The growing nationalist and religious extremism in Israel is not just a domestic problem. Over the last week, it has become clear that the efforts of the Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition to suppress freedom of expression, left-wing organizations and the Arab community, combined with growing religious coercion in the public arena and the Israel Defense Forces, are also endangering Israel's relations with its supporters in the West, and especially the American political establishment and Jewish community. The competition among right-wing politicians hungry for headlines over who can scream louder has turned into a strategic threat.
American support has been vital to Israel's security, its growth and its very existence ever since the state was established. The "special relationship" between the two countries was always justified by the shared values of the world's greatest power and "the only democracy in the Middle East." Even when they criticized the settlements and human rights violations in the territories, the Americans respected the democratic system of government within the Green Line. And the Jewish community supported Israel and its policies without reservation.
But now it seems that even long-time and consistent supporters of Israel have despaired and are distancing themselves from what they view as Israel's abandonment of their "shared values" in favor of nationalism, the silencing of criticism and religious zealotry. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced great concern over the wave of anti-democratic legislation, especially the bills to restrict foreign governments' donations to nongovernmental organizations, and compared the battle against women's singing in the IDF to what goes on in Iran. And the Jewish Federations of North America lambasted an advertising campaign to lure Israelis back from the United States because it cast doubt on the ability to preserve Jewish life outside of Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to his senses, quickly canceled the ad campaign and postponed discussion of the NGO bills. But his government's general direction remains what it was: Israel, fearful of the Arab Spring and Islamic movements' growing power in the Arab states, and disappointed by America's weakness in the face of Iran's nuclear program, feels abandoned. And it is gradually adopting Middle Eastern norms of behavior, thereby distancing itself from its bases of support in the democratic West.
What Israel needs is a leadership that will rescue it from its threatening isolation and restore it to the family of nations.
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