After a recent visit to Israel both of us, we're deeply concerned by the unprecedented degree of tension and sheer animosity permeating the political arena.
As friends of Israel rather than Israeli citizens, we do not seek to intervene on any partisan basis, but to sound the alarm about the very real potential for Israel’s enemies to exploit the current rhetoric and do harm to the country as a whole.
Political polarization and confrontation are nothing new to us since they are trends now rooted in our own countries and across the Western world, from the U.S. to Italy. But our experience fighting successive attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel shows us that this country simply cannot afford the level of domestic political tensions that other democracies can go through. Israel has proven itself time and again to be the most resilient country in the world when it comes to physical warfare. But it is also subject to the most insidious political warfare — continuously under attack by international institutions such as the UN, EU and International Criminal Court (ICC) as well as a range of foreign governments, human rights bodies, academia and much of the world’s media.
It is in this realm that the current discourse and strife will be most damaging. For Israel to be strong, to prosper, to be a force for good in the region and the world, and to fend off incessant political warfare campaigns, it needs to be united in the basic questions, despite all the disagreements that may reasonably emerge around specific proposals and policies. That national unity is being eroded by the tone and conduct of the debate on reforms to the judiciary presented by the coalition government.
We have heard Israeli voices telling us that what is at stake is the survival of democracy in the country, if not dead already. We have been told that it is better not to make even a single concession than to try to reach an agreement. Such extremist attitudes are far from producing a better reform and come dangerously close to emboldening and even inciting Israel’s many international enemies.
Declaring democracy dead has consequences that go well beyond domestic politics. Over the years, both of us have been fighting all attempts made by Palestinian groups to indict Israeli soldiers and political leaders at the ICC, every effort made by the institutionally anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council to condemn Israel’s sovereign right to self-defense, and successive campaigns by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as well as international bodies to wreck Israel’s economy.
One of the strongest arguments against the pernicious ambitions of each of these political enemies of Israel has been to present a solid case that the country has a judicial system that is internationally respected, democratically accountable and provides fair treatment and justice to all. Trying to harm the government with apocalyptic rhetoric may or may not succeed, but will for sure undermine any such defense and harm the security of Israel and its citizens. Amidst predictions of doom and disaster, it is worth bearing in mind that nations like the UK, Spain, Italy and Canada, among many other liberal democracies, have systems to appoint the highest judicial posts that are much more intrusive by the executive power than anything proposed by this Israeli government, and nobody will dare to say that they are not democratic.
The decision to go to the extreme, the willingness to demonize the political adversary, and the delegitimization of the results of the electoral process, can only be interpreted as a weakened Israel. And we know what happens when that becomes the prevalent perception abroad, true or not. Consider this: what do you think Nasrallah and Khamanei are thinking? What do you imagine BDS activists will say? How will Israel’s enemies in the UN Human Rights Council react? They will be laughing, applauding and plotting how they can best exploit this new situation to Israel’s detriment.
In politics, not everything goes in any country — least of all in Israel. Leave the apocalypse where it belongs, at the end of times. Restore rationality in the political debate, accept the differences, put forward modified solutions and be ready to negotiate an agreement. The alternative to reason is of course greater domestic tension; but even more seriously, renewed legal, political, economic and trade attacks from beyond your borders. As defenders of Israel in the international arena, we plead that you revert to moderation and compromise in the national interest.
Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander in the British Armed Forces.
Rafael Bardaji is a former National Security Adviser of Spain.