How Israelâ€™s new foreign minister deprives Central European nations of moral cover.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid recently sparked a war of words with Polish Prime
Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
is more than just resisting Central European nations’ attempts at rewriting the
history and legacy of the Holocaust, as well as their leaders’ flirting with
right-wing nationalistic and anti-Semitic sentiments.
about morality, stupid!
center of the dispute is a bill debated in the Polish parliament that makes it
essentially impossible for Jews to claim property their families owned before
Lapid denounced the law as “immoral” and warned that “it will seriously harm relations
between (our) countries.”
uncomfortable truths The Israeli foreign minister went on to say that “on
Polish soil, millions of Jews were murdered and no law will erase their
added: “We are not interested in Polish money and the very hint is antisemitic.
We are fighting for the memory of Holocaust victims, for our national pride,
and we will not let any parliament pass laws that aim to deny the Holocaust.”
of the legacy of the Holocaust was certain to earn Mr. Lapid points among
Israeli and Diaspora Jews, as he maneuvers to replace Naftali Bennett as prime
minister in 2023 as part of their coalition agreement.
he may want to emerge as the head of government from an early election, in case
Israel’s new coalition collapses prematurely.
from Netanyahu’s policies
Lapid’s harsh criticism marked a sharp reversal from former Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance.
willing to give far-right, authoritarian nationalists in the Visegrád countries
– Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – political and moral cover.
effect, whitewashed their World War II histories as well as their varying
degrees of collaboration with the Nazis in the extermination of their Jewish
fomenting anti-Semitic sentiment
Netanyahu appeared to empathize with the authoritarian instincts of the leaders
of the Visegrád states.
so even if that put the Jewish state at times in the awkward position of
looking the other way, if not defending the fomenting of anti-Semitic
most evident with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s attacks on
Hungarian-born liberal philanthropist George Soros.
Visegrad four and the Palestinians
Netanyahu also seemed to sympathize with the Central Europeans’ anti-migrant
(read anti-Muslim, frequently Christian nationalist) beliefs. And he
effectively bought into their willingness to hollow out their democracies and
curtail the rights of minorities.
most important, Mr. Netanyahu saw the Visegrad states as a bulwark against
European criticism of his hardline policy towards the Palestinians.
Israeli focus on the EU mainstream
Lapid appears to believe that greater engagement with the European Union is
likely to be more productive.
timing of Mr. Lapid’s move adds significance to his policy reversal against the
backdrop of a number of factors not favoring the hard right.
right out of political luck?
events range from Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald J. Trump in the November 2020
U.S. presidential election, a poor performance of far-right candidates in
recent regional elections in France and Germany and stagnating support for
Italian populists, as well as Central European leaders like Messrs. Orban and
confronting Central European revisionism, Mr. Lapid is restoring a degree of
integrity to Israel’s claim to be the Jews’ safe haven — even if that status is
called into question by its unresolved conflict with the Palestinians.
and foreign policy
Israeli foreign minister is also piling the pressure on the Central Europeans.
After all, his steps follow Joe Biden’s insistence that democratic alliances
are a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.
some West European leaders are telling their Central European colleagues to live
up to EU standards. This includes independence of the judiciary and the media
as well as minority rights, particularly concerning gender and sexuality, or
leave the union.
recalibrating relations with the U.S.
Lapid’s distancing from Mr. Netanyahu’s erstwhile allies strokes with his
simultaneous declaration that Israel would break with the former prime
minister’s partisan alignment with Republicans in the United States.
threatened to weaken Democratic and bipartisan support for the Jewish state.
Netanyahu broke with the traditional Israeli policy of ensuring that the Jewish
state had bipartisan support in Washington.
he identified Israel with Mr. Trump’s Republicans because of their uncritical
support of hardline Israeli policies.
Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and Israeli
annexation of the Golan Heights captured from Syria during the 1967 Middle East
put forward a plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that wholly
supported Mr. Netanyahu’s policies at the expense of the Palestinians.
past few years, mistakes were made. Israel’s bipartisan standing was hurt. We
will fix those mistakes together,” Mr. Lapid told U.S. Secretary of State
Anthony Blinken during a meeting in Rome.
Lapid’s bipartisanship does not imply a more moderate approach towards peace
with the Palestinians.
all, he has Mr. Bennett, the current prime minister, an opponent of an
independent Palestinian state and a proponent of Jewish settlement policy, as a
however, seem to mean an Israeli policy that is less openly provocative and
less in the face of a U.S. administration that maintains support for a
two-state solution, even if it does not invest political capital, time and
energy in achieving that goal.
M. Dorsey is a scholar and award-winning journalist. A senior fellow at
Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and co-director of
the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture, James is one of the
pioneers of the exploration of the political, social and economic aspects of
Middle Eastern and North African soccer.
has published widely in scholarly journals, writes a syndicated column, is the
author of the acclaimed blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer and a
recently published book with the same title.
book, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle
East and North Africa( co-authored with Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario), was
published in July 2016.
currently working on three forthcoming books: China and the Middle East:
Venturing into the Maelstrom, Creating Frankenstein: Saudi Arabia’s Export of
Ultra-conservative Islam, and Shifting Sands: Volatile Transitions in the
Middle East and North Africa, Essays on Sports and Politics
two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and a 2013 finalist for the European Press
Award, James started covering ethnic and religious conflict as a foreign
correspondent in the 1970s.
served as a foreign correspondent for Dutch newspaper Trouw, The Wall Street
Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, The Christian Science Monitor and
Dutch and Belgian radio and television. James was based in Beirut, Jerusalem,
Cairo, Teheran, Kuwait, Riyadh, Dubai, Larnaca, Athens, Istanbul, Washington,
Lima, London, Paris and Amsterdam.
the Middle East and North Africa, James has also reported over the past four
decades from most major conflicts zones in Europe, Africa, Latin America and
Asia, including Afghanistan, former Yugoslavia, Central Asia, the Caucasus,
Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Congo, Eritrea, Yemen, the Western Sahara, Columbia,
Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Kashmir, Thailand and Bangladesh.