Government Watch / Politics

Israeli Left Goes “Rule or Ruin”

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

President Trump with Benjamin Netanyahu during the signing of The Abraham Accords, September 15, 2020.

Over the course of the last month, Israeli democracy has faced a brutal test. It has failed.

Last November, Israeli voters delivered a coalition supporting Benjamin Netanyahu 64 of the 120 seats in the Knesset or parliament. The coalition, which included Netanyahu’s own center-right Likud, Orthodox religious parties, and Jewish nationalists, made no secret of their platform, which included reforms to the judicial selection process which not only allows the courts to self-select new judges, but also to remove elected officials from office when their presence can bring “discredit” to Israel. A week ago, I described this crisis as exaggerated. That was only half true. Any crisis posed by the judicial reforms that were actually likely to pass—which would have amounted to the Prime Minister the voters elected being able to remain in office—was exaggerated. But the response of the opposition has created a crisis of a different kind.

By abandoning democratic methods and using their control of the very institutions Netanyahu’s government proposed to reform to bring an elected government to its knees, the opposition has proven the case for reform beyond anything Netanyahu or his allies could have imagined. By weaponizing Israel’s institutions – not just the courts but the military, security agencies, diplomatic corps, and professional associations – they have ensured that no government can rule with those institutions in the hands of its opponents. By seeking to rule at all costs, they have ensured the only alternative will be ruin.

For weeks, the economy has been crippled by strikes throughout the professional sectors of the economy. The diplomatic corps has declined to represent the country abroad, while reservists, including a large portion of air force pilots, have refused to serve. The defense minister, the head of the armed services, publicly broke with the government, and then refused the efforts of the democratically elected prime minister to fire him, which in other countries might be considered dangerously close to a mutiny or coup d’état.

Whatever the merits of the proposed reforms to the judicial system by the ruling coalition, the threat to democracy has come as much if not more from the tactics used to prevent an elected government from governing with the majority it was elected with than from whatever legislation has been proposed.

In moments of lucidity, more sensible centrist and even left-wing observers have conceded that the reaction of the hard left to proposed changes is overblown, but nonetheless they, along with Israel’s “neutral” president and the United States, assume that the only acceptable resolution to the crisis is the elected government dropping its legislation, and not the opposition abandoning its tactics to overturn the election results. If some of the opposition’s tactics are dangerous or unjustified, they nonetheless are being treated as forces of nature that Netanyahu and his government should have expected.

Democracies can survive many things: corruption, poor leadership, economic crisis, even elections that go the wrong way. What they cannot survive is normalizing the idea that specific minorities should have a veto over governmental policy they oppose, but the right to impose whatever policies they want while in government.

Democracies also cannot survive the normalization of violence. The U.S. Civil War had many causes, but at its core it was about the refusal of Southern politicians to tolerate dissent from their policies when in government, as seen with the battles over the Fugitive Slave Act or Bleeding Kansas, only then to reject even negotiating with a Lincoln Administration from opposition. It’s an approach the science fiction novelist Frank Herbert has aptly described:

“When I am weaker than you I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.”

This is not a uniquely Israeli, Confederate, or science fiction phenomenon. Rather, it reflects the worldview of a certain type of political minority throughout history, which can be termed “rule or ruin.”

These groups do not see themselves as one among many groups of equal citizens trying to advance their ideas, but as the defenders of objective truth. To them, democracy or any other system is facilitative. It is useful, along with freedom of speech, so long as it results in the “correct” policy outcomes. Democracy is then to be dispensed with when it fails to produce their desired results, because those outcomes are the purpose of the system.

Such groups fail to grasp the basic idea of democracy, freedom of speech, and liberalism itself. These systems protect minorities, or at least political minorities, because one of the basic premises of democracy and freedom of speech is that anyone could be wrong, and that a current minority might become a future majority through persuasion.

Without freedom of speech, a majority which is wrong will never learn of their error, and a minority will never have the chance to make their case.

The challenge to modern democracy, whether in the United States, Israel, or much of Europe lies in a form of “identity politics” where minorities are defined not in political terms but rather those of fixed identity. Conservatives or advocates of protectionism in trade may be a minority one day, but if they spread their views, they can grow in size to become a majority.

By contrast, gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals will always be a small minority, as will African Americans or any other sub-groups. Because they cannot hope to rule in their own name, advocates of social justice or critical theory have concluded it is oppressive to force them to convince majorities to support their views, and therefore begun to advocate a set of vetoes. In effect, in this version of “democracy”, because transgender individuals are a minority, the majority should not be able to pass policy which effects them. The net result is not minority protections, but minority vetoes, creating a situation in which the minority cannot be protected from “oppression” without the “oppression” of the majority.

The actual perpetrators of this corruption of democracy are not the members of these minority groups, who are themselves conservative, liberal, and everything else in-between, but their self-appointed guardians within the political elite who assert a right to rule on behalf of the people as a whole when they win elections, and to dictate to the victors on behalf of minorities when they lose. To demand the Courts remove the winner of the 2016 election when it goes against them, and to demand the winner of the 2020 election remove the courts when it went in their favor.

The extension of this sort of “rule or ruin” politics to Israel has been catastrophic. The complexity of Israel’s political system, the multiplicity of parties, and the instability of governments has become a running joke around the world, but it reflected the genuine diversity of a society that if united by Judaism, was deeply divided about what that meant.

Divisions existed between those who saw Judaism purely in cultural or ethnic terms, and Israel as a Jewish state in the same way Ireland is an Irish one or France a French one, and religious Jews who saw Israel as the one place where they could live under their own religious values as opposed to those of others. There are Ashkenazi Jews hailing from Europe, Sephardic from the Arab world, and nearly a million who migrated from Russia and Eastern Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union.

All of these groups had their own parties, but that was not the only reason government was difficult. It was difficult because the world was too dangerous for Israelis to allow their differences to paralyze governance. Secular Jews might not like the ultra-Orthodox Jews, but including them in government meant that they were represented on issues of national interests such as the peace process where they might agree with secular left, even as they allied with others on domestic policies.

Historically, broad coalition governments in Israel ensured that while the center of governments might be left or right, most had religious representation as well as secular, Ashkenazi as well as Sephardic, both social conservatives and liberals.

The invasion of American-style rule or ruin politics has destroyed the culture of consensus and shared Jewish identity upon which Israeli pluralism depended, an irony given how leftists justify such extremism as defending diversity. Instead, they have introduced zero-sum politics which sees the purpose of politics as the active exclusion of large segments of the population, and the ultimate victory of one ideology over all the rest.

It is hard to contest that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government commands a majority in the Knesset or Israeli parliament. With 64 of 120 seats, it won a landslide by recent standards.

The anti-Netanyahu coalition, which held power between 2021 and 2022, never commanded more than 61 seats, and tried to govern for the better part of a year with 60. If it is the most “right-wing” government in Israeli history, that is not by the choice of Benjamin Netanyahu, who has always hewed to the Israeli tradition of broad coalitions which include as many elements of Israel’s diverse society as possible. He did not choose to create a “right-wing” or “pro-Netanyahu” coalition.

Rather, his opponents on the left, center, and militantly secular segments of the right chose to divide Israeli politics on two non-negotiable lines: NO Netanyahu and NO ultra-Orthodox parties. By demanding the exclusion of Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox, the “opposition” excluded themselves. They lost.

Worse, they have made politics into a zero-sum game of winners and losers, while normalizing the idea that violence can be used to achieve their aims.

By demanding exclusion, Netanyahu’s opponents have sent a clear message both to their own supporters and their opponents. To their own supporters they have declared, “The current government does not represent you, anything it does will hurt you and help your enemies, and its existence poses a threat to you.” To supporters of the present coalition, they have said, “Your existence poses a threat to us, and we will exclude you from power if we win at the polls, and drive you from office by any means necessary if we lose.”

They have laid down a gauntlet and said that any government which represents as much as 40% of Israel is inherently an attack on the other 40%, and therefore politics is a war over which 40% will be oppressed and which is the oppressor.

At this point the proposed judicial reform is beside the point. It has been halted, but what is at stake is not the merits of the policy, but the precedent set. If the opposition can call a nationwide strike and mobilize economic and social power to block one bill, why not another? Why not force the government out entirely? That is precisely the debate which seems to be happening among the protestors. The end goal, it seems, is removing Netanyahu from office altogether.

There is a more dangerous signal sent to the other side, the members of Netanyahu’s coalition whose exclusion from Israeli government and society is the goal of the opposition movement. If the message being sent is that winning elections is not enough for the ultra-Orthodox or Religious Zionists to implement their policies, then they will conclude they need a “stick” of their own. When Netanyahu recently announced a freeze in the judicial reform, he terrified opponents by also proposing a new “National Guard” under the command of Religious Zionist Minister Ben Gvir. This prompted charges that the government was creating its own militia, warnings that were not without merit, but ignored why supporters of the government might feel they needed their own militia.

Winston Churchill once remarked that democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others. He was right. It is messy and does not always provide everyone with what they want.

But the reason it works better than the alternatives is because the alternatives tend to involve violence. Going back to Ancient Rome, the lesson of history is clear. The introduction of violence into a political system rapidly sees violence become the norm of that system, as the other side copies the tactics used successfully against them.

Historically, “rule or ruin” has tended to end in one place. Ruin for everyone, and foreign invaders ruling over the ruins.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.

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Michael Lewis
1 month ago

Can there be any question that this explains all the nonsense going on with the Biden administration and its challenges to traditional American values. It is designed to pit conservatives against liberals violently and continue Democrat control of America thru “rule or ruin”.

2 months ago

Why do Canada and the Biden/Democrat Congress cartel come to mind when reading this article?

2 months ago

“When I am weaker than you I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.”
Sounds like the marxists in this country, back in the 60s and 70s they screamed about their right to free speech; now that they are (almost in total) charge they want to refuse the right to ANY speech that does not fall in line with them lock step. I dont understand how anybody can be stupid enough to follow this kind of ideology but they have been around since the beginning of mankind. Lenin was right when he coined the term, “useful idiots”

Tim Toroian
2 months ago

A parliamentary government is NOT a true democracy. Coalition governments take real choice away from voters.

2 months ago

Hmmm…how much of this can be boiled down to secular jews who trend left and idealize communism and socialism hating religious jews who are trying to keep their religious identity. Rule or ruin was the modus of choice used by lenin, mao, castro and pol pot. I think the religious parties are right to form a militia against the communists who would turn israel into another arab s. hole

2 months ago

“Historically, “rule or ruin” has tended to end in one place. Ruin for everyone, and foreign invaders ruling over the ruins.” Is this not the GOAL of the Liberal Left/Communist/Democrat Party?? Subjugation of Freedom-loving Americans according to the NWO/WEF/UN Agenda 2030/Global (Elite?) in order to place us “under the boot of our Chinese masters” (well stated Lieutenant Beale)? Wake up, folks.

Lieutenant Beale
2 months ago

“Historically, “rule or ruin” has tended to end in one place. Ruin for everyone, and foreign invaders ruling over the ruins.”
That sounds about right. If the US gets another round of far left democrats steering the ship, we will be shipwrecked on the reef of stupidity (still arguing about drag queens and pronouns ad nauseam) while under the boot of our Chinese masters.
BTW, great reference to Ancient Rome.

2 months ago

This country has been on the “Western Roman Empire” template since the beginning of the country and began accelerating from the Woodrow Wilson presidency onward, spiraling to its doom ever since.

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