The Volokh Conspiracy

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Israel's Dangerous Government

It's not the first Israeli government to include illiberal elements, but it is the first to give them real power.


In Israel's recent election, the incumbent center-left coalition got only 20,000 or so fewer votes than the right-wing coalition of parties led by Bibi Netanyahu. But thanks to quirks in Israel's electoral system, skillfully (and legally) manipulated by Netanyahu, the right won a clear parliamentary majority. This majority, however, depends on a real rogues' gallery of religious fanatics, both nationalist and insular, racist uber-nationalists, and general nutjobs. Past Likud party leaders, including Bibi himself, would previously have either refused to deal with such people (recall that Menachem Begin put Meir Kahane in adminsitrative detention), or shunted them off to relatively inconsequential ministries.

But as Aaron David Miller and Daniel Kurtzer report:

Having brought to life the radical, racist, misogynistic and homophobic far-right parties, Netanyahu is now stuck with them. He has cut a deal with convicted inciter of hatred and violence Itamar Ben Gvir and made him minister of national security, with far-reaching authority for the West Bank, Jerusalem and mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel proper. Bezalel Smotrich, who has called for the expulsion of Arabs, is in line to run the finance ministry, with additional authority over the Civil Administration, which governs the West Bank. And Avi Maoz, who proudly espouses a fierce anti-LGBTQ agenda, has been made a deputy in the prime minister's office in charge of "Jewish identity."

Almost ninety percent of Israelis didn't vote for these clowns, but they are the price Bibi is willing to pay to be in power.

I would love to think that the media is mis-describing these folks. But Israeli sources I respect tell me that unfortunately they are everything they are made out to be.

The most charitable spin one can put on this is that Bibi thinks that Iran is an immediate existential threat, that he is the only Israeli leader capable of dealing with it, that creating short-term tensions with everyone from diaspora Jews to the Palestinians is a price worth paying, and that he will US inevitable US, Abraham Accord, and Western pressure as a convenient excuse to back down from some of the more radical things he promised his coalition powers. Less charitably, he just wants power at any price. Either way, he is playing with fire.

This is a situation where responsible critics of Israel could play a role is ameliorating the effects of what could be a disastrous government. The problem is, the most vocal and powerful critics of Israel, such as the so-called human right NGOs, have already dismissed the country as an evil apartheid regime that should be replaced by the Palestine of their fantasies (most wouldn't like the actual Palestine, some combination of Palestinian Authority kleptocracy and Hamas theocracy that could plausibly replace Israel). Having cried wolf over much more palatable Israeli governments and policies, no one will listen when the wolf may really be at the door.

UPDATE: I should point out that in the topsy-turvy world of Israeli politics, having a virulently anti-gay minister from a minor party does not mean that the government is anti-gay. Indeed, Likud MK Amir Ohana, who is openly gay and has two children with his partner, is said to be the leading candidate to be foreign minister.