Opinion

By Cultivating New Visegrad 'Friends,' Israel Shows It's Lost All Shame

Netanyahu's government is giving Jewish legitimacy to authoritarian nationalistic regimes with clear anti-Semitic hallmarks

From left: Bohuslav Sobotka of the Czech Republic, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Robert Fico of Slovakia and Beata Szydło of Poland, after meeting in Budapest, July 2017
Peter Kohalmi / AFP

Anyone seeking evidence of the fact that the regime in Israel is moving from a liberal to an anti-liberal democracy will find it in the country's increasingly closer ties with the Visegrad alliance of countries (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia). After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a guest at the group’s previous meeting, in Hungary, this time Israel will be hosting the gathering. Everything is open and above board.

Indeed, the countries that we are hosting can learn from us. The nation-state law, which gives clear expression to the superiority of the national majority over those who do not belong to it – first and foremost, by excluding them in the definition of the state – is ground-breaking and far-reaching. It reflects Israel's typical blunt behavior, which is extreme even when compared to nationalist countries that have not yet dared to go that far.

On the other hand, Israel can also learn from Hungary and Poland. For example, about how to neutralize any entities that criticize them, formally or informally, and how to ensure that the government has unlimited power and the ability to perpetuate it.

The participants can all learn from each other about upgrading techniques of incitement. At the upcoming meeting Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked can expand on the lesson she received from her Hungarian counterpart. For example, she can learn how to generate a genuine revolution in the judicial system, and not just make political hay by talking about it. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and even Netanyahu himself (on the subject of the media) have a lot to learn from our new friends in Eastern Europe.

And if Israelis want to see just how far we can go if these trends continue – Hungary and Poland can serve as relevant examples. The judiciary, the media, civil society groups, academia and cultural institutions have all lost their independence to an extreme degree, along with their ability to criticize the government. What passes for a revolution of the people and for the people is nothing more than a government revolution for the benefit of those in power, in order to allow them unlimited freedom at the expense of civil liberties, and the crushing of freedom of expression, without which elections are meaningless.

But while Eastern European countries are under limitations imposed by an international body, the European Union, which recently put a stop to certain initiatives by Poland that would hurt its judicial branch – no such body restrains Israel. In this country, there is also the matter of control over the West Bank, which by definition harms basic humanistic values and the independence of the judiciary, so that it will not obstruct the policy of expulsion and theft.

These trends, which are on the rise here, do not enjoy even basic democratic legitimacy (that is, the support of voters). That is because Likud, which is still called the national liberal movement, declares in its constitution that it supports liberal values, and has not been given a mandate by its voters to obstruct them.

The government is damaging not only liberal values and our moral image, but also our long-term relations with liberal countries. The government that holds aloft the banner of Israel’s Jewish character is actually alienating Jews in the Diaspora by lending a hand to the anti-liberal camp, whose victims are minority groups like the Jews. At the same time, the government gives Jewish legitimacy to authoritarian nationalistic regimes with clear anti-Semitic hallmarks (see the incitement against George Soros).

Even the fact that the regimes in some of these countries are rewriting history with regard to their relationship to the Jews during and before World War II does not deter the government. The shameful Israeli-Polish declaration last year constituted official Israeli cooperation with a move to downplay the responsibility of the Poles for the murder of Jews in the Holocaust.

Officials in Israel are working hard to whitewash anti-Semitism from the right by means of the specious claim that anti-Semitism comes only from the left and from Muslims. In other words, the government is placing itself to the right of the nationalist anti-Semites – and against the Jews. In this matter too, Israel has lost all shame. It is hard to believe that this is the way the government of the nation-state of the Jewish people is behaving.