Israel Is a Police State for the Better

No organization, certainly not in the political opposition, has dared to confront Netanyahu the way the police under Roni Alsheich have

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich at the Sderot Conference for Society. March 6, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

One of the left’s long-standing and well-known dogmas is its belief in the prophetic powers of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who warned Israelis that their occupation of the Palestinians would turn Israel into a state of the Shin Bet security service. The left, myself included, thus raised an outcry when Roni Alsheich, the Shin Bet’s deputy director, was appointed police commissioner. Look, the prophecy is coming true!

“The state that controls a hostile population of 1.4 million to 2 million foreigners will necessarily be a Shin Bet state, with all that follows from this in terms of its implications for the spirit of education, freedom of speech and thought, and a democratic system of government,” Leibowitz once wrote, correctly predicting the future.

Europe in the 1930s has served both the left and the right as a touchstone for historical analogies. Whereas the right, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, described Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy as analogous to the left’s naivete about Islam in general and Iran in particular, the left warned of the right’s rise to power in Israel by comparing it to the rise of a fascist regime.

For Leibowitz and the left, the logic was clear: What you do to your subjects as part of the daily practice of occupation and control over a foreign nation will ultimately be done to your own nation. But the left must admit that Leibowitz’s prophecy missed the dramatic dialectical turning point, one almost poetic, in this historical equation.

In its obsession with the 20th century and the fascism, reigns of terror and right-wing oppression that relied on state security organizations, the Jewish brain missed the cunning trick Israel played on history. For in the Israeli story, the security organizations have long played the role of the gatekeepers of foundational liberal values.

In one historic moment, it has become clear that Alsheich, the experienced investigative fox from the Shin Bet, is actually the one standing in the breach and fighting bravely against a terrifyingly dangerous wave of political populism in the person and spirit of Netanyahu, who threatens to change Israel beyond recognition. The police under Alsheich, the Shin Bet man, took the order to fight “internal enemies” with unfathomable seriousness and almost imbecilic Israeli obedience. And astoundingly, it found that it wasn’t “the Arabs” who were endangering Israel but the prime minister.

There is currently no organization, certainly not in the political opposition, that dares to confront Netanyahu the way the police under Alsheich’s leadership have. With civic courage and head held high, under incessant artillery fire from the prime minister and his soldiers, Alsheich has dared to break Netanyahu’s rotten power structure, which is corrupt down to the foundations, into little pieces.

His stance is particularly noteworthy in light of the silence of the lambs in the bastions of Israeli intellectualism, which, time after time, have collaborated with the prime minister’s pseudo-intellectualism. It sometimes seems as if Alsheich were the only person in the country who “doesn’t work for Netanyahu,” as he told journalist Ilana Dayan.

History isn’t born only of processes; it always involves the story of an encounter between protagonists, a conflict between good and evil. At Israel’s moment of truth, on the eve of its 70th birthday, this historic encounter has pitted a Shin Bet man – a paratrooper, interrogator of the enemy and son of the less-privileged Israel – against a son of the established power structure, a man of America and the greater world, a historic con man full of tricks and devoid of restraints who threatens to destroy both Israel’s image and its spirit.

Now all that’s left is to hope that in this terrifying personal duel, the Shin Bet man emerges as the winner.