Israel is at a crucial crossroads: it can save itself or slide into despotism

Dahlia Scheindlin

Israel’s right wing is no stranger to political victory. Rightwing parties have governed for the better part of more than four decades and each time Benjamin Netanyahu has won an election since 2009, euphoric supporters have cheered King Bibi, while losers have gloomily prophesied the end of democracy.

But Netanyahu’s sixth government, formed in the final days of 2022, is alarmingly different. Earlier rightwing governments merely wanted to expand settlements or annex parts of the West Bank, deepen the hold of Jewish religious law over Israeli public and private life, harangue and intimidate Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens. To do these things, populist illiberal governments of the last decade threatened to constrain the judiciary, but their vitriol didn’t yield significant reforms, other than judicial appointments of their choice. The new government is no longer testing the illiberal waters; it is going for the jugular in its assault on the institutions of democratic governance. Israel’s direction looks cataclysmic and challenges key alliances – western democracies, and even diaspora Jewry….