95 Foreign Aff. 16 (2016)
The End of the Old Israel: How Netanyahu Has Tansformed the Nation

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The End of the

Old Israel

How Netanyahu Has
Transformed the Nation

Aluf Benn

srael-at least the largely secular
    and progressive version of Israel
    that once captured the world's
imagination-is over. Although that
Israel was always in some ways a fan-
tasy, the myth was at least grounded in
reality. Today that reality has changed,
and the country that has replaced it is
profoundly different from the one its
founders imagined almost 70 years ago.
Since the last elections, in March 2015,
a number of slow-moving trends have
accelerated dramatically. Should they
continue, they could soon render the
country unrecognizable.
   Already, the transformation has
been dramatic. Israel's current leaders-
headed by Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, who metamorphosed after
the election from a risk-averse conservative
into a right-wing radical-see democracy
as synonymous with unchecked majority
rule and have no patience for restraints
such as judicial review or the protection
of minorities. In their view, Israel is a
Jewish state and a democratic state-in
that order. Only Jews should enjoy full
rights, while gentiles should be treated
with suspicion. Extreme as it sounds,
this belief is now widely held: a Pew

ALUF BENN is Editor in Chief of Haaretz.
Follow him on Twitter @alufbenn.


public opinion survey published in March
found that 79 percent of Jewish Israelis
supported preferential treatment for
Jews-a thinly veiled euphemism for
discrimination against non-Jews.
   Meanwhile, the two-state solution
to the conflict with the Palestinians
has been taken off the table, and Israel
is steadily making its occupation of
East Jerusalem and the West Bank
permanent. Human rights groups and
dissidents who dare criticize the
occupation and expose its abuses are
denounced by officials, and the gov-
ernment has sought to pass new laws
restricting their activities. Arab-Jewish
relations within the country have hit a
low point, and Israel's society is break-
ing down into its constituent tribes.
   Netanyahu thrives on such tribalism,
which serves his lifelong goal of replacing
Israel's traditional elite with one more
in tune with his philosophy. The origins
of all these changes predate the current
prime minister, however. To truly under-
stand them, one must look much further
back in Israel's history: to the country's
founding, in 1948.

THE OLD MAN AND THE NEW JEW
Modern Israel was created by a group of
secular socialists led by David Ben-
Gurion, who would become the state's
first prime minister. The Old Man,
as he was known, sought to create a
homeland for a new type of Jew: a
warrior-pioneer who would plow the
land with a gun on his back and then
read poetry around a bonfire when the
battle was won. (This new Jew was
mythologized, most memorably, by Paul
Newman in the film Exodus.) Although
a civilian, Ben-Gurion was a martial
leader. He oversaw the fledgling state's


16  FOREIGN AFFAIRS

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