No, Israel’s democracy is not falling
There’s a revolution underway in Israel. It’s the opposite of what most people think, but no wonder that money people are getting cold feet. Revolutions can be “bad for business.”
So Moody’s is right to downgrade Israel’s financial rating. And, in a rarity, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is also right, implying it’s not all that important.
Conventional wisdom holds that after nearly three months of huge demonstrations against
the extremist Israeli government’s effort to decimate the nation’s judicial system, Israeli democracy is in trouble. It’s heading for a dictatorship. Or fascism. Or worse.
It could end up like one of those nightmares, but that’s unlikely. The problem with most journalists, analysts, and politicians, not to mention Moody’s, is this—they draw conclusions based on the present and the immediate short term.
If you look farther into the future, you’ll see the effects of something that has not happened this century: Israel’s center-left has reawakened. To coin an old phrase, it’s the “New Left.”
We don’t need polls to tell us that Netanyahu’s far-right coalition of political and religious extremists has alienated large parts of the electorate. What’s new here is that those angry citizens are ready to put their votes where their mouths are. They already put their feet there, on the streets, and that’s harder than voting.
It’s been a long time. Look at Labor, the party of Israel’s socialist founders, which ruled the country for its first three decades. But championing peace with the Palestinians and orchestrating partial peace accords cost Labor its backing when the “peace process” failed.
It failed because in 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians turned down detailed Israeli offers of a state in the equivalent of all of the West Bank and Gaza, though that’s what they’d been demanding all along.
If a large chunk of the public bases its political life on a premise that proves false (“The Palestinians want peace as much as we do, and all we have to do is be reasonable”), the disappointment will reverberate through the body politic. Someone has to pay. So from 44 Knesset seats in 1992, Labor dropped to four last year.
It used to be that in Israel, “Left” meant backing concessions for peace with the Palestinians, and “Right” meant opposing concessions, especially giving up parts of the West Bank and Gaza.
Those terms became meaningless, because there isn’t any peace process. The Palestinians killed it along with the Israeli peace camp that cheered it on. So until three months ago, “Right” meant pro-Netanyahu, and “Left” meant anti-Netanyahu.
Suddenly today, “Left” has real meaning again. The 100-plus-thousand turnout at weekly demonstrations against the “judicial reform” mark the first time such a large public has shown such passion over domestic issues. Up to now, with a brief exception a decade ago, leftist demonstrations have been over security matters like wars and Palestinians.
The New Left is the side that believes we should all just live our lives and stay out of the lives of those who want to live differently. Besides the “judicial reform,” they reject this government’s laws and proposals banning bread from hospitals on Passover, banning women from leading their own prayers at the Western Wall, allowing criminals to serve in the Cabinet, granting blanket exemptions from army service alongside huge government subsidies for a single segment of society—the list goes on and on.
In fact, an Israeli daily listed and detailed no fewer than 141 such laws the Netanyahu coalition wants to pass. Opposing all that, the New Left is out to reconstitute the center, which hasn’t existed as a recognizable force since the demise of Labor.
Oh, sure, there are hotheads and extremists in the camp. Some Tel Aviv protestors can’t resist the temptation to block a highway running under the street where they’re allowed to demonstrate. Some leaders get carried away with their rhetoric. But there is little violence, despite the huge numbers.
And the actual leaders of the New Left are moderates like short-time Prime Minister Yair Lapid, nice guy general Benny Gantz, some high-tech types, and others of similar demeanor. Contrast that to the leadership of the other side—serial inciters Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir, fellow Arab hater Betzalel Smotrich, and spewers of verbal filth like Miri Regev.
The future of the Netanyahu “judicial reform” is uncertain. His government could fall over it. Or his far-out coalition partners could make one too many demands, even for him.
In any event, there will be an election here, in a year, two years, three years. Then, instead of despondently sitting on their hands, or going to the beach, or wailing that their own personal candidate isn’t running, so why bother—the re-energized New Left will vote in huge numbers.
And that, my friends, is how democracy works. Take note of that, vocal worriers like US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, US Reform Jewish leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs—and all the folks at Moody’s, who will cheerily restore Israel’s top rating. It won’t be tomorrow, it might not even be this year or next, but Israel will get it right.