In December, one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history came to power. Led by Benjamin Netenyahu—who serves as Prime Minister for the sixth time—the coalition includes figures such as Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, a settler and one time supporter of the terrorist group Kach (Ben Gvir is also known to have hung a portrait of Baruch Goldstein in his living room. Goldstein, also a supporter of Kach, massacred 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in 1994.)
The government has proposed a set of sweeping judicial reforms that, in the main, would drastically restrict the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws passed by parliament deemed unconstitutional. The move has prompted mass demonstrations across Israel’s major urban centers, such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, with many calling these reforms a threat to Israel’s democracy.
However, as Jewish American commentator Peter Beinart wrote in the New York Times, “The principle that Mr. Netanyahu’s liberal Zionist critics say he threatens—a Jewish and democratic state—is in reality a contradiction.” The contradiction is expressed in the reality of apartheid in which five million Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem are under direct Israeli control but are denied basic rights and freedoms. These mass demonstrations are happening amidst an escalation of violence—Israeli forces have killed 65 Palestinians since the start of the year, while 11 Israeli civilians have been killed. Earlier this month, settlers from the Occupied West Bank (illegal settlements in the West Bank number close to 500,000) carried out a violent pogrom in the village of Huwara near Nablus, torching homes and businesses. Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, subsequently made comments calling for the government to “wipe out” the village.
On this episode of the podcast, we are joined by Peter Beinart to discuss the political instability in Israel, the trajectories of ethno-nationalism, and whether there are any ways out of the impasse. Could the vision of a secular, democratic state for Palestianians and Jews between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea gain traction? Is this vision compatible with Zionism? And what of the role of the US, the Israeli’s state’s most ardent international backer?
Peter Beinart is editor-at-large of Jewish Currents. He is also a professor of journalism and political science at the Newmark School of Journalism at the City University of New York and author of The Beinart Notebook, a weekly newsletter.