Opinion

Netanyahu’s Lewd Pleasure in Relations With Authoritarian Regimes Is Unforgivable

Instead of being ashamed of forging relations with some of the least democratic nations on earth, our prime minister drools and fawns over dictators

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara meeting the president of Chad, Idriss Déby, in Jerusalem, November 25, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indecent embrace of some of the least democratic regimes on the planet is a stain upon his already filthy government.

On Sunday, he warmly welcomed Chadian President Idriss Déby – a leader who, on Election Day in 2016, cut his citizens’ internet access and mobile communications, and whose country is third-from-last on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. Among the 52 nations that the EIU describes as “authoritarian,” only Syria and North Korea perform worse.

In April, Chad’s parliament approved a new constitution that expanded Déby’s powers and could allow him to serve unopposed until 2033, which would take his tenure to a staggering 43 years.

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On the same day as the visit, it was reported that Israel is actively pursuing relations of some kind with two other “authoritarian” countries: Sudan (155th out of 167 nations) and Bahrain (146th). And as Haaretz reported exclusively over the weekend, Israeli hackers-for-hire NSO offered to sell advanced cellular attack capabilities to Saudi Arabia, which is 159th on the EIU’s list of shame.

Hailing “the rising status of Israel among the nations,” Netanyahu positively glowed with pride as he sat beside a leader who, according to Amnesty International, has “repeatedly banned peaceful assemblies, and arrested and prosecuted human rights defenders, activists and journalists, some of whom became prisoners of conscience.”

Déby’s visit was not a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy sites. It was not a fact-finding tour by a leader who has taken a sudden and unexpected interest in Jewish history. In fact, sources in Chad told Reuters that Déby’s visit is mainly focused on security issues. Israel, the sources said, has supplied the Chadian army with weaponry and other equipment this year to help in its fight against northern rebels.

What is most disturbing about the prime minister’s lecherous ogling of these countries is not the pursuit itself. Countries – especially those facing security threats – need all the friends they can get. I understand that. But to parade these relations as achievements, to take such lewd pleasure in them, is unforgivable.

If such relations are deemed important to Israel’s strategic fortitude – so be it. If we need to do deals with regimes which violate everything that Jewish, progressive values hold dear, then we can at least expect our leaders to have the shame, the moral awareness and the public modesty not to flaunt them. Not to try and turn what could be described as an evil necessity into a national cause for celebration.

Does Netanyahu think that Israelis are stupid? Does he think we are unaware of the crimes against humanity committed by his new bedfellows? By siding with these authoritarian nations and squabbling with those nations that Israel should try to emulate, the prime minister is insulting our intelligence and our morality.

Such behavior is shameless and shameful. Israel’s nascent relations with such countries may be necessary, but are certainly no cause for celebration.