President Trump, stop interfering in Israeli elections by the Forward

President Trump: We Israelis are begging you to stop interfering in our elections

As Israelis prepare to go to the polls for a third time in a year, it’s time for us to focus on bread and butter issues like healthcare, education and the non-existent peace process with our Palestinian neighbors. Instead, we’re focused on the current U.S. administration carrying out current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal pursuits: retaining power and escaping trial.

It’s a big problem. Israel is at a political impasse; the last two elections, in April and September of 2019, failed to yield a clear winner, though Netanyahu is facing unprecedented competition from an array of challengers with military experience and the Arab parties running together as the Joint List.

It’s clear that Israelis are being faced with a stark choice: On the one hand, they can choose Netanyahu and his cronies and follow them as they further break from international law, prop up the ultranationalist and religious right, and move to unilaterally annex territory. Or they can choose Benny Gantz and his left-wing parties down a more moderate track, with Gantz’s vows to protect the rule of law and restart the peace-process. Gantz’s election could also prove groundbreaking as the Arab minority’s parties seem inclined to support or at least cooperate with Gantz and his future government.

The choice is indeed difficult for many Israelis, forcing them into questioning their decades-old political identities and ideological tendencies. And with so much at stake, it’s disappointing and disturbing — to Israelis on both sides of the political spectrum — that President Trump has chosen to intervene so openly in favor of the incumbent.

Opinion | President Trump: We Israelis are begging you to stop interfering in our elections

Of course, it’s not the first time. Since his own first year in office, every time it becomes apparent that Israel is on the verge of new elections, Trump has stepped in to give Bibi a boost. In 2017 he did it by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This unilateral move gave Netanyahu the optics of considerable political achievement. Then, in March of 2019, Trump recognized Israel’s unilateral annexation of the Golan Heights, a disputed territory between Israel and Syria. Election posters featured the two together, making it clear that Netanyahu had Trump’s backing.

And two weeks ago, in advance of the upcoming third elections, Trump unveiled his so-called “deal of the century” peace plan, again giving major concessions to Israel and crediting Netanyahu for the “achievement.” And he may not be finished; there are sources that claim that Jonathan Pollard, a former Israeli spy held by the U.S., might be released to Israel — just in time for the coming election.

Opinion | President Trump: We Israelis are begging you to stop interfering in our elections

This interference is harmful for our democracy, which is becoming increasingly fixated on the latest spin from Washington and not on substantial subjects. It also comes at an especially critical stage for a democracy as young as Israel. Our country is grappling with a prime minister that is intent on escaping the reach of our justice system and has neutralized many mechanisms for oversight.

The overt interference in favor of such a person undermines the U.S.’s declared commitment for facilitating democracy around the world and supporting the rule of law. Furthermore, these actions could have dangerous consequences for the region as a whole, as evidenced by the uptick in violence since Trump announced his “peace plan.”

Opinion | President Trump: We Israelis are begging you to stop interfering in our elections

As if that’s not enough, Netanyahu’s and Trump’s actions are risking the special relationship between our peoples and turning the U.S.-Israel relationship into a partisan affair dependent on the personal identity of who leads which country at a given time, rather than a mutual commitment based on shared values.

Finally, disagreements are possible and even important even between allies. A responsible American administration would criticize the ongoing erosion of the rule of law in Israel, push for direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and call upon Netanyahu to respect the rights of the Arab minority. But when the American administration backs every piece of Netanyahu’s radical policy, it represents for growing segments of Israeli society not a healthy diplomatic relationship but a personality-driven political alliance between two embattled, populist and controversial leaders.

President Trump: From both sides of the aisle, we Israelis implore you to stop interfering in our elections. Our democracy depends on it.

Dvir Aviam Ezra is a legal consultant and a political and human rights activist from Tel Aviv. He earned his LLB and LLM from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

President Trump, stop interfering in Israeli elections

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President Trump: We Israelis are begging you to stop interfering in our elections

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