Over the coming weeks and months, the newly formed Israeli governing coalition and its U.S. allies will try to normalize the most hardline right-wing government in Israel’s history.
You will hear calls for a grace period, read articles and interviews in the international media designed to put lipstick on this disastrous government, such as Bezalel Smotrich’s laughable article in the Wall Street Journal.
American Jewish community leaders will grudgingly state that “the people of Israel have spoken” and praise Israel for being “the only democracy in the Middle East.” They will smile broadly at photo ops after meeting with Israeli government members in either Jerusalem or New York. They will strive to open reluctant doors in Washington for Netanyahu and his problematic political partners, desperately attempting to argue that they are not as bad as they may seem.
Normalization efforts are already underway, and they will intensify. After all, it’s what Israel’s ultra-nationalist right and their American apologists do.
Don’t fall for these efforts. And don’t give in to their attempts to move the goalposts of what constitutes acceptable political behavior.
Because there is nothing normal about needing to pass a law allowing convicted felons to serve as ministers before you can form your coalition. There is nothing normal about a politician facing indictments on three serious corruption violations embracing extremists into his government to stay out of prison.
There is nothing normal about appointing a Kahane disciple, a man who has been convicted of eight criminal violations including inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization, as minister of national security, no less, responsible not only for law enforcement in Israel but also, to a large extent, in the West Bank.
There is nothing normal about appointing a radical settler who has been interrogated for suspected terrorist activity, who strives to annex the West Bank to Israel, as a minister responsible for civilian affairs in the Occupied Territory, including land allocation and settlement construction.
There is nothing normal about appointing a radical homophobe, whose party kept blacklists of LGBTQ media influencers, to a ministerial position with responsibility over Israeli schools’ educational enrichment programs. Last week, Deputy Minister Avi Maoz told his supporters that he sees his mission as “repairing the damages of the regressive radical progress (sic).”
There is nothing normal about appointing a serial felon who escaped a prison term by vowing in a plea bargain to never return to politics as the interior minister, a post in which he committed some of his crimes in the past. And there is absolutely nothing normal about the prime minister of Israel declaring last week that “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel.”
A short op-ed can only touch on a short list of the “worst of” that is this government. A glimpse at the agreements that its ultra-nationalistic ultra-Orthodox members signed with Netanyahu is enough to indicate how thoroughly these extremists want to revolutionize Israel’s democratic institutions, weaken the judicial branch, and empower the government to violate minority rights.
Above all, there is nothing normal about the occupation of the West Bank, which this government will officially strive to entrench and perpetrate. Yes, previous governments have bolstered the occupation, but have done so while formally endorsing diplomacy to end it.
With this government, there is no pretense. De facto annexation is a part of its platform. It is explicitly a chief goal of its members. The occupation is the rot at the core of this putrid government. It sits at the center of many of Israel’s ills and it is corrupting it from within. American apologists have done Israel tremendous damage over the years by participating, both actively and passively, in normalizing the occupation.
That is why my organization took the very unusual step of organizing a demonstration at the embassy of Israel in Washington. We brought together a group of American Jews carrying peace flags and signs saying: ‘Peace, Equality, Justice, and Democracy.’ These are Israel’s founding values, as articulated in its Declaration of Independence. These are values we hold dearly, values that reflect our vision for the State of Israel.
This government is the antithesis of these values. We need to recognize it and, even when it is uncomfortable, we need to say so out loud.
If you care about Israel and its future as a liberal democracy, if you care about peace and a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike, you must resist the efforts to normalize this government.
Many American Jewish leaders and organizations, as well as American elected officials, have over the years and up until now, described their jobs as “defending Israel” and have done so even when they admitted that they disagreed with a particular policy or action. It’s time to step out of that comfort zone.
Today the “pro-Israel” thing to do is to speak up for democracy, to call out for justice, to demand equality, and to fight for peace.