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Netanyahu on course to become the man who broke Israel

Netanyahu’s Gaza campaign is on the way to making Israel a pariah (File/AFP)
Netanyahu’s Gaza campaign is on the way to making Israel a pariah (File/AFP)
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21 Mar 2024 12:03:35 GMT9
21 Mar 2024 12:03:35 GMT9

Will Bibi break Israel? This question is in no way original. It was asked in March last year by The Economist magazine. However, this year we have a confirmed answer. It is a resounding “yes.” Benjamin Netanyahu fractured Israeli society with his overhaul of the judiciary. Now, his Gaza campaign is on the way to making Israel a pariah.

There is no one more concerned about their own survival than Netanyahu. He knows that, if he leaves power, he will not go home but to jail. Hence, he is adamant about keeping his coalition going, no matter the cost. In this respect, he needs to cater to the most far-right, Jewish supremacist and ultranationalist factions of Israeli politics: Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

With his overhaul of the judiciary, he can subjugate the Israeli Supreme Court. On the other hand, this will make him more dependent on his coalition and its extreme-right objectives, which pose an existential threat to Israel itself. The overhaul sparked widespread protests in Israel. But beyond those protests, it created an identity crisis in the country. It created a clash between those who think of their state as “democratic” and those who see their state as being, first and foremost, “Jewish.” President Isaac Herzog last year warned that Israeli society risked imploding.

Oct. 7 had the effect of rallying Israelis around the flag. However, after the war is over, the divisions are likely to reemerge and become deeper. In addition to corruption charges, Netanyahu will likely face accusations of negligence. Hence, he needs to continue the aggression.

The world is appalled that Gazan children are dying from starvation. Nevertheless, Netanyahu remains unmoved

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

The war on Gaza — a heavily populated, small piece of land — has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. Netanyahu needs to score a victory at any cost. He cannot compromise. Therefore, he is resorting to the most atrocious means to achieve his goal, such as preventing aid from reaching hungry Gazans. The world is appalled that Gazan children are dying from starvation. Nevertheless, Netanyahu remains unmoved.

Israel has become an embarrassment to the US, its prime ally. America is now in a position of defending the indefensible. It needs to defend a “plausible genocide.” It needs to defend an ally that is starving 2.3 million people. It needs to defend an ally that has been accused of using white phosphorus bombs on a civilian population. It needs to defend an army that shoots at civilians while they carry a white flag. It needs to defend an ally that is bluntly saying it does not want a Palestinian state.

As much as a commitment to Israel is ingrained in US politics, this task is becoming increasingly difficult. As a result, the American government is facing scrutiny from the international community and its own people.

Public opinion is turning against Israel. It is no longer seen as the David fighting against Goliath. It is now perceived as the Goliath, the monster. This is a major issue for the Democrats and President Joe Biden in particular. Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, Black people, Hispanics and progressive Jews are all turning against Biden due to his handling of the Gaza war. These groups make up the bulk of the Democratic vote. The Democrats are worried about the “uncommitted” vote, which could cost Biden the presidency. As much as Biden loves Israel, he would not risk losing the November election just to please Netanyahu.

Everyone knows that Israel cannot survive without American support, whether political or military. And it is starting to lose American political support. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a corporate Democrat and staunch supporter of Israel, has called for new elections. He said that Netanyahu is no longer fit for the job as he is making Israel lose international support. As much as pro-Israel groups fund politicians, those politicians cannot win elections if their constituency does not vote for them.

Israel is no longer seen as the David fighting against Goliath. It is now perceived as the Goliath, the monster

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

What is even more serious for Israel is that people are now not only questioning the campaign on Gaza, they are also beginning to question Israel’s approach on other fronts. The discussion is going beyond the death toll in Gaza and how many children have been killed. People are also now discussing the settlements, the home demolitions and the dispossession of the Palestinian people. The West used to look at Israel as a home for the Jews that had been persecuted for centuries. Today, Israel is looked at as a settler-colonial project and the last bastion of white colonialism.

The terms “apartheid state” and “settler-colonial project” are now being used in the mainstream Western media. That cannot be good for Israel. Since its inception in 1948, Israel has been diligently working on gaining legitimacy. It has used all the tools possible to portray itself as a democracy and a beacon of Western civilization in the Middle East. Today, with the Gaza war, all its previous efforts are being shattered. Of course, Israel is trying to play the antisemitism card to silence its critics, but this old tune does not play out anymore.

Nevertheless, the Israeli public is living in a bubble. They do not see how the world around them has changed. Their line of thinking is as follows: the entire world is against us, it does not matter what we do. We are alone. Therefore, we need to do what we need to do to survive and be strong. Netanyahu is blowing this bubble instead of making Israelis face reality. The harsh truth for Israelis is that the world does not look at Israel the same way it did before. It is losing its legitimacy.

Currently, the international opposition to the Israeli government’s actions is mainly on the grassroots level. However, political change follows social change. If Israel continues with its behavior, sooner or later it will become a pariah. Israel cannot survive as a pariah, isolated from international trade. When this happens, Israelis will start leaving Israel. And Netanyahu will go down in history as the man who broke his own country.

  • Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.
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