For decades, Israel’s Western allies have nodded along as it professes to be ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’ What happens if they stop?

by Meron Rapoport, +972 Magazine

“Why are our nations such great allies?” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wondered aloud to French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 during an event in Paris marking 70 years since Israel’s founding. “I suppose the answer might be summed up in three words — words with which you all are familiar: Libertè, egalitè, fraternitè!” Netanyahu continued. “Like France, Israel is a proud democracy — proud of our record of preserving liberty in the heart of the Middle East. This is truly a remarkable achievement because in these 70 years there was not a single moment, a second even, in which Israel’s democracy was put into question.”

Yet, in the eyes of Macron, this moment in which Israel’s democracy is in question seems to have arrived. According to “Le Monde,” Macron told Netanyahu during their latest meeting in Paris earlier this month that if the far-right government’s plan for judicial overhaul comes to fruition, France will “be forced to conclude that Israel has broken away from the prevailing perception of democracy.” That is, if Netanyahu marketed Israel as a bastion of “freedom in the Middle East” in order to prove to countries like France that they have “shared values,” it seems that today, fewer people are buying what the prime minister is peddling.

Thousands March Against Bibi Netanyahu in Tel Aviv in shadow of a nationwide lockdown. Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.

Of course, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, Israel was never a democracy — from the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during the Nakba and denial of their right to return, through military rule over Israel’s Palestinian citizens that lasted until 1966, to the occupation of 1967 and its systematic violation of Palestinian rights until today. Macron, like other world leaders, is surely aware of this. But as long as sovereign Israel operated more or less with all the trappings of democracy, it was convenient for the French leader and others in the so-called Western world to turn a blind eye to what was happening beyond the Green Line, and to see Israeli occupation and apartheid in the territories as a bug, rather than a feature of Israeli democracy.

Read More