Israel’s Democracy Needs Defending. It’s Worth Fighting For.
This piece is one of a series of pieces commissioned from leaders to speak to their feelings about Israel at 70. You will find the others here.
Israel’s 70th birthday is an opportunity to celebrate what could be Zionism’s greatest achievement: that the state of the Jewish people is, over time, becoming a “normal” country. One unfortunate sign of Israel’s “normalcy?” The state of the Jewish people is proving to be just as susceptible to the rise of right-wing ultra-nationalism as other countries including, frighteningly, many in Europe and the United States itself.
In fact, liberal democracy — a shared strength and bond connecting Israel and the United States — is under unprecedented strain in both nations as well as globally. Powerful leaders and groups are pushing a highly illiberal agenda taking aim at core democratic values, norms and institutions.
In Israel, the right-wing’s specific agenda centers on entrenching occupation, promoting annexation of the West Bank and ensuring permanent disenfranchisement of the non-Jewish half of the residents under its control. This hard core right wing is now in solid control of several political parties and many instruments of governmental power and using its full strength to help block a viable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that quest, it has made common cause with powerful Americans who share a similar ideology and tactics — including key advisers to President Trump.
While most Jews’ identity is grounded in a set of values that promote tolerance and equality and the pursuit of peace and social justice, these very values are now under attack both in Donald Trump’s America and in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel. The political right in both countries has forged an alliance inexplicably grounded in the same hard-line ethnonationalism from which the Jewish people have suffered through the centuries as minorities in the lands of others.
The overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans are energized and mobilized to fight these trends at home and for the liberal democracy they prize. A determined core of Israeli progressives are fighting a more uphill battle to preserve the core of their democracy as well.
As Israel hits 70, Jews in both Israel and the U.S. who believe their countries will be best served by preserving a strong commitment to liberal democracy should strengthen our ties and partnership. Let’s not be afraid to call out the common dangers posed by the actions of our governments. Let’s forge an alliance that can counter the far-right, laying out and working toward our vision for a different and brighter future, not just for Israel but the United States as well.
The majority of Jews around the world want to see a secure, democratic and Jewish Israel thrive and prosper for the next 70 years and long beyond. Let’s recognize the threats we face and the need to fight them both in Israel and in the United States.
This is another aspect of the “new normal” emerging in the 21st century: liberal democracy needs defending. It is well worth fighting for.
Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president of J Street.