Netanyahu’s illiberal connection?

Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu just visited Hungary and had a summit with V4 countries and many observers suggested that he might feel quite comfortable among illiberal partners as current Hungarian and Polish governments are described. How would you see this, would you agree or not, and why? (you might also have heard about how Netanyahu basically supported Hungarian campaign against George Soros).

Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu at V4 summit in Budapest with Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán. Credit:

Michael BarnettProfessor of International Affairs and Political Science, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University

I suspect that for many the issue is not whether PM Netanyahu feels comfortable with illiberal leaders.  The United States, and most western democracies, have a long history of having close relations with illiberal leaders and governments.  And the problem is that these countries took part in the Holocaust.  Again, Israel has developed relations with many countries that participated in the Holocaust to various degrees.  The criticism is that these are not just illiberal leaders but rather illiberal leaders that are accused of either trafficking, associated with, or not disavowed in a genuine way the rising anti-semitism in their countries.  As someone who presents himself as not only the leader of Israel but also the Jewish people, this is a very disturbing development.  But, for many American Jews, it is consistent with his recent behavior, where he sided with Trump during the US presidential campaign even though he associated with anti-Semitic sentiments and forms of demonizing vulnerable minorities.  The question can be raised: does Netanyahu’s behavior, while perhaps helping Israel, damage the Jewish people?

Paul SchamProfessor of Israel Studies, University of Maryland

I and many Israelis and American Jews, and many others as well who care about Israel, are disturbed by, among other things, the limitations recently imposed on Israeli NGO’s regarding foreign support, the threat not to allow visitors to enter the country if they have expressed allegedly pro-BDS sentiments, as well as PM Netanyahu’s apparent comfort with increasingly authoritarian and illiberal regimes, such as those currently in power in Poland and Hungary.  This is only made worse by his government’s seeming approval of the Hungarian government’s campaign against George Soros, which is at least tinged with anti-semitism.

While, unlike some others, I do not think that Israel is about to imminently lose its democratic and liberal character (at least within the Green Line; it has no such character in the West Bank), I am quite concerned by the increasingly authoritarian, xenophobic, and even racist statements of some leading Israeli politicians, including ministers in the current government.  There is obviously such a trend in many countries nowadays, including the USA, and I am alarmed by Netanyahu’s apparent eagerness to join it, both in his domestic and international policies.  I very much support those forces in Israel and elsewhere, many supported by Soros, who are fighting back against these tendencies and policies.

Chuck FreilichSenior Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

I don’t think it is so much a matter of feeling more comfortable among illiberal partners, as it is looking for support and friendship where it can be found today. He also just had a good meeting with President Macron.

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