Israel’s New Existential Threat

The right of Netanyahu and Bennett is corroding the two primary principles of Zionist policy. Unless there is a dramatic turnaround, Israel will slowly sink.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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An archive photo of Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to a naval base in Haifa, 2009.
An archive photo of Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to a naval base in Haifa, 2009.Credit: Alex Rosekovsky
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Most Israelis believe, justifiably, that the true existential threat facing them is the high cost of housing. A state whose young people cannot afford to buy a decent apartment is a state that has gone bankrupt.

The real question is not who is most culpable — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his predecessor Ehud Olmert, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid or Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel.

The real question is why, for nearly a decade, the government has failed to overcome a fundamental problem that everyone is aware of and that affects everyone.

The real question is why today’s rich, complacent Israel has failed where the lean and hungry Israel of the 1950s succeeded — in building hundreds of thousands of homes for its people.

Unlike the last state comptroller’s report, the latest one is very important and it addresses a critical issue. The new government that will be installed after the upcoming election must introduce a comprehensive national program that will take on the challenge of the country’s housing crisis.

Netanyahu believes, justifiably, that Iran’s nuclear program is the primary existential threat facing Israel. He was one of the first people to recognize that a nuclear Iran would cast a giant shadow over Israel’s future, and he put the issue at the top of the security and international agenda.

The military option he had promoted became a significant political success, forcing the West into an assertive stance against Iran in 2011 and 2012.

But six years after the son of Benzion Netanyahu entered the Prime Minister’s Office for the second time, the bottom line is that he has failed. Because Netanyahu was not forthcoming on the Palestinian issue and because he eroded Israel’s international legitimacy, the world is no longer listening to his truthful message on the Iranian issue.

Because Netanyahu has worked against rather than with the American administration, the American administration has tilted toward Tehran and against Jerusalem. Israel, rather than Iran, has been isolated.

The reason Netanyahu is about to give a brilliant and desperate speech to the U.S. Congress is that he knows he lost the game.

When the Shi’ite superpower, a nuclear-threshold state, is being courted by the American president, the Iranian threat is more clear, present and bloodcurdling than ever.

Now Israel faces a new existential threat, however, to which neither the Israeli public nor the prime minister is paying much attention.

Zionism has always been careful to cultivate an intimate alliance with a superpower: first Britain, then France, then the United States.

At the same time, Zionism always sought to be identified with the world’s progressive forces, who believe in democracy, social justice and human rights. These two overriding principles of Zionist policy allowed Israel to arise, establish itself and flourish.

But in recent years both principles have been eroded. The right-wing Israel of Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett is playing into the hands of our enemies and corroding the core of our existence — our alliance with the West.

Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in Israeli policy soon, we are liable to find our closest friends turning their backs on us. No, there won’t be a diplomatic tsunami. Instead, the Israeli ship of state will gradually and persistently take on increasing amounts of turbid water that could slowly sink it.

The growing “Anyone but Bibi” movement is doing everything it can to take advantage of the state comptroller’s report and to highlight the domestic existential threat.

The shrinking “Only Bibi” movement is doing everything it can to take advantage of Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress and to highlight the existential threat posed by Iran.

The time has come for Israelis to open their eyes and see the towering iceberg of the new existential threat. We will not have a future here if we do not immediately restore our moral and strategic alliance with the free world.

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