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Will Israel cease to exist? Abandoned by allies, surrounded by enemies

Secular descendants of the Zionists who won the Jewish state are in retreat. Today, if asked how they celebrate Passover, they answer they like this holiday because they like to eat well.

Greg Rosshandler is a respected Australian businessman of Jewish descent. On the websites of many Israeli non-profit organizations he is named as one of their sponsors and described as ” an ardent supporter of the preservation of the State of Israel.”

One of the think tanks supported by Rosshandler is the Jerusalem Institute For Strategy and Security (JISS). A few days ago, it published a banner on its website with a disturbing statement: “Israel should prepare for war and politicians should come to their senses. Warning from JISS.” The banner was linked to a short article ending with the Latin maxim “Si vis pacem, para bellum”.

One can assume that Rosshandler approved this dramatic summons. And, if so, one can also assume, on the threshold of the 75th anniversary of the state’s establishment, that in the minds of many people, the descendants of those who won it, “preservation of the state” is now not so completely assured. How did this come about?

Let it be an Arab terrorist…

The cause stems from a combination of external and internal factors, the most important of which is the conflict over the reform of the state judiciary. It has been going on almost from the very onset of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. In his article about the conflict, Michael Oren, a New York-born American Jew who, having moved to Israel, rose to the post of Israel’s ambassador to the United States, resorted to risqué rhetoric while describing how one night he was awoken by the sound of siren alarms. His first thought, he admitted, was: “God, let it be a terrorist!”

Israel has been used to terrorist attacks for decades. What Oren and his family feared most was an internal clash. Oren wrote his article in the early days of March, a time when tension in the country was reaching its zenith. Many feared that this time the conflict would sharpen to the point where Israelis would start killing Israelis.

I am not going to go into the details of the dispute over judicial reform in Israel. Suffice it to say that over the past three decades or so, the Israeli Supreme Court has been gradually expanding its powers at the expense of the political world. Many politicians have become increasingly convinced that this must be stopped. Finally, when Netanyahu’s last government came to power, his party’s strongly right-wing coalition partners made their participation conditional, insisting that the autocracy of the president of the Supreme Court had to be reined in and reduced.

The violent protests that followed were partly driven by a general dislike of the government and Netanyahu himself (not to mention his religious and conservative coalition partners, who are almost physically repugnant to liberal voters) and partly by genuine fears that the planned reform would go too far and instead of setting reasonable limits, would muzzle the Court, making it subordinate to the politicians.

It was also important that members of the secular part of Israeli society, who to some extent can be described as the spiritual heirs of the state’s founders, perceived the Supreme Court as an ally in the clash with the growing strength of the Ultra Orthodox Jews. We will return to the issue of this division later.

The upshot was that a dispute that feasibly might have been dealt with in the context of routine parliamentary procedure moved instead out onto the streets. The result revealed a dramatic social division. Netanyahu had to withdraw, whether permanently or temporarily, as the conflict reached the army and threatened the security of the country.

And that is why the former Israeli ambassador to the US,  a man named by the Jerusalem Post as one of the ten most influential Jews in the world, awakened from his sleep by nocturnal alarms, invoked God in expressing hope that the cause would be an ordinary attack by an Arab terrorist and not Jews shooting Jews.

The Middle East is losing importance

This conflict was observed with great concern in what for Israel is the most important country in the world, the United States. The accusation that the ruling parties sought to dismantle the entrenched judicial system, i.e., implicitly, dismantle the democratic system, was taken extremely seriously in Washington. The Biden administration, its support for democracy in the world a flagship policy, could not be indifferent to the fact that Israel, previously considered an island of democracy in a sea of Arab autocracies, was suddenly being perceived as almost a dictatorship.

As usual, the concern of the political elites was expressed with customary restraint. Prime Minister Netanyahu was still invited to the Summit For Democracy 2023, even participating in one of the main discussion panels. However, some of the remarks uttered at the summit by US analysts will undoubtedly define the framework of dialogue between the two countries in the future.

It will not be easy to return to harmonious relations mindful that the American side said that while “relations with Israel are special, they can be destroyed.” Their author, Paul Poast, who is associated with the major Chicago Council think tank run by former US ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, cited two main considerations that might cause Washington to view its relations with Israel as no longer “special”. One of these concerns related to a possible time when “Israel will cease to be a democracy.”

Read the full story.

By Robert Bogdanski
Translated by: Agnieszka Rakoczy

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