***Note from the author: My post is meant to analyze constructively the state of democratic institutions in Israel and remark on how the current conflict affects this. It is not meant to give support to any side in this conflict.
Israel, a multiparty democracy, finds itself at a crossroads, grappling with an escalating conflict involving Palestine and the extremist group Hamas. This dire situation has led to numerous human rights violations on both sides and has raised questions about the resilience of Israel’s democratic institutions. In this blog post, I will delve into the intricate dynamics contributing to democratic erosion in Israel, primarily focusing on the policies and responses of the current leadership.
The erosion of democratic institutions in Israel is becoming increasingly evident, with the situation exacerbated by the actions of their elected leaders. As Levitsky and Ziblatt (2018) point out in How Democracies Die, the breakdown of democratic institutions often begins at the ballot box when citizen elect their leaders. The turning point in Israel was December 29, 2022, when Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Israel’s Prime Minister. Netanyahu was in office for the first time since being ousted as Prime Minister in 2021 due to numerous instances of corruption, accepting bribes, amongst other things, and his rivals uniting to end his twelve-year monopoly as Prime Minister (Holmes 2021, 1). This new term of Netanyahu marked the beginning of the dominance of his extremist right-wing and religious party, leading to a worrying shift toward authoritarianism and an extremist and arguably theocratic (Bernard 2023, 1) dynamic of governance. This example serves to highlight further the importance and relevancy of elections in the erosion of democratic institutions, as when an elected official is determined the undermine these institutions, they start to erode. Consequently, the policies and actions of the Netanyahu government have played a significant role in undermining our democratic values.
The international dimension of this rapidly evolving conflict is also pivotal in understanding the erosion of democracy in Israel. Many democracies, including the United States and Germany, have extended unwavering support to Israel. The consequences of this support for Israel and blatant attitude of appeasement towards them in hopes of stopping this war from escalating even more into a myriad of human rights violations and abuses are frankly irrational. Appeasement does not work. It has historically proven to be ineffective in preventing conflicts. It didn’t work when Britain used it against Germany in hopes of preventing another World War (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum); it didn’t work when Western Powers used it against Russia after its invasion of Georgia in 2008 and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014, as we now see Ukraine suffer as well from attempts to appease the aggressor that is Russia (Dickinson 2022, 1). Appeasement will not work now to prevent Israel from escalating this conflict against not only Hamas, who will also escalate things but also against Palestine. The consequences of Western support for Israel and appeasement to this rapidly decaying democracy are severe, as the costs of war are substantial, and this conflict shows no signs of resolution.
War is not rational. War is a bedrock upon which leaders can advocate for their causes or ideals at the cost of diminishing and killing the opposing side. Currently, numerous human rights violations are being committed against Israelians and Palestinians, and the unilateral Western policy of appeasement and not recrimination or direct interference in this conflict does nothing but serve to abide the breakdown of democratic institutions in Israel. Аs Mann (2023, 1) mentions, “War rarely pays, for all sides lose where it involves costs greater than its spoils can justify, where there is no clear winner, or where war does not resolve the dispute in question” having an ongoing brutally violent dispute and war between the triad of Israel, Palestine, and Hamas will lead to countless suffering on all sides and regardless of whoever ultimately ‘wins’ this conflict. It would be a pyrrhic victory. Civilians in both Israel and Palestine are bearing the brunt of human rights abuses as a result of this conflict, as Rosenberg’s (2023) article highlights these grim consequences. The majority of those suffering are individuals who do not support this unadulterated violence but are forced to prioritize their survival in this dire situation. The erosion of democracy in Israel, driven by policies that have escalated the conflict, has led to severe consequences for human rights and civilian lives in that region.
Moreover, the rise of populism, characterized by strategies that divide our society and promote an ‘us versus them’ narrative, has been a driving force behind the erosion of democratic values. Netanyahu, as discussed by Jeffrey Sachs, has adopted a Trumpian approach that feeds off political adversity. His approach is of “confronting political adversity: divide and conquer, turn the spotlight on the “other,” create an other when none is available, and always, always, feed the base” (Sachs 2017, 1), which further tears at the pillars of democracy in Israel by utilizing disinformation tactics to create a Manichean division in society to serve his extremist agendas. Disinformation tactics are used to manipulate public opinion, exacerbating polarization and undermining the core principles of democracy, as noted further by Rock (2023) in Appeasement in International Politics. In the media, we are also seeing the polarized extremist views and conflict between Netanyahu and his right-wing religious party and Hamas and their inhuman acts. Both sides commit numerous human rights atrocities, with the majority of those suffering being civilian non-combatants whose primary concern is survival in the warzone they live in. Therefore, the breakdown of democracy in Israel will end at the hands of men with guns and the seemingly unilateral support by Western world superpowers for them in this conflict. What does a country that has seeming unfettered democratic support have to worry about when attacking a non-democracy after all?
In conclusion, Israel’s democratic institutions are under severe strain due to the policies and responses of the current global leadership. The erosion of democracy, the international approach of support and appeasement, the rise of populism and disinformation, and the tragic consequences for human rights and civilians all underscore the urgency of the situation. As a concerned global citizen, I recognize the gravity of the situation and the need for change. The erosion of democracy in Israel, as we have seen, has far-reaching implications. The international community must reevaluate its policies and approach to this conflict. The human rights abuses and civilian suffering demand immediate attention. As Israel grapples with the erosion of its democratic values, it is crucial to safeguard the principles that underpin a thriving democracy. The international community should focus on actively working towards a peaceful and democratic resolution to the ongoing crisis.
Atzili, Boaz. 2023. “Four Ways Netanyahu’s New Far-Right Government Threatens Israeli Democracy.” American University, January 6. Link.
Avishai, Bernard. 2023. “Netanyahu’s Government Takes a Turn toward Theocracy.” The New Yorker, January 7. Link.
Dickinson, Peter. 2022. “Western Advocates of Appeasement Need a Crash Course in Putinology.” Atlantic Council, May 15. Link.
Herz, J. H. 1964. “THE RELEVANCY AND IRRELEVANCY OF APPEASEMENT.” Social Research 31(3): 296–320. Link.
Holmes, Oliver. 2021. “Israeli Coalition Ousts Netanyahu as Prime Minister after 12 Years.” The Guardian, June 13. Link.
Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. 2018. “How Democracies Die.” New York: Crown.
Mann, Michael. 2023. “Are Wars Rational?” Yale University Press, August 9. Link.
Rosenberg, Yair. 2023. “The End of Netanyahu.” The Atlantic, October 22. Link.
Rock, Stephen. 2023. “Appeasement in International Politics.” The University Press of Kentucky. Link.
Sachs, Natan. 2022. “Benjamin Netanyahu and the Politics of Grievance.” Brookings, March 9. Link.
Williams, Dan. 2022. “Israel’s Netanyahu Returns with Hard-Right Cabinet Set to Expand Settlements.” Reuters, December 29. Link.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Introduction to the Holocaust.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. Link.