The New York Times displayed a noteworthy editorial Sunday lamenting the direction of Israeli politics under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom it called “a disappointing, risk-averse leader.” It noted Netanyahu’s broad coalition with the centrist Kadima Party under Shaul Mofaz, which showed promise of providing the two leaders with an “unprecedented authority to get things done.”
But that coalition broke apart, and the Times fears Israel will now continue down a disturbing road. It says Netanyahu’s “past dependence on hard-line parties” has spurred an aggressive settlement program on occupied lands and a “resistance to serious peace talks with the Palestinians.”
The paper also reports that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has lamented “intensifying infringements on democratic freedoms” and adds that more than 25 bills have been proposed or passed by the Knesset over the past two years “to limit freedom of speech and of the press; penalize, defund or investigate nongovernmental groups; restrict judicial independence; and trample minority rights.”
The editorial adds: “Without Kadima’s moderating force, these trends will continue.”
Indeed, they likely will accelerate. Echoing The National Interest’s recent cover story by Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar, the paper says demographic changes “are making compromise harder.” The paper explains that “an influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union and a high birthrate in the ultra-Orthodox community mean that many Israelis have a cultural mistrust of the democratic values on which the state was founded.”
This is clearly true, and it will affect U.S.-Israeli relations, Israel’s standing among nations of the world, Middle East diplomacy generally, and a host of related matters. The big question, as the Times implies, is what Netanyahu’s true sentiments are regarding these trends and thus what his legacy will be.
“One of Israel’s greatest strength is its origins as a democratic state committed to liberal values and human rights,” writes the Times. “Those basic truths are in danger of being lost."
No one can question the Times’s commitment to Israel's security and well-being. Nor can anyone now, with this smart editorial, question the paper’s independence of outlook on the country’s internal policies.