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Op-eds

Desperate measures for messy times

  • Geoff
Some people find it difficult to agree with United States President Donald Trump on almost anything. However, he was right when he said, with characteristic arrogance, that Israeli election politics is “all messed up”.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Jun 06, 2019

We’ve watched with amazement over recent weeks as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried – and failed – to assemble a coalition government that would be able to shield him from indictment on corruption charges.

For South Africans, this has echoes of former President Jacob Zuma’s legal dodging and diving, with endless court appeals, to avoid appearing in court on corruption charges. Then there was the African National Congress repeatedly backing him in parliament to defeat votes of no confidence.

One could correctly say that both Israeli politics and South African politics are “all messed up”, where the entire country is bent to serve one man’s needs – the leader of the government.

The ugly drama of Israeli politics upsets many South African Jews as much as others. An example of an upsetting statement is from far-right leader, MK Bezalel Smotrich, who insists that Israel should become a state governed by Jewish biblical law as in King David’s time.

Smotrich, known for extreme right-wing opinions, and a declared homophobe, announced during recent coalition talks that he wanted the justice portfolio. He won’t receive it – even from Netanyahu.

The world’s two largest Jewish communities, America and Israel, have been growing further apart for a long time, with American Jews on the whole still more liberal than Israelis.

A recent survey of 1 006 American Jews by the American Jewish Committee revealed that the divide is growing faster than expected. Last year, 70% of American Jews questioned said that caring about Israel was a “very important” part of their Jewishness. This year, only 62% said so.

Politically, the divide is more dramatic. On the explosive political issue about Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in 2018, 15% of respondents said Israel should be willing to dismantle all settlements as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. But in 2019, this had risen to 25%, according to Haaretz. Only 6% of Israeli Jews, however, were willing to dismantle the settlements.

A comparable split exists regarding the nature of a political settlement. Two thirds of American Jews support a two-state solution, which establishes a demilitarised Palestinian state in the West Bank. Only 39%of Israeli Jews do.

Aside from politics, Israel is experiencing a brain drain, primarily to America. Increasingly, Israel’s most educated citizens are immigrating, says a report by the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research of Tel Aviv University.

Those leaving come from the segment most crucial to Israel’s success – educated Israelis, professionals looking for a better lifestyle. In spite of Israel being the “start-up nation”, workers in high-tech face huge pressure to go to America where they are closer to investors and markets.

This has serious implications. About 3% of Israelis work in high-tech, accounting for nearly 40% of the country’s exports. Less political tension in their lives would also be a drawcard for professionals.

Trump may be right: Israeli politics really is all messed up. But given his own “America first” agenda, his power, and his closeness to Netanyahu, he is not the one to help clear things up.

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