Israel’s farewell to the West
One cannot help coming to the conclusion that the Netanyahu government has decided that Israel’s identity as a Western state is no longer relevant.
A few weeks ago a little noted event occurred. Germany has six political foundations funded by the German foreign ministry. They are identified with all major German parties, including, of course, the CDU, Angela Merkel’s party, that is right of center.
In an unusual step, the directors of the Israeli bureaus of these six foundations sent a common letter to all MKs in which they expressed their concern about “a series of legislative initiatives that would fundamentally change the financial framework for the activities of Israeli non-governmental organizations, and thus civil society involvement overall”.
The directors emphasized that the goal of Germany’s political foundations is to “to support and strengthen freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and pluralism in Germany and other countries”, and indeed these foundations work in the majority of countries worldwide.
While some liberal MKs reacted to this letter with expressions of sympathy, so far none of the coalition members have deemed it to be of any importance to react to this letter. Germany, it seems, is not a sufficiently important country, to warrant even a reaction to the concerns of their political foundations.
Even the U.S. is told to mind its own business. When Hillary Clinton expressed deep concern about Israel’s democracy, primarily because of the legislative initiative limiting funding of left wing NGOs, the coalition did react: Environmental Minister Gilad Ardan said that elected officials “should concentrate on what is happening in their own countries”.
We certainly do not have anything to learn from the Free World. MK Ofir Okunis lately said in a prominent TV Show that Senator McCarthy was ‘right in every word he said’. It seems that Israel doesn’t even need the friendship of liberal American Jewry for whom the McCarthy period is one of the darkest chapters of recent US history.
Thinking about these events in the context of the wave of illiberal legislative proposals in the last two years, one cannot help coming to the conclusion that the ruling coalition has decided that Israel’s identity as a Western state is no longer relevant.
Let’s try to think through their logic: Europe, they think, doesn’t really protect Israel. If we are attacked, neither Germany nor France or Britain will come to our defense physically. So what if they don’t like us? As long as Maccabi Tel Aviv can play in the Euroleague and Israel can do business with the EU, friendship and closeness don’t really matter. And they believe that Europe will never impose real sanctions on Israel, because its history with the Jews will always prevent them from doing so.
The U.S., they argue, will always stand by us. Hasn’t Netanyahu always claimed that the U.S. is not the liberal elites of the East and West Coast, and that the U.S. commitment to Israel is of a religious nature? And aren’t Congress and the breast-beating declaration of undying friendship of Republican presidential candidates proving him right?
Add to this that the political tsunami of the Palestinian bid for UN recognition that Barak predicted never materialized. Europe didn’t vote for the Palestinians en bloc. Netanyahu, the ruling coalition argues, is getting it right all along. There is no need to accept a Palestinian state: one way or another, Israel will survive worldwide criticism of the occupation.
The comment of a Western diplomat who asked not to be named sums up the situation: He was in Russia during the time Putin dramatically reduced NGO’s freedom of action. He explicitly stated that he has been a lifelong friend of Israel but expressed deep concerns over what he called “Putinization” of the country.
The comparison may be apt. Coalition MKs like Ofir Okunis and Zeev Elkin say that the West Bank belongs to Israel, never mind what the world thinks. The subtext is ‘what Russia can do to Chechnya, and China to Tibet, Israel can do to the West Bank.’ In other words: Israel doesn’t need any real allies in the Free World. It can move towards an ethnocracy, possibly with theocratic colors without consequences. After all nations trade with Russians and Chinese, and they can travel to the West. So why care about the West’s friendship?
This leaves the problem that the majority of young American Jews have disengaged from Israel. That’s not so bad, our coalition thinks. They’ll disappear through assimilation. U.S. Jewish rightists are becoming ever more vocal, and they’ll stick to Israel no matter what.
What, then, about liberal Israeli Jews who feel ever more alienated by their own country? Frankly, we haven’t given the coalition much of a headache with our faint protests. We are about to turn into an insignificant minority, and the coalition will soon find ways to make us shut up.