A few friends asked for my response to Thomas Friedman's latest column. Here is a response I wrote to one of them.
Sorry, I disagree with Thomas Friedman.
The comparison to Trump is irrelevant, and his entire argument of what Israel was before and what it is turning into is an emotional epiphany that lacks substance or facts. There is no question Itamar Ben-Gvir is a thug, a bully and a racist. Yet, the "Anyone But Bibi'' strategy has backfired badly; it created an impossible stalemate and has needlessly changed the election debate from substance to personality issues.
The anticipated coalition is no more right-wing than others in Israel's history. The convenient but entirely incorrect comparisons to Trump and Giuliani serve to inflame but not inform. The incoming coalition will be the traditional list of parties that have supported Likud for a generation. Most of the voters of the Religious Zionist party — the one that Ben Gvir formed to run in this recent elections with Bezalel Smotritch — were voters of other parties that served in previous Likud coalitions. Smotritch is not a Ben Gvir and has, himself, served as a rather successful minister of transportation in a previous Likud coalition.
I wish Friedman had the good sense to wait until the coalition was formed before writing his editorial. Friedman's concerns about the reaction of the Democratic party are valid. Yet hostility towards Israel within the liberal wings of the party and on college campuses and the rise of antisemitism continued with vigor during the previous "moderate" coalition, which was led by Naftali Bennett, who is politically to the right of Likud.
The fact that Israel faces some significant issues that, at this point, don't have viable solutions is something that Americans who support Israel should come to grips with. These are existential issues that, for the foreseeable future, are not going away — security, the need to control the security situation within the West Bank, the Gaza control by Hamas, the continued low-level war surrounding the shelling of large parts of Israel from Gaza, the fractured and corrupt Palestinian leadership unable to agree on any issue except the incessant incitement against Israel and Jews, the threats from Iran and their proxies in Lebanon and Gaza. The issues that facing any future Israeli coalition — right, left or center — are unlike this in any other democracy (at least until Russia invaded Ukraine).
Here are the issues we should be watching closely before making a final determination about Bibi's new coalition:
1. Who are the key ministers in the new government? Finance, Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, Infrastructure, Homeland Security, Education, Justice and Defense.
2. Is the government setting up an agenda that will curtail or violate the careful balance between the Jewish nature of Israel and civil liberties and civic society? Gay rights, women's equality, freedom of choice, equality and access to all citizens regardless of gender, race, and religion plus a host of laws and regulations that govern transportation and labor on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
3. Will the government under Bibi attempt to change laws related to prosecution and indictment retroactively? In other words, anything that will eliminate the case against Bibi himself? So far, he is on record that no judicial reforms will be applied retroactively.
4. Will there be a material change in the previous and existing efforts to integrate and improve the equality, economics, education and infrastructure in the Arab sector? For the record, Bibi's previous coalitions have done much more than Labor-dominated coalitions to support the Arab sector.
5. Will the new coalition attempt to pass laws or regulations that frustrate and disenfranchise the Reform and Conservative communities? Policies that could open new rifts between the diaspora Jews and Israel. This is a sensitive issue that has been percolating since the founding days of Israel. In the last ten years, there has been a significant process of expanding civil marriages and gay marriages — and liberalizing conversions. The Israeli Supreme Court has been an active arbitrator on many of these issues.
6. To that end, will the incoming coalition attempt to pass laws that materially curb or limit the power of the Israeli Supreme Court?
Until such time that the actual conduct of the new coalition is determined to be counter to these key issues, Friedman's claims and anticipated consequences are nothing more than emotional catharsis. Let's not forget some of the "truisms" promoted in the past — no Arab country will make peace with Israel until there is peace with the Palestinians; moving the embassy to Jerusalem will cause a collapse of previous peace accords and will start a new Intifada; Begin will be a fascist, warmongering PM; Bibi will bomb Iran to avert the public attention from his legal issues; returning to the 1967 borders is the only viable path to peace and security for Israel.
PS. I am still waiting for Friedman to write a column about how The Italy We Knew Is Gone, now that an extreme right-wing President is taking over.