New York Times senior columnist Thomas Friedman lamented the hardline, religious coalition that is likely to come to power in Israel after this week’s election.
In a Friday op-ed headlined “The Israel We Knew Is Gone,” Friedman tries to explain to US readers the significance of the return of Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu along with accomplices in the far-right Religious Zionism party, likening them to figures American readers would be familiar with.
“Imagine you woke up after the 2024 US presidential election and found that Donald Trump had been re-elected and chose Rudy Giuliani for attorney general, Michael Flynn for defense secretary, Steve Bannon for commerce secretary, evangelical leader James Dobson for education secretary, Proud Boys former leader Enrique Tarrio for homeland security head and Marjorie Taylor Greene for the White House spokeswoman,” he begins.
Friedman has long criticized Israel’s right-wing lawmakers, but has himself come under fire from across the American political spectrum for predictions regarding trends in the Middle East that have missed the mark.
In his latest column, Friedman argues that Israeli political trends often foreshadow those seen in the US and warns against this possibility.
He warns that the new coalition Netanyahu is likely to form with Religious Zionism, in addition to the Shas and United Torah Judaism ultra-Orthodox parties, will “roil synagogues in America and across the globe,” “haunt pro-Israel students on college campuses ,” “stress” US diplomats and “send friends of Israel in Congress fleeing” from those demanding to know why the US should continue sending billions of dollars in aid to Israel.
He cites the elevation by Netanyahu of lawmakers who see Arab Israelis as a “fifth column,” think the judiciary can’t be trusted, want to expand West Bank settlements as much as possible, aim to freeze the Likud leader’s ongoing corruption trial and express contempt for LGBT rights.
He names Religious Zionism MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, who are likely to receive senior cabinet posts in Netanyahu’s next government, as the best examples of those worrying trends.
“Netanyahu has increasingly sought over the years to leverage the energy of this illiberal Israeli constituency to win office, not unlike how Trump uses white nationalism, but Netanyahu never actually brought this radical element — like Ben Gvir, who claims to have moderated because he has told his supporters to chant, “Death to terrorists,” instead of, “Death to Arabs” — into his ruling faction or cabinet,” Friedman writes.
Friedman quotes Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Nahum Barnea, who argues that Netanyahu was aided by the uptick in violence over the past year that took place on both sides of the Green Line.
“There has been a dramatic upsurge in violence — stabbings, shootings, gang warfare and organized crime — by Israeli Arabs against other Israeli Arabs, and Israeli Arab gangs and organized crime against Israeli Jews, particularly in mixed communities,” Barnea tells him.
“Even though this upsurge started when Netanyahu was previously prime minister, he and his anti-Arab allies blamed it all on the Arabs and the national unity Israeli government,” Friedman writes.
But Netanyahu was also aided by the fact that while the right and the far right were highly energized by both growing fears of and distrust of Arabs — whether Israeli Arab citizens or Palestinians in the West Bank — their centrist and center-left opponents had no coherent or inspiring counter-message,” he adds.
He warns that the election results will have “a profound effect on US-Israel relations,” highlighting the senior Democratic lawmakers who have already said so in recent months.
“We are truly entering a dark tunnel.”