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.