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Biden’s Passivity Is a Big Problem for Israeli Democracy

From Blinken to Nides, the message is ‘It will be okay; we can work with him.’ This sends Israelis a message of weakness ■ Jerusalem’s pro-democracy protest is smaller, but may prove more important ■ how discoveries at Megiddo retell the story of ancient Israel ■ Today’s best reads on Haaretz

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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Netanyahu and Orban
Netanyahu and OrbanCredit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO, Corinna Kern / Reuters, Anastasia Shub
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

On Saturday night, as more than a hundred thousand Israelis took to the streets to demonstrate against his attack on the Israeli judicial system, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared an article on his Twitter account in favor of that “legal reform.”

It was written by a far-right U.S. journalist who last year wrote a glowing endorsement of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. More recently, he had shared conspiracy theories about the Brazilian presidential election in which Jair Bolsonaro – the darling of the global far-right movement – lost power.

There was nothing unusual or sinister about Netanyahu sharing that article. This is the company he keeps these days. Once a self-described liberal right-winger devoted to Israel’s democracy, the prime minister is now part of an international alliance of antidemocratic leaders that includes Orbán, Bolsonaro, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. It makes total sense for him to share articles from the Steve Bannon mediascape in support of his extremist agenda.

The strange, unusual and harmful part of this story is the Biden administration’s response to what is happening. Would U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pay a visit to Budapest anytime soon? Probably not.

Had Bolsonaro won the Brazilian election instead of narrowly losing it, would President Joe Biden invite him to the White House? Maybe, but certainly not while his government was promoting a vengeful plan to dismantle Brazil’s democratic institutions.

But when it comes to Netanyahu, the Biden administration is living in a fantasy world. From Blinken to ambassador Thomas Nides, the message is “It will be okay; we can work with him.” This sends a message of weakness. Israelis, no matter their political affiliation, don’t appreciate weakness.

The U.S. administration will probably claim, in its defense, that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “discussed” the government’s legal plan in his recent meeting with Netanyahu (as journalist Barak Ravid first reported last week).

That’s not nothing, but Israel is a society that doesn’t understand understatement. “Discussing” is an ambiguous word, as is “raising concerns” about something. Things need to be said clearly in order to get people’s attention here. The Orbán and Trump fans cheering on Netanyahu get it. Too bad Blinken and his team don’t.

Read more about the government’s plan for the justice system:

Don’t miss today’s best reads on Haaretz.com

Ariel David explains how discoveries at Megiddo retell the story of ancient Israel

Brant Slomovic looks at Israel through lone soldiers’ eyes

Ruth Schuster reports that Israeli scientists merged insect and machine to create a smell-detecting bio-robot

Linda Dayan, our New Jersey expat, visits Israel’s first 7-Eleven

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