Artwork: Anastasia Shub for Haaretz
On Monday, Bezalel Smotrich, the head of Israel’s third-largest party and a candidate to be the next finance minister, called Israeli human rights organizations “an existential threat” to Israel and promised that the incoming governing coalition would “take action” against them.
In his tirade, he named my organization, the New Israel Fund, which has proudly supported human rights defenders in Israel for over four decades. It should go without saying that these civil society organizations are vital to building a thriving democracy in Israel.
I wish I could say I was surprised by this episode, but the reality is that for years, hardline Israeli leaders, who dominate the country’s politics, have been ratcheting up their attacks on human rights organizations and activists. We stand at an inflection point – either we can allow these extremists to push Israel toward autocratic ethnonationalism, or we can fight like hell for democracy. If we want to avert that anti-democratic future, it’s crucial that we understand where we’ve been to see where we’re going.