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Here’s What The Left Gets Wrong About Benjamin Netanyahu’s Vision For Israel

Israel has recently been the target of a new wave of attacks, much of it relating to the Left’s disappointment in the return of Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-leaning coalition.

Netanyahu’s policy efforts to reform Israel’s judiciary — changes that would make it more similar to the Supreme Court of the United States, such as separation of branches of government — became a lightning rod for his American critics, who cited it as an example of Netanyahu’s “authoritarianism.”

It is one thing for the Biden administration to throw mud at foreign governments that do not share its politics. It is another when leftist grievances enter America’s intellectual mainstream.

An example is the May/June 2023 issue of Foreign Affairs, which features an article with the unambiguous title, “Israel’s One-State Reality: It’s Time to Give Up on the Two-State Solution.” Two of its authors are friends from whom I have learned a great deal over the years in addressing our shared academic focus of political Islam.

The piece advocates for doing away with the expressions “two-state solution” and “peace process.” But not because these policies have failed. Rather, as the authors write, because those policies begin “from a one-state reality” — viz. Israel — “that is morally reprehensible and strategically costly.” In other words, the world must only recognize a Palestinian state, not Israel.

The piece appears to be based on the following assumption: “Israel no longer even pretends to maintain liberal aspirations. The United States does not have ‘shared values’ and should not have ‘unbreakable bonds’ with a state that discriminates against or abuses millions of its residents based on their ethnicity and religion.”

The fact is that not only is Israel a liberal democracy that shares values and history with the United States, but its very Jewish nature informs its democratic experience. And it is one that not only its Jews need, but so too do its Christian and Muslim communities.

There is perhaps no more sensitive issue to Israelis today, and Jews around the world, than the state’s Jewish identity.

While the word “Jewish” appears no less than 32 times in the Foreign Affairs piece, the word “Orthodox” appears just once, and “Haredi” — the Hebrew word describing Israel’s ultra-orthodox community that forms a key part of the Netanyahu coalition — does not receive any mention.

While a seemingly parochial question, the Jewishness of Israel and its discursiveness is connected to how Israel’s government approaches its non-Jewish citizens. Recent Jewish history does not have a precedent for political governance, much less governance of non-Jewish populations. This allows for a vibrant and evolving debate within Israel regarding governance.

And yet, Israel’s Jewishness has made it uniquely welcoming to Muslims and Christians — another point the Foreign Affairs authors omit. There is a conversation taking place regarding Arab life in Israel as part of Israeli society — how Arabs participate in Israeli politics, military service and everyday life.

Not only did Israel’s Arab population have a 50% turnout in the last election, but at one point early in the vote count, the Israeli Arab Balad party nearly crossed the required threshold of seats and threatened Bibi’s path to victory by giving him only 60 seats — just one shy of forming a coalition. Meanwhile, the Islamist politician, Mansour Abbas, of the Israeli Arab Ra’am party joined the Lapid-Bennet coalition and, in the previous election, expressed openness to joining a Bibi coalition.

A 2020 poll found that just 7% of Arabs living in Israel identify as “Palestinian,” while 51% identify as “Israeli-Arab.” A more recent poll, conducted at the height of a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks last spring, 26% of Israeli Arab respondents said they would back Israel if it was under attack and 37% of respondents expressing interest in serving in a new national guard.

Regarding the same question about a war between Israel and Arab countries, 23% of respondents said they would side with the Arab countries while over 50% would stay neutral.

These perspectives are a far cry from a Zionist sentiment sweeping Israeli Arabs, but that is precisely the point — Israel is a place where this wide spectrum of views has a home to be contested and, in some cases, coalesced into new identities and perspectives like an Israeli Arab one.

Much as Israel’s Jewishness is not up for debate, so shouldn’t the fact of its statehood. By contrast, Palestinian statehood must be earned — first and foremost when Palestinian leadership is identified, accountable, and acts responsibly. The authors of the Foreign Affairs piece do not mention the aging leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

If we are talking about Palestinian statehood, what comes after Abbas? What would such a state’s governance look like? How can we be certain that it can provide Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Jews with equal opportunities and rights better than Israel can?

The questions remain open, and so long as they do so the discussion of Palestinian statehood will remain aspirational. And that discussion, which is welcomed, need not be linked to an appreciation of Israel’s realities and contributions which — unlike Palestinian statehood — are immediate and real.

Rather than the “radical responses” called for by the authors of the Foreign Affairs piece, today’s challenges in America and Israel require resilience and support between two nations grappling with liberal democracy.

Jacob Olidort currently serves as Director of the Center for American Security at the America First Policy Institute, and as Director of the Center’s Middle East Peace Project.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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