liberal Jewish population, will, over time, translate into decreased political support. When American backing fails, Israel will have little legs to stand on.

This is not to deny the abusive practices by Palestinian leadership against their own population, including its continued support of attacks on Israelis, refusal of Israeli aid and continued repression of its own protestors. But the Israelis have overwhelming force in this scenario, and so remain the only ones capable of single-handedly improving the situation. Israel has de facto control in the Palestinian territories through its military dominance. The well-being of Palestinian people, then, rests on Israeli actions. This becomes even more pronounced if Israel moves to absorb parts of the territories further.

One way or another, each of the factions outside the right-wing bloc need to find a way to cooperate towards a coherent, alternative platform that can compete with Netanyahu’s populist fear-mongering. They need to make the case that peace and democracy can create more security in the long-run that this whack-a-mole approach of military occupation. The question remains as to whether anybody actually believes that.

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