The State of Israel is in the throes of an internal challenge, such as it has not contended with since its establishment in 1948. It is a challenge that spans the country’s religious and secular sectors of society, indirectly impacting the country’s national security—its relations with the United States, in particular—its economy, and, of course, its security in the midst of a mostly hostile region. However, it behooves the Biden administration to regard the current events in Israel as an internal debate, while in the same breath acknowledge the indisputable value of the interests both nations and the liberal world share.
Precisely in the name of these interests, America must uphold its unwavering support of Israel, and stand by its side as an ally, lest its enemies misjudge the situation as an opportunity and think to put us to the test.
So what is happening in Israel?
Since it was founded 75 years ago, the State of Israel has known how to decisively face its enemies, both near and far. Israel knew how to deal with the copious threats and scenarios besieging it—be they terrorist attacks on civilians, rockets and missiles fired at its population centers, or full-fledged wars against enemy armies—even when attacked in several fronts at once. To all this, Israel knew how to respond while sacrificing the best of its fighters to gain victories that were astounding on any global and historical scale. But in the current internal challenge, there are no winners, and we hope that not one drop of blood will be shed. This is a fundamental and internal struggle over the character and identity of the young state, over how Jewish and how democratic it wants to be according to the values of its Declaration of Independence.
The State of Israel is led by a government that was democratically and lawfully elected, and by a clear majority. Its desire is to strengthen the two values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the value of being a Jewish state—Israel, after all, is the nation-state of the Jews, who’ve returned as a people to their land after two thousand years of exile and strife—and the value of democracy in a way that restores balance to the three branches of the state: legislative, executive and judicial. It is precisely this desire to restore the delicate balance between the three branches of government that calls for a deeper understanding of what is happening in Israel. More than once, the prime minister of Israel or a government minister finds themselves trying to implement foreign, security or economic policies, only to be stymied by a judiciary that grants itself authority but shirks the responsibility for its decisions.
The State of Israel champions the independence of the judiciary and has done so since its inception. In fact, it had done so even before the former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak’s so-called “Judicial Revolution.” As he himself referred to it: a “constitutional revolution” of sorts, conceived and led by one man, without the backing of the people’s vote. However, those who seek to bash the Israeli government for one reason or another (and there are some good reasons to do so), have no problem ignoring these facts and the real need to reform the justice system. Certainly, the moves being led today come against the background of much more complex deep-seated currents of social rift and real concern for the future of the state. Thus, the issue has already become much more than purely legal.
But is there not constant tension between the branches of government in the United States? Is the appointment of justices not fraught with difficulties? When President Joe Biden, a stalwart friend of Israel, says that broad consensus is required, he is right. He does so out of sincere concern for Israel and its future, but the picture that his advisers are presenting to him seems to be flawed; in the reality of Israeli politics of the past 30 years, a majority of 64 seats is considered a significant majority. In comparison, the majority in which the Oslo Accords were adopted was 61, and the majority in which the disengagement from the Gaza Strip was adopted was only 59, illustrating that in Israel’s political system, a majority of 64 votes certainly constitutes broad consensus. The majority of the people support righting the balance and reinstating the government’s ability to govern and bear the consequences for its decisions as they manifest on election day. The challenge, then, is not whether but how to change that balance.
And what about the Israel Defense Forces? It is Israel’s insurance policy. Where others see reservist dissidents, we see dedicated soldiers; in the IDF (both the regular army and for the most part its reserve force), more than 99% report for duty, showing up daily for training and operational activity. But their resounding voices are not heard. In the face of a handful of generals, there are others—tens of thousands of former members of the security establishment, who denounce the involvement of the army in the political controversy, yet their voices are not heard. It is not certain that these statistics are conveyed to Biden, and in any case, his understanding regarding the need for broad consensus is right and wrong at the same time. True, broad consensus for such a move is crucial, and it does indeed exist. No protesters in favor of the reform? They have already voted at the ballots, but their voices are still left unheard.
The Biden administration should regard this internal debate as an expression of democratic strength. Do not dictate to us; listen to us. Would anyone have thought—in the United States or any other democratic country—to allow small but crucial groups such as military pilots in Israel to stop serving in the army and call for military dissension? Were this to happen in the United States, it’s likely that the president would handle the situation very differently and with far less tolerance. In what Western country would protests, such that include blocking major roads, passenger trains and a national airport, be allowed? Try to picture this or compare it to similar events in the history of all Western countries. The obvious answer is that Israel is a democratic, strong and vibrant state, and the recent protests are undisputable proof of this.
The security and strategic situation
The complex reality in which the State of Israel exists calls for a unique approach. Israel fights every single day for its existence and the security of its citizens in the country and abroad. Its enemies do not rest for a moment in their relentless campaign to sabotage it. I strongly recommend our enemies not make the mistake of believing that the internal crisis is an opportunity to try to challenge Israel; our security is above all, and the country will always rise to unite against threats.
The United States has no better ally than Israel and not just in the Middle East. Israel has no better strategic ally than America. Beyond shared values—the values of democracy and equality both have championed since their inception—the two countries have many shared interests: the advancement of science and technology, health care, climate and water, agriculture, and certainly, security. Every day, American soldiers are safer thanks to the intelligence Israel supplies the United States, and its ability to impair the capacities of terrorist organizations and terror countries. Israel is America’s “best investment” and thus should be strengthened. In order for Israel to continue to thrive, we need highly valued aid—not only the continuation of the generous security aid and collaboration but also, and especially, international support. America is Israel’s international “Iron Dome.” Please reinforce it!
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