How Israel’s illiberal democracy became a model for the right

How Israel’s illiberal democracy became a model for the right

Suzanne Schneider writes:

Amid the mass slaughter and starvation of Palestinians in Gaza, it is easy to forget the political drama that gripped Israel only one year ago. After assuming power in December 2022, a new far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu had proposed a slate of judicial and administrative reforms that prompted a wave of anti-government protests. Concerned journalists, former U.S. and Israeli government officials, and major American Jewish organizations issued ominous warnings about democratic backsliding. Israel, it seemed, was heading in the direction of illiberal Hungary.

This framing was never quite convincing. While hundreds of thousands of Israelis marched to save democracy, most refused to address, or even acknowledge, the occupation. A country that maintains an unequal citizenship system for Jewish and Palestinian Israelis—and disenfranchises approximately 35 percent of the population in territory it controls on account of their ethnic identity—does not match the conventional definition of democracy. But there is an alternative idea of democracy in vogue among partisans of the global right, one built around the right to discriminate and to privilege the needs of the nation over those of individuals in general and minorities in particular. It is this version of democracy that has long prevailed in Israel, and which the Jewish state’s supporters now offer as a blueprint for illiberal leaders around the world.

Aided by new institutional networks that spur the circulation of right-wing ideas and practices among Israeli, Hungarian, and American conservatives, the Zionist right has acquired ideological heft and global recognition by joining the legal right to discriminate to a defense of national particularism, tradition, and other “conservative values.” The champions of illiberal democracy claim to represent a venerable alternative to both liberalism and fascism; their political vision is more accurately described as ethno-authoritarian. One problem, as Israelis began to experience during last year’s crackdown on anti-government protests, is that states built around eliminating enemies of the people eventually tend to devour their own. [Continue reading…]

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