In recent weeks, as Israel put together its most right-wing and religiously conservative government in history, senior U.S. officials have insisted on waiting and watching when things get radical.
They emphasized “policy” rather than “personality”.
Now, nearly a month into a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and led by ultra-Orthodox politicians, a new standard has been set for controversial behavior and extreme ideology. It is already clear. Secretary of State Antony J. Brinken arrived in Israel on Monday and has a grasp on the situation, but given the momentum of the Israeli government, will he be effective?
Many inside and outside Israel fear that Israel’s long-proclaimed democracy — often referred to as “the only democracy in the Middle East” — is in danger of being severely eroded. .
“Israel’s 75th anniversary of independence will be remembered as the year in which the country’s democratic identity suffered a fatal blow,” Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayyut said earlier this month in the Israeli city. said in an uneasy speech.. of Haifa.
Tens of thousands of Israelis — young, old, mostly secular — have flooded the streets every weekend this month to protest the changes Netanyahu and his coalition are planning, as opposition restricts civil liberties. I believe it will.
Adding to the volatility of the moment was the deadliest spasm of violence in Israel and the West Bank in years. Twenty-four hours later, a Palestinian suspect shot dead seven Israelis outside a synagogue in Jerusalem.
Amid mounting tensions, Blinken traveled to Cairo on Sunday, and is expected to have awkward meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday.
Blinken, the top US official to meet with the new Israeli government, is trying to sound out the incoming administration as the Biden administration seeks to defuse and minimize the potential for Israeli-Palestinian conflict. one of several high-ranking officials. Negative consequences of Netanyahu’s new policies.
Brinken and other US officials have been criticized by some for being too cautious in their approach to the new Israeli government.
Mr. Brinken said last month that he “judges governments by the policies they pursue, not by the character of the individual.” However, he added, “We also remain unequivocally opposed to any action that undermines the prospect of a two-state solution, the vision of an independent Palestinian state that stands side by side with Israel.” includes moves already underway by the new Israeli government, such as the expansion of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian-claimed West Bank and the demolition and eviction of Palestinian homes.
Blinken also said he would emphasize democracy and representativeness, the “shared values” of the United States and Israel.
But so far he has refrained from publicly criticizing the Netanyahu government.
Netanyahu and his cabinet had already embarked on familiar punitive actions on Sunday after Jewish settlers in the West Bank attacked Palestinians and their property, according to the Observatory for Human Rights and Palestinian media.
Following the recent shootings, Netanyahu on Sunday demolished the homes of two assailants, revoked their families’ social security benefits, expanded gun permits for Israeli Jews, and took control of the occupied West Bank. announced plans to “strengthen” Jewish settlements in the district. More military protection and other fortifications.
US officials say the recent violence poses a special danger. Rather than being the work of the militant Hamas organization based in Gaza, it is more “organic,” fueled by frustration, years of occupation and the belief that Palestinian leaders are ineffective. organized by homegrown groups in the West Bank.
The dilemma for Blinken, who is meeting with Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a trip to the Middle East this week, is that violence that has been at the expense of Israelis is making Netanyahu more difficult to bring up. Scope – Issues such as the urgency of the Palestinian state and the maintenance of democracy.
Maintaining the status quo will anger opponents of the Netanyahu government.
Nimrod Goren, a fellow of the Middle East Institute in Washington and president of Mitvim, an Israeli think tank that studies regional politics, said “business as usual” is no longer enough.
“We want to see ‘value-based relationships’ really work,” he said. “Seeing our democracy crumbling so quickly, they ask for our help. [Western] liberal politician. ”
Netanyahu and his coalition have launched a campaign to break precedent, starting with Israel’s justice and legal system. They argue that much of the court system is overly politicized and seeks to reduce the position of the Supreme Court as a balance with the power of the Knesset or parliament.
Under this proposal, a majority of the Knesset could overturn decisions of the Supreme Court. Politicians will also have a greater role in choosing judges.
Many in Israel suspect this so-called reform is a ruse by Netanyahu to wipe out criminal corruption cases against him. But the impact is even more severe, according to critics who say courts are often mediators who push human rights laws and hold governments and the military accountable for their actions.
In addition, ultra-Orthodox members of the Cabinet enjoy unprecedented power thanks to Netanyahu’s consensus-building coalition, injecting more religion into education and allowing unorthodox foreign Jews to join Israel’s They want to make it harder to get citizenship. They also condemn LGBTQ rights.
“what [Netanyahu] What he is doing is nothing less than a war against Israeli democracy. If he succeeds, Israel may change forever,” retired veteran Israeli diplomat Aron Pincus wrote in the Haaretz newspaper. “Rest assured, this is clearly an effort to bring about regime change.”
Brinken, who prefers to focus on security, is reluctant to attack Israeli domestic policies such as judicial reform and is likely to stick to more general advocacy for democracy and civil rights. says an aide.
Netanyahu and his government’s conservative supporters dismiss most of the grievances as a hyperbolic spin.
“The majority of Israel today is right-wing and religious, while minorities worry about their future,” said the Orange County rabbi and director of the North County Chabad Center, who is active on Israeli affairs. said David Eliezry, who is working on the
Israel’s Supreme Court, for example, has long favored the left, and this change would bring a “balance,” he said.
At a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, protesters held a moment of silence for those killed in the synagogue shooting on Friday, before taking a dangerous step they believe their government is following. Spoken about the trajectory. The air was filled with anger, resignation, and helplessness.
“I feel like my country is crumbling,” said Yonatan Hazud, 29, from Tel Aviv. “Large demonstrations may not affect politicians, but they will affect investors and businessmen.”
Saturday’s protests were more subdued than previous protests due to the synagogue attack, but they were nonetheless emphasized.
“I have voted for Bibi Netanyahu all my life,” Neta Naoru, 65, said, calling out the prime minister’s nickname. “I don’t want a religious state here. It hurts me to hear so many young people want to leave the country and feel they have no future.”
Correspondent Tami Zah contributed from Tel Aviv.