We Have a Vision for the Day After

6 June 2024
Talia Sasson

There is a widespread sense in Israel that our Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has no plan for “the day after,” that is, the day that comes after the war in Gaza stops. 

The American government, before Israel invaded Gaza, asked for a plan—Netanyahu refused. For eight months, his War Cabinet has repeatedly demanded the same thing in private—and he has refused. Now, the entire security establishment is calling, publicly—indeed, is begging—for a strategic goal for this war. They, too, are being met with radio silence. 

And where Netanyahu is silent, so many others, especially ministers in his government, have begun saying the quiet parts out loud. 

They tell us what they want to do: They want to re-occupy the entire Gaza Strip, to re-establish the Israeli civil administration’s control over the civilian affairs of people living in Gaza, they want to construct settlements in Gaza, and they remove all Palestinians from Gaza. This last goal is euphemistically expressed in the phrase “encouraging voluntary migration,” a concept that NIF’s CEO decries in this op-ed.

In other words, Netanyahu’s partners in government–Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich—are seeking to transform the lives of the Palestinians with misery such that they will want to leave—by sea in makeshift boats, without any articulated destination; or in droves to Sinai, scuttling Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt. 

It is worth remembering that these ideas did not pop up overnight. Smotrich and Ben Gvir are the inheritors of a long tradition of Kahanism. Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach Party was founded in 1971 and outlawed as a terrorist organization by the Israeli government twenty-three years later in 1994, after Baruch Goldstein, number three on Kach’s Knesset list, massacred Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. While the ban was never revoked, it became a dead letter when Netanyahu appointed Ben Gvir—whose living room was adorned with a portrait of Goldstein. And now, because Netanyahu’s political survival depends on Ben Gvir and Smotrich, he has repeatedly acceded to their demands.

This government formed around the notion that land is holier than life, that theocracy comes instead of democracy. It is evident to anyone who looks carefully at this government’s actions. And so, it must be said: Today, Israel is governed, at least in part, by the doctrine of Rabbi Meir Kahane. 

But where Netanyahu–scared and cowed by these Kahansits, hardheaded and brash in the wake of his abysmal failure to protect citizens of the State of Israel– won’t say what comes next,  the New Israel Fund will. 

We are supporting our partners on the ground every day to bring us closer to equality, democracy, and safety for everyone, and we do it in three vital ways: By pushing back against authoritarianism rather than democracy, by seeking Jewish-Arab partnership, and by organizing for and demanding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This week, NIF in the United States put a spotlight on that first element: pushing back. We held an inspiring webinar that helped connect the dots between the various parts of Israel’s protest movement—from the hostage families’ protest, to the more radical protests in front of IDF military headquarters in Tel Aviv, to the recently revived pro-democracy protests on Kaplan street, to the power of the women’s protest.

Protest is only one tactic in our strategy to push back on authoritarianism. It is a part of the ecosystem for change that NIF is constantly developing, and it is most effective when combined with media efforts, grassroots organizing, legal interventions, and digital campaigns.   

NIF is supporting all of it—from The Citizens’ HQ to Mehazkim to The Civil Society Protection Hub, ACRI, Adalah, FakeReporter and Standing Together. We are building the connective tissue between Israel’s challenges, and its responses. Helping build out legal backstops to protect all of the basic democratic rights we believe in, so many of which Ben Gvir and his ilk would trample if given half a chance. This is hard, thankless work a lot of the time, but those of us who belong to the camp of “democratic Israel” cannot afford to back down in our battles with the fascist, racist, religious, and powerful trends imported by Kahane. We can call this “greater Israel” or “settlers’ Israel”, we can also call it “theocratic Israel,” “messianic Israel,” or just “Kahanist Israel.” 

A tectonic collision between these two—Democratic Israel and Kahanist Israel—is very much happening right now. 

Yesterday was Jerusalem Day, and we saw Kahanist Israel on full display in the old city of Jerusalem, where youth chanted “death to Arabs” and “let their village burn” over and over, even attacking Arab shop owners, and journalists deliberately. All while the police–remember, now answering to Ben Gvir–stood by. 

It is our job—now, and always—to offer an alternative vision for Israel’s future. And if Netanyahu has built his political career on driving wedges and stoking fear between religious and secular, between Palestinian citizens and the Jewish Israeli public, our vision of the future is grounded in what is possible when these different tribes of Israeli society come together and are willing to set aside their fears so that they can build a future for their children.