Biden should consider helping Israel — by withholding aid

If you get on a plane and the pilot has a kamikaze headband tied around his head, get off the plane. This is one of two important political lessons that developments in Israel and the US have offered us over the past weekend.

The other is that just because a corrupt demagogue is willing to use mob violence to advance his agenda doesn’t mean all public demonstrations are bad. Indeed, when fundamental rights are at stake in a democracy – and other institutions of society have been co-opted by cowardly politicians – taking to the streets peacefully is sometimes the only way to stop kamikaze politicians.

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump have made it clear that they will use every tool available to defend themselves from criminal prosecution and (even if it means overthrowing their country’s democratic institutions) the rule of law and the country’s global standing protection. They have shown their willingness to use kamikaze tactics for all to see for years, as both have sought to obstruct justice and attack prosecutors, judges and the law simply for personally threatening them.

Unfortunately for both Israel and the United States, this has not stopped their political allies from supporting them. Bibi was re-elected prime minister despite being accused of corruption. Trump certainly expects to try the same. And both have made it unmistakably clear that they aspire to high office to avoid prison.

It was a terrifying spectacle for both countries. But maybe there is a glimmer of hope. For at least for now, the active use of the Israeli people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful public assembly has prevented Netanyahu’s attempt to undermine Israeli democracy by undermining the independence of its judiciary.

After massive demonstrations, Netanyahu announced on Monday that he would postpone the controversial judicial “reforms” that have fueled thirteen consecutive weeks of protests in Israel until after the Israeli parliament’s month-long spring break. Those protests came to a head this weekend when objections to the reforms led Netanyahu to fire his defense minister and sent hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets, culminating in a general strike on Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a meeting at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, amid demonstrations after he sacked the defense minister as his nationalist coalition government pushes ahead with its judicial overhaul March 27, 2023 in Jerusalem.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

The threat posed by Netanyahu and his coalition still looms (and of course temporarily dodging that political bullet does not help the millions of Palestinians who have been disenfranchised by Israel and denied their basic rights). Because of this, Israelis I spoke to probably said the protests would continue.

“Freezing” the process solves nothing,” said former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas.

Because the topic remains open and imminent. In a dangerous region of the world, by far Israel’s greatest threat comes from its current prime minister and the group of right-wing thugs that make up its governing coalition.

It is therefore extremely important that the pressure on Netanyahu remains high.

The Biden administration faces a key challenge. Secretly, administration officials have expressed disgust at some of Bibi’s more radical cabinet officials’ comments and are deeply opposed to the proposed judicial reforms. But publicly, they have softened their criticism by offering comparatively muted language about the importance of maintaining democracy in Israel or finding “compromises.”

While the “freeze” might seem like such a compromise, listening to Netanyahu’s speech made it clear that it wasn’t. He used harsh language to condemn pro-democracy protesters as “a minority of extremists ready to tear our country apart.” Members of his coalition called for violent counter-demonstrations.

In exchange for agreeing to pause implementation of judicial reforms, Netanyahu reportedly made troubling promises to some of his most extreme backers – such as offering National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir the opportunity to form his own “national guard” within his ministry. This is an extremely bad idea given Ben-Gvir’s history, which includes a conviction as a supporter of a right-wing terrorist group.


Israelis protest near Israel’s Supreme Court during a demonstration after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked the defense minister March 27, 2023 in Jerusalem.

Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters

For all of these reasons, the Biden administration must privately send a clear message to Netanyahu that any further moves to curb democracy will result in an immediate halt to a significant portion of US aid to Israel. We have the leverage. We should use it.

Furthermore, as Israel’s most steadfast ally, we have a duty to defend it. Standing up to tyranny from within is one way the US can fulfill its obligation to defend Israel.

In the absence of a solid pledge not to halt, but indeed to halt efforts at “judicial reform” altogether, the government should also reconsider inviting Israel to attend the upcoming democracy summit. (The government says the criteria for attending the event must remain flexible for countries with different degrees or systems of democracy. Fair enough. But that position is undermined by the fact that invitations to democratic backsliders like Turkey and Hungary are appropriately were withheld.)

The Biden administration needs to recognize that what is happening in Israel could easily happen here. Our former and possibly future President continues to call for violence against prosecutors investigating him, racially slur them and their supporters, and continue to revere the January 6 insurgents as political martyrs. Should Trump succeed, or should Netanyahu do so with apparent US government approval, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Turkey’s Recep Tayyit Erdogan, Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador and India’s Narendra Modi will suspect their anti-democracy moves to be more easily tolerated become.

Democracy cannot and must not tolerate kamikaze politicians like Netanyahu, Trump and Co. The threat is too great and given that they have made their intentions so clear, we have no excuse for things to get any worse than they already have. Biden should consider helping Israel — by withholding aid

Rick Schindler

Rick Schindler is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Rick Schindler joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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