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A major victory for Israel’s messianic expansionists

Jul 26,2023 - Last updated at Jul 26,2023

The Israeli Knesset's adoption of a law curbing the authority of the country's courts to check "unreasonable" policies of the executive and legislature was no surprise. Prime Minister Benjamin's hard-right coalition has the votes, 64 in the 120 seat Knesset, to pass the measure. Politicians and commentators who speak of the majority as "slim" or "narrow" do not seem to undersand that in the divided and conflicted Israeli legislature 64 votes constitute a comfortable majority.

This was a major victory for Israel's messianic expansionists who have given him the top job for the third time on condition he will implement their agenda. To do this, they must curb the system of check-and balances-in place since Israel was founded 75 years ago. The new law is only their first milestone along the road to transform Israel into what some observers call an "illiberal democracy" and which US academic Juan Cole dubs an "elective dictatorship" on his Informed Comment website.

The opposition, allegedly representing Israel's "liberal" constituencies, boycotted the session and tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets across the country to protest the law. The illiberal messianics have the upper hand largely because Israel's left has been diminished to impotence and centrist parties have moved to the right, shifting the entire political spectrum rightwards. This shift has been possible because Israeli liberals who have disagreed for decades with colonisation the West Bank, cracking down on Palestinians, and waging wars on neighbours have shunned their political responsibilities by opting for "internal exile"or going abroad.

Their last stand took place in 1982 when hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis demonstrated and hundreds joined Peace Now to protest Ariel Sharon's war on Lebanon. The optimistic days of the Israeli peace movement are long gone. Israel is now ruled by the colonist/settler minority whom liberals ignored at the expense of Israel's "democracy". They have refused to recognise that Israel has never been a democracy for all its citizens and has reigned over millions of Palestinians who have no rights.

Netanyahu has made his Faustian bargain with the messianic settler right for both ideological and practical reasons. On the ideological level, he belongs to the rightist "revisionist" school of Zionism founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky who emerged as a leading figure in the movement founded at the end of the 19th century. As Netanyahu's father served as Jabotinsky's secretary, Benjamin Netanyahu imbibed revisionist teachings early in his life. He takes the view that Israel must build a strong military to attain coexistence with its neighbours and make no compromises with the Palestinians. To deflect attention from his uncompromising stands, he has conducted a propaganda campaign against Iran which refuses to deal with Israel. He has risked regional war by repeatedly trying to draw the US into mounting a full-scale attack on Iran’s nuclear programme on the false premise that Iran intends to make nuclear bombs.

On the practical level, Netanyahu seeks to pre-empt sentences of jail time in his ongoing trial for bribery, breach of trust and fraud. His lawyers have drawn out the trial for years by asking for postponements. This has enabled Netanyahu to gain office a third time and deny the judiciary the right to overrule policies and official appointments and tackle corruption among politicians.

He has given the settlers/colonists a free hand to attack West Bank Palestinians, seize their homes and properties, and informally annex the West Bank. Since he returned to office the Israeli military has stepped up daily/nightly raids into Palestinian cities, town and villages and has provoked confrontations on the Lebanese border. The US has done nothing to curb Israel's risky activities. Instead, as the Knesset prepared to adopt the initial law targeting Israel's democracy, President Joe Biden issued his first invitation since taking office in 2021 to Netanyahu to visit the White House.

Since it appears Biden could face Donald Trump in the 2024 US presidential election, this was a morally indefensible and politically inept move on Biden's part. Like Netanyahu, Trump has been indicted on a number of charges. These include tax fraud, bribery, attempting to change the 2020 election result and inciting a riot on January 6th, 2021, and prevent Congressional confirmation of Biden's victory. On any of these charges Trump could face prison if tried and given a custodial sentence. Legal experts argue that it would be difficult for him to perform presidential duties if jailed and suggest that serving a sentence would have to wait until he was out of office.

If he were to regain the White House, Trump would pardon himself and his accomplices. He has already said he would seek to concentrate power in the presidency at the expense of Congress and the judiciary. This would undermine the already flawed US democratic system of governance which has relied on a separation of powers and checks-and-balances.

The fact that until now Israel has adopted this model has given it US permission to do as it pleases because it practices "democracy". For Biden, the law diminishing democracy has made no difference.

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