Yuval Noah Harari: Netanyahu's Government Threatens Foundations of Israel's Liberal Democracy

Best-selling Israeli author tells French weekly Le Point that he doesn't feel comfortable 'being an official representative of the Israeli government because I have an issue with its current policies'

Prof. Noah Harari, 2015: Shown wearing blue-framed glasses, shaven. Some hair loss on top.
Rami Zarnegar

Best-selling Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari sharply criticized the Israeli government this week, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's team threatens the foundations of Israel's liberal democracy. 

The cover story of French weekly Le Point, entitled "The world's most important thinker," profiles Harari; the magazine interviewed the Hebrew University historian in Tel Aviv to mark the publication in France of his new book "21 Lessons for the 21st Century."

'The most important thinker in the world,' says 'Le Point' of Yuval Noah Harari
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The new work is expected to top Israeli best-seller lists like the author's previous two books, "Sapiens" and "Homo Deus." Harari told Le Point's Thomas Mahler why he rejected a recent invitation from the Israeli consulate to an event in Los Angeles.

"I don't want to be an official representative of the Israeli government because I have an issue with its current policies," he said. "My work as a scientist is based on freedom of thought and freedom of expression, while Netanyahu's government represents a threat to basic freedoms. He made Israel a close ally of [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban, with the same nationalist, authoritarian worldview. Under these circumstances, I have no other choice but to keep my distance."

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Asked about the nation-state law and the processes jeopardizing Israeli and global democracy, Harari noted a trend in Israel and around the world to renounce basic political values.

"States that had been liberal democracies are no longer so, like Turkey, Hungary and Russia," he said. "They're now illiberal democracies, or even dictatorships.”

Harari spoke about the challenges facing humanity in the current century, mainly ecologic and technological ones, arguing that they bring about the collapse of liberal values and nation-states because these states are not equipped to deal with them. But he is less concerned by the migration crisis preoccupying Europe and the rise of radical Islam.

Unlike communism in the previous century, radical Islam does not have a global influence, and even in the Muslim world it appeals to a small minority, Harari said.

"For every French Islamist who wanted to go to Syria there are hundreds of Syrian, Iraqi and North African Muslims who dream of living in France," he said. "Not because they want to turn your country into an Islamic caliphate, but because they'd rather live in a liberal democracy and not in a corrupt dictatorship."

In July, Harari was harshly criticized on social media for refusing to take part in an event organized by the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles; he was  protesting Israel's nation-state and surrogacy laws. The consulate had planned a reception for Harari before the Live Talks LA project, in which experts from various fields talk about their achievements.