(November 11, 2022 / JNS) As Benjamin Netanyahu begins to form Israel’s next government after his victory in the last Knesset elections, some on the left have launched a last-ditch effort to prevent him from forming a coalition with parties that pose as his allies. Their argument is that everything must be done to keep the Religious Zionist Party and especially Itamar Ben-Gvir out of power.
Barring an unlikely last-minute change of heart from Yair Lapid or Benny Gantz – whose parties failed in the elections and who have pledged to enter the opposition rather than serve with Netanyahu – the jeremiads about the need to arrest Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, the titular leader of the Religious Zionists, outside the Cabinet, fall on deaf ears among those who could actually do something about it.
Yet, as Israeli politicians ignore these arguments, this won’t be the last we hear of them. This is because they will provide the basis for renewed efforts to delegitimize the Israeli government abroad.
While the purported substantive reasons for the exclusion of Religious Zionists do not stand up to scrutiny, this discussion is significant because of the claim that Israel’s rulers will undermine and even endanger Diaspora Jews.
As the leader of the Conservative Judaism movement in Israel Put the in Ha’aretz, having Smotrich and Ben-Gvir around the cabinet table will not only impact life in Israel. It will also harm Jews elsewhere. Citing a hotly debated topic New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, Yizhar Hess argued that a right-wing government would mean that Jewish students, already beleaguered by anti-Zionists, would no longer be able to speak credibly on behalf of the Jewish state.
This is because the presence of these so-called ‘fascists’ in Netanyahu’s cabinet will mean, in this narrative, that ‘good Israel’, which Gentile Jews feel comfortable defending, is now gone. , is about to be eliminated by law. In its place will be a different country, run by extremists and horrible people who oppose peace and want to oppress minorities. Even though the inhabitants of this new bad Israel will be Jews, they will be the kind of Jews that no self-respecting American Jew wants to be associated with.
In this scenario, the new government will mean that Jewish children as well as activists who have formed the backbone of organized Jewish life will be effectively silenced. And those who continue to advocate for Israel will increasingly be viewed as outliers who themselves deserve to be shunned.
Those who try to preserve the US-Israel relationship as well as that between American Jews and the Jewish state will now be forced to become part of a new “resistance” to Netanyahu’s government, in which they will advocate for US pressure that will help to resuscitate the “good” Israel.
The main problem with this grim scenario is that everything the pessimists claim the new government will mean for Israel in America is already true for critics of the Jewish state.
Everything that can be alleged about Smotrich and Ben-Gvir has already been aired endlessly by left-wing critics of Israel in their efforts to undermine and delegitimize past Israeli governments, including those led by the Israeli left.
For decades, leftists have falsely claimed that Israeli governments do not want peace and that the decisions of Israeli voters should either be ignored or reversed by US governments that have taken it upon themselves to “save Israel from itself.” “.
Recall that J Street, the left-wing lobby dedicated to this dubious cause, was born in 2007. Netanyahu’s Likud was in opposition and a government led by Ehud Olmert was engaged in yet another futile attempt to exchanging land for peace with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
When Netanyahu became prime minister again in 2009 and in the 12 years since, when there was no question of Ben-Gvir being a minister, the same arguments about Israeli policies that are oppressive and alienating American Jews were heard in many times.
Meanwhile, as the anti-Semitic BDS movement gained a foothold on American college campuses and the left wing of the Democratic Party, there was no talk of Ben-Gvir or the ills of Israel ruled by right-wing parties and religious. .
On the contrary, the so-called centrists of Israeli politics – Lapid and Gantz – were just as reviled by those who spread the vilification of the “apartheid state” as Smotrich and Ben-Gvir are today. The same claims about the destruction of a mythical “good” old Israel were made by those who opposed Netanyahu.
Those who think that one Jewish state on the planet is one too many didn’t need religious Zionists in the Israeli cabinet to convince them that Israel shouldn’t exist. American Jews who are bothered by Ben-Gvir and Smotrich were already bothered by Netanyahu and even some of his leftist opponents in the Knesset. Their failure to magically make the conflict with the Palestinians disappear has been cited by those who note a decline in support for Israel in the years following the collapse of the Oslo peace process, and even before that, as the illusion that he could succeed was still alive.
This goes beyond the fact that claims that Smotrich and Ben-Gvir are fascists are without real substance. Like I have previously noted, the rhetoric that the winners of last week’s election are enemies of democracy is just an echo of the Democratic Party’s talking points about Republicans in the United States, and just as specious. Whatever one may think of either man, their party is not opposed to democracy.
None of this matters because this discussion is not rooted in facts about Israel or who will make up its next government. Rather, it is an expression of unease with the reality of a Jewish state that has to deal with a messy and intractable conflict with the Palestinians as well as a conflict where the majority of its Jews do not think or don’t look like your typical Liberal Jewish Democrat.
Those who hate Israel will work for its destruction, regardless of its prime minister or the composition of the government. As always, anti-Semites need no new excuses for their efforts to smear and delegitimize the Jewish state.
You don’t need to support Netanyahu or his partners to understand anything.
Rather than apologizing for Ben-Gvir or the other aspects of Israeli reality that make readers of The New York Times cringe, those who care about the Jewish state and its people must stop longing for an Israel that looks like them and embrace the one that actually exists. By accepting spurious claims that this government will be less worthy of their support than its predecessors, they are only falling into a trap set for them by anti-Semites.
Those who support the right of a Jewish state to exist should stop apologizing for not conforming to an idealized liberal vision of Zionism and understand that the people who voted for Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir deserve equal respect and the representation that they are.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.