“That putsch basically fractured Israeli society, fractured the Israeli military, triggered 40 weeks in a row of basically 100,000-plus Israelis demonstrating in their streets, and triggered Israeli air force pilots, reservists, the tip of the Israeli spear, to say we don’t fly for a dictatorship, we fly for a democracy. … That was completely distracting the Israeli military on the eve of this fight.
“If Netanyahu had one ounce of dignity, he would have resigned already, but this man is the number one person responsible for this failure in Israel. … What he has done has been one of the greatest abdications of leadership in the history of the Jewish state.”
Friedman compared what’s going in Israel to what’s going on now in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This is what happens when you entrust your government to people who are completely inappropriate to running a government at such a strategic time and who absolutely put their ideology ahead of their own country’s economics and national security. It’s called the House of Representatives Republican caucus.”
And he added that there are alarming parallels between Netanyahu and Trump.
Bibi and Trump are brothers from different mothers. They are the exact same DNA mix. And they both got their respective countries into places they never should have gone out of their own personal interests and mistakes.
“Americans need to watch this scene in Israel. This is what it looks like when you entrust a leader who is completely compromised by his own corruption trials to navigate a country to an incredibly dangerous and difficult moment. If you like the show you’re seeing in Israel then bring it on in the United States, but if you don’t, think hard and long that this is a serious moment. This is not a joke. “
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Back in April, American-Israeli writer and professor Bernard Avishai wrote an opinion piece in Politico detailing how Trump and Netanyahu “mirror one another.”
That’s not only because both see “strength” as their go-to asset, or at least the con that the political base seems most likely to buy. Each claims to be his nation’s singular guardian against catastrophe. Each turns shamelessness into charisma. Each grew up coddled but plays up resentments for elites. Each cultivates, in effect, dictators like Vladimir Putin and Victor Orban and scoffs at Western Europe. Each will tolerate only loyalists, and has a string of former appointees, especially high-ranking security professionals, who look back on their service in disgust. Each brags promiscuously, condemns “fake news” and has a sycophantic, tweeting son.
whose fault is it?
We don’t know when Hamas began planning its horrendous attack that killed more than 1,200 Israelis, which many are calling the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Also, we don’t know why Hamas decided to strike at this particular time, though the political turmoil within the Israeli government may have helped. But no one should be surprised that Hamas would pull off such a terrorist attack. Hamas’ genocidal charter calls for the killing of Jews and the complete destruction of the Jewish state.
The Jerusalem Post reported that an overwhelming majority of Israelis believe Netanyahu and his government should be held to account for the mass infiltration of Hamas terrorists into Israel and the massacre that followed. The newspaper reported that a Dialog Center poll released on Thursday showed 86% of respondents viewed Hamas’ surprise attack as a failure of the country’s leadership. And 56% of respondents believed that Netanyahu should resign following the conclusion of the war with Hamas.
Yuval Noah Harari, a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post:
For many years, Israel has been governed by a populist strongman, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a public-relations genius but an incompetent prime minister. He has repeatedly preferred his personal interests over the national interest and has built his career on dividing the nation against itself. He has appointed people to key positions based on loyalty more than qualifications, took credit for every success while never taking responsibility for failures, and seemed to give little importance to either telling or hearing the truth.
The coalition Netanyahu established in December 2022 has been by far the worst. It is an alliance of messianic zealots and shameless opportunists, who ignored Israel’s many problems — including the deteriorating security situation — and focused instead on grabbing unlimited power for themselves. In pursuit of this goal, they adopted extremely divisive policies, spread outrageous conspiracy theories about state institutions that oppose their policies, and labeled the country’s serving elites as “deep state” traitors.
The above quote would be quite appropriate if you replaced Netanyahu’s name with Trump’s. Harari warned that what happened in Israel could happen elsewhere, including the United States. “No matter what one thinks of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the way populism corroded the Israeli state should serve as a warning to other democracies all over the world.”
the netanyahu timeline
Let’s look more closely at what Netanyahu did in the nine months between regaining the post of prime minister and the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Netanyahu has been Israel’s longest-serving prime minister since independence in 1948. Since 2009, there was only a brief interlude during 2021-2022 when a centrist coalition held power. In 2020, Netanyahu was indicted for corruption in three separate cases brought by Israel’s attorney general. The prime minister stood accused of granting political favors in exchange for luxury gifts or favorable news coverage. The Brookings Institution wrote in April 2023:
Even before his indictment, Netanyahu sought to delegitimize the investigations, calling them a “witch hunt” orchestrated by the media and leftist conspirators seeking to remove him from office through undemocratic means. ... The ongoing corruption trial against Netanyahu has lasted over three years, and there is no end in sight. The case has been delayed multiple times … If convicted, Netanyahu could be sentenced to multiple years in prison.
And then Netanyahu’s conservative coalition won a narrow election victory in the November 2022 election. But in order to put together a 64-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset, Netanyahu had to bring in two extremist parties into his coalition. The New York Times wrote:
To form a government — and receive immunity from a trial on charges of corruption — Mr. Netanyahu had to partner with far-right and ultrareligious politicians and parties that he had previously shunned. Until now, he is leading the most far-right, ultranationalist and religiously conservative government in Israeli history.
He made two controversial figures important ministers — Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security, and Bezalel Smotrich, the minister of finance and junior defense minister. Both want more settlements in the occupied West Bank and harsh policies toward Palestinians; both have given tacit approval to violence against Palestinians.
And despite all the other problems facing Israel, Netanyahu’s right-wing government made it a top priority, starting in February, to push ahead with a controversial judicial reform package that opponents said threatened the foundations of Israel’s democracy.
Some of the reforms were clearly meant to make Netanyahu’s legal problems go away. In March, the Knesset passed a new law that restricted the grounds for removing a prime minister from office due to physical or mental incapacity. But in July, the Knesset passed the most alarming anti-democracy proposals of the judicial reform package, including one that would prevent the Israeli Supreme Court from declaring certain government decisions unreasonable. The Brookings Institution wrote:
Of the pending actions, the most threatening is the package of bills that among other proposals would give the Knesset an outsized role in the selection of judges, grant the Knesset the power to override the Supreme Court, and limit the court’s right to exercise judicial review in the first place.
Netanyahu and other proponents have couched the judicial reforms as an innocuous attempt to check a leftist and overly activist judiciary. But make no mistake. The proposed reforms represent the most severe attack against democracy in Israel’s history. If they were to pass, the Supreme Court would be stripped of judicial review power, and Israel would lose its only independent check on executive and legislative power. A simple majority of lawmakers in Israel’s unicameral legislature could override Supreme Court decisions and pass any law — even laws that threaten individual or minority rights — with nearly total impunity.
These laws are being challenged in the Supreme Court, and the war has put further action on hold.
The controversial reforms led to deep social rifts emerging within Israeli society with tens of thousands of demonstrators taking part in weekly protests. But the most alarming development occurred when hundreds of Israeli reservists, including senior fighter pilots, elite commandos, and cyber-intelligence specialists, threatened that they would no longer report for voluntary duty if Netanyahu’s government proceeded with its judicial overhaul.
NBC News reported that former U.S. intelligence and military officers “believed the timing of the Hamas attack was primarily aimed at disrupting negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia as Riyadh appeared on the verge of a historic step to normalize relations with Israel.”
But retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, a former commander of NATO, told NBC that Hamas and its patrons viewed the deep political divisions in Israel exposed by the fight over the judicial reforms as a potential opportunity to strike. He said there is a sense among Israel’s adversaries that it “has never been more divided, never been weaker, never been more torn apart.”
The left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote in an editorial:
The disaster that befell Israel on the holiday of Simchat Torah is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister, who has prided himself on his vast political experience and irreplaceable wisdom in security matters, completely failed to identify the dangers he was consciously leading Israel into when establishing a government of annexation and dispossession, when appointing Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to key positions, while embracing a foreign policy that openly ignored the existence and rights of Palestinians.
Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are both leaders of the settler movement. In early January, Ben-Gvir entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in a move Palestinians called a “deliberate provocation,” Al Jazeera reported.
Avishai, writing in Politico, said Netanyahu’s appointment of Ben-Gvir to head the ministry overseeing the state police “would be like Trump appointing Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, to run the FBI.”
The Associated Press wrote this about Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist party, who oversees civilian life in the West Bank:
Smotrich moved swiftly to approve thousands of new settlement homes, legalize previously unauthorized wildcat outposts and make it more difficult for Palestinians to build homes and move about.
Smotrich has said he seeks to double the settler population, build up roads and neighborhoods and erase any remaining differences between life for Israelis in the West Bank and within Israel proper. Along the way, he hopes to destroy any Palestinian hopes of independence.
Netanyahu had abandoned any pretense of supporting a two-state solution. He was constantly denigrating the more moderate Palestinian Authority, which at least recognized Israel’s right to exist.
Haaretz wrote that even before forming his new government in December 2022, Netanyahu had “advanced a destructive, warped political doctrine that held that strengthening Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority would be good for Israel.” Haaretz wrote:
That flawed strategy turned Hamas from a minor terrorist organization into an efficient, lethal army with highly trained, dehumanized stormtroopers, bloodthirsty killers who mercilessly slaughtered innocent Israeli civilians including women, children and the elderly.
According to Haaretz, Netanyahu gave Qatar approval to transfer a cumulative sum of about a billion dollars to Gaza, at least half of which reached Hamas, including its military wing, between 2012 and 2018.
Reuters reported that Hamas had duped the Israeli government by giving “Israel the impression that it was not ready for a fight” and could be restrained through providing economic incentives to Gazan workers. Those incentives included giving permits allowing thousands of Gazans to work in Israel.
turning a blind eye
Meanwhile, the United Nations warned in late July that “urgent steps” were needed to end a surge of violence in the West Bank. Khaled Khiari, assistant secretary-general for Middle East, briefing ambassadors in July, reported scores of deaths and injuries in attacks by Jewish settlers and the Israeli military on Palestinians and attacks by Palestinians on Jews. Vox reported that Israeli authorities “turned a blind eye” to settler violence against West Bank civilians. Vox wrote:
Israel’s focus on the West Bank may also have created an operational opportunity for Hamas. According to Uzi Ben Yitzhak, a retired Israeli general, the Israeli government has deployed most of the regular IDF forces to the West Bank to manage the situation there, leaving only a skeleton force at the Gaza border. The effort to secure permanent Israeli control over the West Bank, in this assessment, created conditions where a Hamas surprise attack could actually succeed.
Some Israelis blame the government for prioritizing the safety of West Bank settlers over civilians in southern Israel, The Daily Beast reported. In one incident this month, a number of battalions were deployed to protect a sukkah, a ritual hut used to celebrate the Sukkot harvest holiday, constructed by messianic members of Netanyahu’s coalition in the main street of the Palestinian village of Huwara.
The Daily Beast cited the organization Breaking the Silence, a veterans’ organization whose members served in occupied Palestinian territories and oppose the occupation, on how defenses in the south had been hollowed out before the Hamas attack. The group said that soldiers in the Gaza Division were redeployed to protect Jewish settlers in Huwara.
A leading Israeli journalist Ben Caspit reported that “as evidence mounts, it becomes clear that the Gaza Division was moved to the West Bank” and “The Strip was almost entirely abandoned,” according to The Daily Beast.
The unfolding tragedy in Israel should serve as a warning to Americans who could end up electing a leader capable of doing anything to make his legal problems go away and choosing an ultra-right cabinet that threatens our democracy.
Friedman concluded his MSNBC interview by stressing that this is one of those moments in history “where you need a leader who is a serious navigator, not a clown.”
“We are at a moment in the world where there are two giant tipping points in play—one is around Ukraine and one is around the Middle East. If we can bring Ukraine and this war to an end with a Ukraine that is in NATO and on a path to entering the European Union, that would be the biggest geopolitical shift in Europe since East Germany joined West Germany. If we can bring Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority into an alliance in the Middle East that would be the biggest geopolitical shift in the Middle East since Camp David. Both of those are now hanging in the balance and we need to keep our eye on that ball.”
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