Tachles: A modern Hebrew word of Yiddish origin that means “to the point.”
Fear of dictatorship in Israel is increasing. The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) this week published a double-page advertisement in Israeli newspapers stating that every third Israeli now fears a civil war. “No to coercion, no to violence. Yes to dialogue.” The controversial judicial reforms of the new governing coalition are making a large part of the Israeli population nervous. People fear a dictatorship and many Israelis are opposed to it.
An ex-pilot who bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981 retracted his comment justifying the assassination of Benjamin Netanyahu. “When a prime minister stands up and takes dictatorial powers, he’s a dead man, simple as that,” former fighter pilot Ze’ev Raz wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. The police initiated investigations. The rift among the people of Israel is deepening as a result of the intentions of the national-religious government, which has a unique opportunity to change the entire system in Israel. The opposition sees itself as defending both themselves and the rest of Israel from itself.
Foreign powers are also interfering in Israel’s politics. When Netanyahu and his wife Sara were in Paris at the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his fears regarding the proposed judicial reforms: “If the reforms are implemented in full form, Paris will ultimately be forced to accept Israel has abandoned the concept of democracy.”
On the same weekend, a few hours before Shabbat, the Israeli journalist and publicist Nahum Barnea wrote about a generous offer from Washington. “Forget your campaign promises, in exchange we guarantee you political successes vis-a-vis Iran and Saudi Arabia.” This is what senior officials in the Biden administration have suggested to Netanyahu in recent days. If Netanyahu abandons or delays his judicial reforms, politically strengthens the Palestinian Authority, preserves the status quo in Jerusalem and curbs Jewish settlement policies, then he will be served Iran and Saudi Arabia on a silver platter.
In the last two weeks, three top American officials have visited Israel: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA Director William Burns. All three examined the proposal with Netanyahu in Jerusalem. According to Barnea, Bibi accepted the American proposal. After the end of the Shabbat, his government spokesman quickly denied the journalist’s report.
In theory, no one would be surprised if Netanyahu really agreed to the American offer. How he will put aside his campaign promises in order to sign a peace deal with Saudi Arabia and get rid of the Iranian nuclear threat is an open question. Bibi is a political fox and if he really wants to go this route, then he will find ways to do so. Just as he himself made the annexation of the biblical heartland in US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” unpopular among Israelis, for which he was later heavily criticized by the Jewish settlers. He is a master of persuasion, and when he says that “the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, the people believe him.” This is what political rival Moshe Yaalon once said about Netanyahu. Of course, if he goes this way it will endanger his coalition, because Bibi’s allies in the new government are ideologically-oriented, while he is less so. And that’s not just my point of view, it’s what his own coalition partners have said about him in the past. Everyone in the coalition understands that they have a unique opportunity to transform Israel, and if Bibi gives this up for a package of benefits from Washington then there will be trouble.
So how does Netanyahu pull this off? He could place more emphasis on tackling crime in the Negev, while facilitating a dialogue that would solve the judicial reform issue to the general satisfaction of all. The people on the right are in the majority, but the left will not give up easily. They really do see a rising dictatorship. I don’t personally think Israel’s democracy is about to collapse, but I do think people on both sides should be more considerate of one another. Neither the left nor the right do that. It is not Israel’s democracy that needs to be saved, but the people of Israel.
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