Right-wingers in the United States were likely taken aback by two Israeli lawmakers’ recent introduction of legislation that would criminalize the dissemination of the Gospel of Jesus.
Israeli Knesset members Moshe Gani and Yaakov Asher introduced a bill that would ban the evangelization of Christianity within Israel. Gani and Asher belong to the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, which is a political alliance of Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on March 22, 2023 that his government will not adopt such legislation, questions remain about how Israeli politics will pan out in the decades to come.
Netanyahu’s announcement comes on the heels of judicial reforms that would limit the Supreme Court’s powers by allowing the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions, stripping the Supreme Court of its power to review Israel’s Basic Laws, and grant politicians more power in the appointment of judges. Such proposals have sparked massive protests across Israel, with former Prime Minister Neftali Bennet declaring that the country could be on the verge of entering a “civil war.”
Traditionally viewed as the Middle East’s most institutional stable and secular country, Israel appears to be entering a volatile phase of its history, where its largest threats appear to be domestic, not foreign, in nature. Demographics point to internal tensions being on the rise. Israel is unique among developed nations due to how its fertility rate is 2.9, well above replacement rate and at the top of the list of first world, developed economies. The Jewish state’s high fertility rate is largely buttressed by its modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox religious populations, whose women have between 3 and 4 and 6 or 7 children respectively. By contrast, secular Jewish women have 2.2 children.
If these trends hold, Israel will likely transform into a more religious-oriented state as Orthodox parties’ political clout grows and they start molding the political landscape. The present right-wing coalition that Netanyahu was able to cobble together features an interesting assortment of Orthodox parties that will not only demand key positions in the government but also take harder stances against the Palestinians and try to occupy as much Palestinian land as possible. Such measures will not sit well with the Collective West, which puts human rights at a premium. Moreover, should Israel take on a more illiberal, ethno-religious dimension with regards to its governance, it may no longer look as appealing to Americans of all political stripes.
What does this mean for Israel in a geopolitical sense?
As one of America’s most intimate strategic partners, Israel has enjoyed an enviable geopolitical position. Since 1971, the U.S. government has doled out $243.9 billion in foreign aid (when adjusted for inflation). The Jewish state has also been the largest recipient of military aid in this time frame. However, the US’s geopolitical priorities are shifting as it embraces more great power political struggles against Russia and China. Due to its change in geopolitical focus, the US will not be focusing on the Middle East as much. Add in the recent Chinese-brokered diplomatic normalization efforts between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Israel finds itself in a slightly more isolated position in the Middle East.
In the Trump era, Israel worked to cobble together a de facto balancing coalition of Gulf Arab states ranging from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia to challenge Iran. But with Iran and Saudi Arabia dialing down tensions and Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani recently paying a visit to the UAE, Israel’s Iran containment project appears to be on the ropes.
A combination of controversial domestic politics that will tarnish Israel’s image abroad and its US patron’s shift towards Eurasia will likely force it to give up on irredentist fantasies like Greater Israel and seek more moderate foreign policy options in the Middle East. Moreover, should Israel start embracing illiberal, ethno-religious policies that alienate both secular leftists and members of America’s religious Right, it will see its relations with the US get colder than expected, thereby making it harder to extract more economic and military aid from the US.
Tough decisions will have to be made in Jerusalem in the decades to come. The world of geopolitics is chaotic and can see the most unlikely of alliances and partnership form at the drop of a hat. Who knows, if the hard-Right truly becomes a dominant force in Israeli politics, the country may have to look eastward for more reliable partners that are not as concerned about human rights and religious freedom.
Rest assured, big changes are set to occur in the multipolar world order unfolding before our very eyes.