Column: What Will Happen to the Refuge That Is Israel?

It is cruel irony that Israelis are preparing to move to Germany or Poland where their parents or grandparents survived Hitler.

“They’re willing to accept a drop in their standard of living because they’re so worried that their freedom of movement will be curtailed,” Shay Obazanek told The New York Times. “…they’re scared of a dictatorship, and they worry that if they wait, it may be too late.”

Isn’t that what many Jews in Nazi Germany thought 80 or more years ago? Israel was established to serve in part as a refuge for any Jew who asks for it. As of last week, many Jews now think of their designated “refuge” as a potential gulag.

A pending loss of citizens would be among the lesser of Israel’s worries produced by the current government. It would undo the remarkable accomplishments of Israel’s 75 years of existence which can primarily be attributed to the dedication of Israel’s people. The roster of Israel’s most prominent citizens includes the late scholar Benzion Netanyahu, his oldest son Yoni, a military commander who died saving 100 of his fellow citizens at Entebbe, and Benzion’s second oldest son Benjamin, now the longest-serving prime minister.

Yet it is Benjamin’s parliamentary coalition that threatens to make Israel far more vulnerable to destruction by Iran and other hostile countries, intensify its conflict with the Palestinians, jeopardize their hopeful new relations under the Abraham Accords with a handful of Arab neighbors, compound President Biden’s diplomatic pressures, threaten the economy, antagonize its own citizens, rebuff the aid of American Jews, and drive out its more productive residents.

What are they thinking? Are they thinking?

Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist who has reported from Israel for decades, bluntly said in a television interview on Sunday that Netanyahu fashioned a majority by adding a few of the most radical parties so he can maintain power and avoid prison.

The Knesset’s slim majority has already laid out much of its plans, but can they accomplish any of it without plunging Israel into chaos? Israel reached a crossroads last week when Parliament voted 64-0 to end the Supreme Court’s power to reverse parliamentary actions that the court regards as “unreasonable.” Lawmakers in the opposition walked out of the chambers when the time came for a vote.

The court’s weakened influence opens the door to other stated goals of right-wing, ultra-religious Knesset members who seek to annex the West Bank and build thousands of new homes there. Many observers like Friedman believe that Netanyahu can avoid prison if convicted in a corruption trial should the Knesset, which is Israel’s Parliament, controls the judiciary.

Already, the Israeli Orthodox impose their social norms on secular Jews. A divorce petition must be approved by a rabbinic tribunal while civil procedures for divorce (and marriage) do not exist in Israel. They are allowed to avoid military service while spending all day studying religious texts. Critics fear that they want more changes that will intrude on the lives of secular Jews.

In a predictable display of his trumpery, which is an actual word for malarkey, Netanyahu said Thursday, last week, “We don’t want a subservient court, we want an independent court – but not an all-powerful court. Those are the corrections that we are doing.”

If Netanyahu does not seek a “subservient court,” he certainly seeks a subservient public. While masses choked the streets in protest, Netanyahu’s coalition smashed through the new law on Monday last week. He is expected to seek expansion of the overhaul when the Knesset returns for business in October.

The coalition’s plans for the West Bank are guaranteed to trigger turmoil for Biden, the Abraham Accords and Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. Biden’s envoys are attempting to broker a process for diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia which would comprise steps to preserve the prospect of an independent Palestinian state, the Times reports.

Friedman suggested that Israel commit not to annex the West Bank and to limit the number of future homes there. Those conditions make sense, but is it remotely possible to convince Netanyahu and his allies to comply? Even if Israel agrees, how will the Palestinians respond? Their leadership rejected a proposal 23 years ago to establish a Palestinian state, and Israeli voters reacted by electing mostly hardliners to the Knesset ever since.

If those efforts collapse, what will become of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Saudis? How will this affect Israel’s growing diplomatic relations with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates?

On another front, 1,000 military reservists have resigned over the judiciary changes, and more may follow, according to the Times. Perhaps related developments will follow, such as with draft-age teen-agers refusing to join the military.

While Netanyahu has often urged diaspora Jews to move to Israel, he is likely to suffer an excessive outflow of citizens. “I don’t know if we’ll go back,” said Naama Levin, who currently lives with her family in Thailand. “I don’t want to be part of it anymore.”

Shay Obazanek, who is quoted up top, explained to the Times that businesses which help relocate corporations and families have experienced a sharply increasing demand in recent days. Obazanek is a manager for Ocean group, a company which aids people moving to and from Israel. Financial advisors say they are besieged with questions about moving abroad and establishing bank accounts overseas. Some Israelis are seeking other passports such as German ones that descendants of Holocaust survivors can apply for.

These are Israelis who serve in the military and pay more taxes because they are employed. If more secular Jews flee Israel, who will be left to protect the Orthodox and fund Israel’s treasury?

Right-wingers really think ahead, eh? Given that I live in a Jewish neighborhood, I look forward to meeting my future neighbors, late of Israel.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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