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It’s common knowledge that the Middle East is in turmoil these days and that there are major tensions between the United States and one of its crucial allies in the region, Israel. Less commonly understood are the profound ways in which Israel itself is changing.
In important respects, the country no longer resembles the image many Westerners still picture—the liberal Zionist state of David Ben-Gurion, Abba Eban, Golda Meir, and Yitzhak Rabin. The socialist Ashkenazi elite that used to dominate Israel’s politics has long since fractured and faded away. Sephardic Jews, Soviet immigrants, settlers, the religious right, secular Jews, and Arab Israelis now vie for influence. In foreign policy, meanwhile, what Israel stands for, and who it stands with, is also in play.
To scout this new landscape, we’ve turned to some of Israel’s leading politicians and observers. What emerges is a picture of a country enjoying a rare moment of relative peace with most of its neighbors, even as it experiences intensifying conflicts at home.
Leading off the package are interviews with two of Israel’s most powerful women: Ayelet Shaked, the current justice minister, and Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister and former foreign minister. Their contrasting visions starkly illuminate the country’s current political divide.
Next, Aluf Benn, editor in chief of Haaretz, describes Israel’s transformation through the story of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long career. A moderate when circumstances required it, Netanyahu now leads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, which Benn argues is allowing Netanyahu to realize his long-held dream: replacing Israel’s old moderate and secular elite with a new hard-line and religious one.
Robert Danin, an American diplomatic veteran of the now-moribund peace process, examines the new threats and often overlooked new opportunities facing Israel’s foreign-policy makers. As’ad Ghanem of the University of Haifa explores the plight of Israel’s Arab citizens, who are enjoying unprecedented material gains even as they face unprecedented threats to their political rights. And Amos Harel, one of Israel’s leading defense analysts, describes the challenges facing the country’s vaunted military, including the recent wave of “lone wolf” knife attacks.
Finally, Martin Kramer of Shalem College offers a vigorous dissent, noting that in many respects, Israel is better off today than ever before. What has changed, in his view, is less Israel than the attitudes of others, including Washington—whose fecklessness and withdrawal from the Middle East represent a real but manageable problem for the Jewish state.
Israelis disagreeing with one another is hardly new. But the bitterness of today’s fights underscores the depth of the changes and choices facing the country.