Columnist Richard Fein: Netanyahu’s new government — What does it mean for Israel?

  • Richard Fein FILE PHOTO

Published: 1/22/2023 3:51:45 PM
Modified: 1/22/2023 3:51:17 PM

The new coalition government in Israel is the most ultra-nationalist, theocratic in that nation’s history. Many of Israel’s friends are deeply concerned about Israel’s future as a Jewish Democratic State living up to the ethical standards enshrined in its Proclamation of Independence. This column will look at some of the reasons to be very concerned but also reasons to hope that the worst fears about the new government will not come to pass.

Reasons for concern:

1.The new prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, is under three criminal indictments. He wants legislation giving the Knesset (Parliament) authority to override High Court decisions by a simple majority vote and to politicize the appointment of judges. Justice would be perverted and the judicial system will not be able to provide any protection for civil liberties.

1.The new minister of national security is Itamar Ben-Gvir. He has been convicted of eight criminal violations including racism and supporting a Jewish terrorist organization. Israel now has a convicted criminal in charge of the police in Israel and, to a large extent, the occupied West Bank. The head of an ultra-Orthodox religious party, Aryeh Deri, has two felony convictions on his record (bribery and tax fraud). Netanyahu has designated Deri to be the minister of the interior and of health. The tourism minister, Haim Katz, has been convicted of fraud. All told, four of Israel’s new leaders have been indicted or convicted of serious crimes.

1.Ben Gvir recently made a visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, a site of religious importance to both Jews and Muslims. He promises to go again. These visits are seen by Muslims as a violation of existing agreements and a threat to the Al Aqsa mosque. If violence erupts it could spread throughout the Middle East and beyond. 

1.Annexation of much of the West Bank into Israel proper is an explicit part of the new government’s coalition agreement. The cabinet plans to expand Jewish settlements and legalize those that have heretofore been deemed illegal by prior governments. The army is already preparing to evict about 1,000 Palestinians from eight West Bank villages. The West Bank occupation is going to become even more oppressive for Palestinians. These steps would end any possible independent state for Palestinians in the future.

1.Another component of the coalition agreement includes permission to discriminate against women, non-Jews, and LGBTQ based on “reasons of religious belief.”

1.The ultra-Orthodox parties want an expansion of government enforcement of Jewish Law as they understand it into yet more sectors of everyday life. They also want to increase stipends to ultra-Orthodox men who study sacred texts all day and don’t work for a living. Unlike most Israelis, these men do not serve in the military.

Some reasons for hope

1.Most Israelis are proud of their democracy and want to keep it. There have been 25 parliamentary elections with high turnout. All adult citizens, Arab and Jewish, have the right to vote. Every change of party in power has been peaceful. The military is revered but there has never been a military coup. Opinion polls show that the authority of the judicial system is supported by about 57% to 35%. Polls also show majority support for talks with the Palestine Authority and freezing West Bank settlements to improve ties with Saudi Arabia.

1.The United States is pushing back. Our State Department has publicly stated that any annexations are “unacceptable.” The United States criticized Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount at a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

1.Diaspora non-Orthodox Jews have been increasingly alienated by Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel and non-Orthodox Jews. Even Netanyahu may not want to risk completely losing diaspora support for Israel.

1.Netanyahu’s crowning intentional achievement in his previous terms as prime minister is the Abraham Accords (diplomatic relations with several Arab countries) that went into effect in September 2020. The Accords and potential relations with Saudi Arabia will be at risk if there are any steps towards annexations or more provocations on the Temple Mount.

1.Amir Ohana , who is openly gay, was elected the Speaker of the Knesset by a wide margin on the first ballot. His husband and three children stood with him on the podium of the Knesset.

1.About 170 local governments and councils are resisting a decision by the new government to fund ultra-Orthodox schools that don’t teach the national curriculum’s English, math and science components

Whether deeply concerned or somewhat hopeful, people may want to help protect democracy in Israel and ameliorate the oppression suffered by Palestinians. If you email me at columnist@gazettenet.com I will send you a short list of advocacy groups working to do that.

Richard Fein holds a master of arts degree in political science and an MBA in economics. He can be reached at columnist@gazettenet.com.
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