A shorter version was published by Gatestone.
During my recent visit to Israel, I spent time with prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) and Israel’s President Isaac Herzog (Bougie).
Both are old friends. When they were out of office, I called them by their nicknames, but when they hold these important positions, I address them as Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. President. Israel is a very informal country, and many Israelis continue to use their nicknames.
I also spent time with likely members of the new government, opposition leaders, military and intelligence men and women, “start-up nation” entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens.
I have more than 250 relatives — nearly all of whom are very religious — who either emigrated to Israel from America or who are descendants of those who did. And I have many friends who I try to see on my frequent visits over the past half-century. I also try to see Palestinian leaders and acquaintances, both on the West Bank and in Israel.
I think I have as good an understanding of the dynamics of Israel as any non-Israeli. What I observed on this visit is considerably different from previous visits and quite similar to what is happening in the United States.
Today’s Israel is a deeply divided nation.
It had four inconclusive elections over a four-year period. Even in the most recent one that produced a 64-56 margin of victory for the Netanyahu camp, voters were evenly split, with each camp receiving a bit more than 49% of the popular vote.
In Israel, like in our country, the popular vote is not conclusive. Here it is the electoral college. In Israel it is the makeup of the Knesset and the requirement that a party must get at least 3.25% of the vote to qualify for a seat in the Knesset. The votes of those who cast their ballots for parties that failed to make the cutoff are essentially lost.
In order to form a majority government, generally the party with the most seats tries to form coalitions with smaller parties to get to 61 out of 120 seats. This often requires significant compromises among the parties and individuals making up the majority.
That is what is happening now, with Netanyahu, who is by nature a center-right moderate, having to name some ministers considerably to the right of him. These include individuals who have histories of racism and homophobia — bigotries that Netanyahu has always opposed and promises to continue to oppose in the new government.
They also include ministers who want to curtail the powers of the Supreme Court which they believe favors the left. Even if Netanyahu manages to limit the harm done by his extreme right-wing coalition partners, the face of his new government will be the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
But Israel presents a very different face through the persona of its President Isaac Herzog, who several years ran unsuccessfully for prime minister as a left-wing labor party candidate.
As president he is nonpartisan, representing all the citizens of Israel. His face is that of a centrist patriot with a long history of supporting human rights for all.
Although his role and power are limited in a parliamentary democracy, just as the role of king or queen is limited in Great Britain and other parliamentary monarchies, he can do a great deal to represent the best of Israel, especially as it approaches its 75th birthday in late April.
He can remind the world that no country in history has contributed more to the world — medically, scientifically, technically, agriculturally, culturally and in other ways — during its first 75 years of existence than Israel. This despite hoping to devote so much of its resources to defending itself against genocidal threats from Iran and other nations and groups committed to its destruction.
It has made peace with Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim nations and is seeking normalization with still others. It has revived an ancient language, turned malaria-infested swamps into orange groves, and provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of Jews and others who were facing persecution.
There is much for Israel to be proud of, even as it faces challenges both from within and without. No nation in the world is subjected to more unfounded and disproportionate condemnation — from the United Nations, from international tribunals, from NGOs, from campus radicals, from many in the media — than the nation state of the Jewish people.
The combination of Bibi and Bougie presents the two somewhat different faces of Israel. I am proud to call them both my friends. I am equally proud to be a friend and defender of the country they represent — Israel.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and the author most recently of "The Case for Color Blind Equality in the Age of Identity Politics," and "The Case for Vaccine Mandates," Hot Books (2021). Read more of Alan Dershowitz''s reports — Here.
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