We've Entered the Final Decade to Save Israel

There are three processes taking place in Israel that, if not reversed by 2025, will end this country’s life as a modern Jewish democracy.

Members of right-wing organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014.
Ofer Vaknin

One process is taking place on the hills. In 1975 there were a few thousand settlers in Judea and Samaria. In 1995 there were around 120,000. Today there are 400,000. Over the past four decades, the Gush Emunim settlement movement has achieved a complete and total victory over Israeli officialdom. First it established facts on the ground, then it got those facts officially recognized, and then it tripled, quadrupled and quintupled them using state resources.

The result is a toxic demographic-political omelet which will be very hard to turn back into the egg mix from which it came. If the number of residents in Judea and Samaria reach 600,000, 700,000 or 800,000 by 2025, it will no longer be possible to divide the land, and Israel will become a binational state. Whether this binational state is no longer Jewish or no longer a democracy, the Zionist enterprise will have met its end.

The second process is taking place in people’s hearts and minds. In 1975, Aharon Barak was appointed attorney general. The appointment of the young, brilliant, independent legal professor to this elevated position indicated that Israel was becoming a genuine liberal democracy. The years of David Ben-Gurion’s statism were followed by the years of human dignity, human rights, and the building of strong, independent democratic institutions. For three decades Israel knew a relative golden age of ever-strengthening rule of law, expanded freedom of expression and the establishment of a truly free society.

The expected appointment of Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit as attorney general represents the opposite trend. Israeli democracy in recent years has become seriously ill. The Supreme Court is under attack, the media have been weakened, and the system of checks and balances has been neutered. An evil wind is blowing that silences criticism and condemns differing opinions. If this aggressive populist and ultranationalist attack on Israel’s democratic institutions and values continues until 2025, we are liable to find ourselves with a benighted political system that is no longer committed to freedom, equality, fairness and progress.

The third process is taking place overseas. Israel still has the moral and political backing of important Western leaders – Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and even U.S. President Barack Obama, who defends Israel to a degree that it doesn’t appreciate. Jerusalem still has enough influence in Washington and access to European capitals to prevent a political collapse.

But the younger generation’s attitude is different. The ideological and moral context is changing. Because of the settlement enterprise and the attacks on enlightened values, more and more decent people in the West are wondering what happened to Israel and whether it has lost its character. Rather than being perceived as a sister state, Israel is perceived as an incomprehensible hybrid of high-tech, hedonism, fanaticism and occupation.

If we don’t change direction and position ourselves once again as the beloved, admired democracy on the frontier, by 2025 we may be real pariahs and the West will turn its back on us.

So we have a decade, at best. It isn’t too late. Israel’s silent majority is a sane majority, and its enlightened public still has power. A fanatical right-wing takeover of the state and the land is ordained neither by heaven or fate. The crisis surrounding the identity and values of the Jewish and democratic state are the direct result of the failure of the center-left to engender an ideological breakthrough and develop a worthy and visionary leadership.

If it continues to whine, complain and be irrelevant, the worst is going to happen. It’s not far off. But if it wakes up, sobers up and mobilizes, there can be a turnaround. It’s possible to make sure that the decade we have left is not our last.