Mondoweiss / March 23, 2023
Brace yourself — the next Israeli government will be even more rightwing. That’s because the high tech sector in Tel Aviv, which leads the current protest movement, is a small minority of Jewish Israel.
Today the Israeli government advanced legislation to prevent a prime minister from being removed by the courts– sparking more mass Jewish protests of the “coup” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.
Netanyahu’s moves are prompting fears of civil war. The Israel president warned of “civil war” last week and said “the abyss is in touching distance.”
That war would reflect the stark divide in Jewish Israeli society between the high-tech industry in Tel Aviv and the rest of the country. The high-tech sector is today leading the “revolt” against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul and even calling for international divestment.
But Netanyahu retains a strong parliamentary majority. Religious Jews now dominate Israeli Jewish politics, and their numbers are growing, explains Amir Mizroch, a communications consultant for high-tech businesses.
The orthodox have the highest Jewish birth rate in Israel, and the next Israeli government will be even more rightwing than the current government, Mizroch says:
“The next government is going to be even more religious. The next government after that might not even need Likud, their electoral power is going to be so huge.”
Currently, Netanyahu’s Likud has 32 seats in the government, and religious Zionist parties–including the burgeoning fascistic party led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir at 14 — have another 32 seats.
Israel is sliding toward an authoritarian system for its Jewish citizens, and there could be a “civil war” between the two groups of Jews, Mizroch lamented, speaking to fellow Israeli Neri Zilber on March 6 for the Israel lobby group Israel Policy Forum. (Just what the late Yossi Gurvitz long predicted.)
Divestment is already affecting the Israeli economy. International investors are “extremely worried about the direction this government is going” and thinking twice or three times about funding Israeli startups, Mizroch said. Up to 4 billion of tech industry money has reportedly been moved to banks abroad. The biggest names in the world in high-tech investing fear that Israel is sliding from a “western style democracy” toward “on the optimistic side something like Hungary or Poland.”
“Money could dry up here over a period of a couple of years, and if this [judicial reform] goes through, and there are more scenes of riots, and there is more internal chaos– this government is fanning the flames of hatred everywhere in the world– there is also just craziness going on in the settlements. When you open your newspaper, Are you happy to put 100s of billions of dollars of teachers pensions to work on bets on Israeli startups– that’s where people’s minds are right now.”
A dedicated Zionist, Mizroch described a rift in Israeli society between Tel Aviv and the “great majority” of the country. The vaunted “startup nation” only employs 10 percent of the Israeli workforce, 400,000 employees, and those companies are focused on markets in foreign countries – making high tech more likely to “float off like a zeppelin moored here.”
A lot of tech employees are “scared” and considering leaving the country. Their companies are funding the demonstrations, Zilber said, and blazoning their headquarters with massive signs opposing judicial overhaul, and their executives are coming “down from their towers” to join the marches.
Mizroch observed the divide between the two Jewish Israel’s when he and his wife attended the funeral of a Jew from Connecticut who was killed in the West Bank last month, and there were more than 10,000 mostly religious people there. “My wife is all in on the protests,” Mizroch said. “And she said, These are not the people you see at the rallies in Tel Aviv. There’s a whole other country here. They… don’t go to the protests.”‘
Mizroch then warned of a civil war:
“I see this and I feel really scared. This would be fine if we were in Belgium or the Nordics. We could have even a civil war here– even though that’s extremely far-fetched, it feels like the divisions are really, really stark and people can’t talk to each other…. There’s a very clear divide on religious, political, ethnic lines…. I see the lines hardening,
Mizroch said that Jews have a historical tendency “to push the self-destruct button,” and he cited the destruction of the two temples in ancient times and said Israel is at this point “in our life cycle.”
Like others in the tech industry who are outraged over Netanyahu’s plans, Mizroch had nothing to say about the treatment of Palestinians by Israel. And, of course, while he endorses forms of boycott and divestment over judicial changes, he would never endorse BDS for human rights violations. (He grew up in South Africa as apartheid gave way to democracy, then moved to Israel 23 years ago because he felt South Africa was becoming a failed state.)
The Israel Policy Forum had another podcast recently with journalist Tal Schneider, in which she also expressed panic about Jewish Israel’s descent from privilege toward the status of failed states, and how that will affect her life.
I’m very worried, I’m very stressed. … I know things happened in many other countries where deterioration happened very fast and people were not able to use their own money. We have just seen in Lebanon a situation where in a couple of years people lost all their values and all of their assets and they can’t even go to the bank to get their money in order to pay for medicines. I don’t think we are headed totally in that direction, but obviously things can take a downturn… We are not there yet. This is maybe too panicking at the moment.. But the atmosphere of all the high tech companies pulling their assets, that is a little bit scary I have to tell you….
When we were kids we were not allowed to take money out of the country… It’s been decades since those limitations. Israel was not a member of the global economic elite. Those days, it’s … 30 or 40 years ago. I don’t think we’re headed in that direction, but we all have seen things take a deep turn in Argentina for example. I don’t want Israel to end up being corrupt and deprived of funds like Argentina. This is an example for me. Or Turkey where a country that was a democratic state and it took a turn to become a more religious, less freedom. We remember Turkey from our youth when it was more open and more secular… They took a turn… That’s a huge problem.
This is a reminder of why American Israel lobby groups have enforced a ban in the U.S. mainstream on describing Israel as an apartheid country, though countless human rights groups have reached that conclusion. Acknowledging apartheid strengthens the Palestinian call for BDS, boycott, divestment, and sanctions. And we see from these comments what a threat divestment represents to a society that has gotten used to a standard of living that exceeds those of countries in western Europe.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006