In the past year, tensions between Palestine and Israel have begun to deepen and spiral into large problems of violence and resentment. In the past year or so, at least 40 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed in east Jerusalem and the West bank. A raid on the city Nablus in the west bank turned deadly when at least 11 Palestinians were killed and multitudes wounded. The rise of the radical right not only impacts Israel, but also its relationship with the United States. This increasing movement to the right has sparked warnings and concerns that there’s a possibility the United States government would have to reconsider its role as an ally to Israel. However, now that the democratic future of Israel is in jeopardy, these concerns and warnings may be forced to turn into action.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be considered to hold the blame for creating the most right-winged government in Israel’s history. He has continued to undermine Democratic processes and institutions, while continuing to move the country towards right wing extremes. His motives to weaken the judicial system have been apparent, and now that his coalition is homogenous and entirely right-wing, he can be assumed to be stronger than ever. Netanyahu, and his amplification of right-wing politics is a danger to Israel’s democracy, and it can be argued that he is a dangerous demagogue.
In her article, Dangerous Demagogues and Weaponized Communication, Jennifer R. Mercieca writes that dangerous demagogues refuse to take accountability for their actions and words. But how is this done? They do so by using irrational or untrue statements in their arguments. These untrue statements, along with placing the blame on others, deflects the attention and anger that should be directed towards a demagogue elsewhere. She also mentions that they use weaponized communication to their advantage. This weaponized communication creates more anger and fear within a nation. The goal of a dangerous demagogue is to “divide and conquer” to please their self-serving needs and wants.
In this case, Netanyahu is doing so with his radical right-wing ideas and motives to undermine democracy in Israel. His choice to weaken the Supreme Court, and the presence of other political figures who refer to themselves as a “proud homophobe” and ‘fascist” within Israel are major examples of this. The Prime Minister has also faced multiple allegations of corruption and denied any wrongdoing. He even went so far to say that these allegations and investigations were a “witch hunt” led by the media, only contributing to the apparent evidence of demagoguery. He refuses to take accountability, and even blames the media for creating lies and unnecessary investigations.
A demagogue also loves attention and will create entertainment at the expense of deepening polarization within a country. A very popular method for demagogues is through social media. In a way similar to Donald Trump and Twitter, Netanyahu utilized Facebook as a method of reaching the people and grabbing attention. He tried to turn people against the opposing Blue and White party by saying they would lead to a “dangerous left-wing government.” He also claimed that that “A weak, secular, left-wing government that relies on the [Israeli-born} Arabs who want to destroy us all…and will facilitate a nuclear Iran that will wipe us out…” in an attempt to instill fear and deepen polarization. However, when people reacted poorly to his statements, he once again deflected accountability when his party, the Likud Party, claimed that he did not authorize or see the texts.
Why does the radical-right in Israel instilled by Netanyahu pose such an issue for democracy? According to Lipset inThe Radical Right: A Problem for American Democracy, the radical right abandons commitment to democratic values that are fundamental to its existence and instead erodes it within a country. Netanyahu’s place in power has only worsened the tension between Palestine and Israel. Some even emerged to call out for Israel to “wipe out” a Palestinian village. Usually, the radical right chooses to target a certain group, and in this case, the Palestinians. The resentment for them has continued to grow, and Netanyahu only exacerbates this polarization and hatred within the country. He promotes his ideals and claims that “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel.” As Mercieca argues, polarization threatens democracy because it encourages and tolerates violence within a country. As said before, “dividing to conquer” is the main goal for a demagogue. Increasing radical-right ideals in Israel divide, where Netanyahu can conquer.
In the past month, Democratic lawmakers urged the current president, Joe Biden, to use all that is available to prevent the current government from damaging Israel’s democratic institutions. However, it is unclear as to what will be done next. Work to protect democracy, or let Netanyahu’s hold on Israel and his threat to democracy grow.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign has air of desperation as election polls tighten | CNN. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/13/middleeast/israel-election-kiley-intl/index.html
Lipset, S. M. (1955). The Radical Right: A Problem for American Democracy. The British Journal of Sociology, 6(2), 176. https://doi.org/10.2307/587483
Mercieca, J. R. (2019). Rhetoric Society Quarterly Dangerous Demagogues and Weaponized Communication. https://doi.org/10.1080/02773945.2019.1610640
Israel should “erase” Palestinian village, minister says after settler rampage. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/israel-finance-minister-bezalel-smotrich-hawara-erased-west-bank-rcna72871
Israel’s crisis over Palestinians and democracy strain U.S. support. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/israel-crisis-palestinian-violence-judiciary-protests-biden-support-rcna73504
Israel’s far right hits ground running, and ripple effects are already being felt | Israel | The Guardian. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/07/israel-far-right-ultranationalist-hits-ground-running-and-ripple-effects-are-being-felt
What Israel’s Crisis Reveals About Its Democratic Compromises | The New Yorker. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/what-israels-crisis-reveals-about-its-democratic-compromises
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