Even before the new Israeli coalition government was officially sworn in last week, angry reactions emerged, not only among Palestinians and other Middle Eastern governments, but also among Israel’s allies in the West. As early as 2 November, top US officials told Axios that the administration of US President Joe Biden is “unlikely to engage with Jewish supremacist politician, Itamar Ben-Gvir”.
In fact, the US government’s apprehensions surpassed Ben-Gvir, who was convicted by Israel’s own courts in 2007 for supporting a terrorist organisation and inciting racism. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reportedly “hinted” that Washington will also boycott “other right-wing extremists” in Netanyahu’s government.
However, such concerns looked to be absent from the statement made by the US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, on the following day. Nides explained that he had “congratulated [Netanyahu] on his victory and told him that I look forward to working together to maintain the unbreakable bond” between the two countries. In other words, this “unbreakable bond” is stronger than any public US concern regarding terrorism, extremism, fascism and criminal activities.
Ben-Gvir is not the only convicted criminal in Netanyahu’s government. Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was convicted of tax fraud in early 2022 and, in 2000, he served a prison sentence for accepting bribes when he was interior minister. Bezalel Smotrich is another controversial character. His anti-Palestinian racism has dominated his political persona for many years. While Ben-Gvir has been assigned the post of national security minister, Deri has been entrusted with the interior ministry and Smotrich has the ministry of finance.
Palestinians and Arab countries are angry, and rightly so. They understand that the new government is likely to sow the seeds of more violence and chaos. With many of Israel’s sinister politicians in one place, Arabs know that Israel’s illegal annexation of large parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories is back on the agenda; and that incitement against Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem, coupled with raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque, will increase exponentially in the coming weeks and months. Moreover, it is expected that the push for the construction and expansion of illegal settlements is also likely to grow.
These fears are not unfounded. Aside from the very racist and violent statements and actions by Netanyahu and his allies in recent years, the new government has already declared that the Jewish people have “exclusive and inalienable rights to all parts of the Land of Israel”. It is promising to expand settlements, while distancing itself from any commitments to establishing a Palestinian State, or even engaging in any “peace process”.
Palestinians and their Arab allies have been largely consistent in recognising extremism in successive Israeli governments, but what excuse do the US and the West have in failing to acknowledge — or even recognise — that the latest Netanyahu-led government is not only the occupation state’s most extreme administration ever, but also the most rational outcome of the West’s blind support for Israel over many years?
In March 2019, Politico branded Netanyahu as the creator of “the most right-wing government in Israeli history,” a sentiment that was repeated countless times in other western media. This ideological shift was, in fact, recognised by Israel’s own media years earlier. In May 2016, the popular Israeli newspaper Maariv described the Israeli government at the time as the “most right-wing and extremist” in the country’s history. This was, in part, due to the fact that far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman was appointed as defence minister.
The West, then, also expressed concern, warned against the demise of Israel’s supposed liberal democracy, and demanded that it must remain committed to the peace process and the two-state solution. None of that was seen in practise. Instead, the terrifying figures within that government were rebranded as conservatives, centrists or even liberals in the following years.The same is likely to happen now. In fact, signs of the US’s willingness to accommodate whatever extremist politics Israel produces are already visible. In his statement last week welcoming the new Israeli government, Biden said nothing about the threat of Tel Aviv’s far-right politics to the Middle East. Instead, he opted to highlight the “challenges and threats” posed by the region to Israel. In other words, Ben-Gvir or no Ben-Gvir, unconditional US support for Israel will remain intact.
If history is anything to go by, future violence and incitement in Palestine will also be blamed mostly, if not squarely, on Palestinians. This knee-jerk, pro-Israel attitude has defined the apartheid state’s relationship with the US, regardless of whether Israeli governments are led by extremists or supposed liberals. No matter what, Israel is maintaining its false status as “the only democracy in the Middle East”.
If we are to believe that Israel’s exclusivist and racist “democracy” is in any sense a democracy at all, then we are justified also in believing that Netanyahu’s new government is neither less nor more democratic than the state’s previous governments. And yet, western officials, commentators and even pro-Israel Jewish leaders and organisations in the US have warned against the supposed danger facing Israel’s “liberal democracy” in the run-up to the formation of Netanyahu’s new government.
This is an indirect form of whitewashing, as these views accept that what Israel has practiced since its creation in 1948 until today has been some kind of real democracy; and that Israel remained a democracy even after the passing of the controversial 2018 Nation-State Law, which defines Israel as a Jewish state, completely disregarding the rights of 20 per cent of the country’s citizens who happen to be non-Jews.
It is only a matter of time before Israel’s latest extreme, far-right government is also whitewashed as proof that Israel can strike a balance between being exclusively Jewish and democratic at the same time.
This happened in 2016, when warnings about the rise of far-right extremism in Israel following the Netanyahu-Lieberman pact disappeared quickly, and then vanished altogether. Instead of boycotting that government, in September 2016 the US government finalised its largest ever military aid package to Israel, amounting to $38 billion.
In truth, Israel has not changed much since 1948, either in its own self-definition or in its treatment of Palestinians. Failing to understand this is tantamount to tacit approval of Israel’s racist, violent and colonial policies in Occupied Palestine over the past 75 years. So why is the West lamenting the end of a “liberal” state that has never, in truth, existed?