Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Prime Minister on Dec. 29, 2022, for the third time, having held the office previously between 1996 and 1999 and between 2009 and 2021. Having consistently taken a very expansionist stance, he has faced criticism for establishing what many have called Israel’s most right-wing government in history. Netanyahu’s government has given positions to Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power Party. Both of these representatives of Israel’s most outspokenly nationalistic elements are controversial figures, Ben-Gvir in particular for his support of Baruch Goldstein, who shot and killed 29 Palestinians at a mosque in 1994.
This new government has already proved disastrous for Palestinians, particularly those living in the occupied zones. Netanyahu has vowed to expand Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a project contradictory to any efforts to establish a two-state solution that would potentially provide autonomy and security for Palestinians and further the cause of peace in the region. Apart from the fact that multiple United Nations resolutions have condemned this expansion as illegal, it also demonstrates Netanyahu’s unwillingness to allow autonomy for the millions of Palestinians who have resided within the West Bank for centuries before Israel’s modern statehood was ever conceptualized in any serious way.
Despite the pressing immediacy of this situation, it has received sparse attention in the United States. While this should be a cause of moral concern in and of itself, it is particularly jarring after almost a year of forcefully condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while providing the Ukrainian military with billions of dollars worth of security assistance (10). The emergence of the far right in Israel and its continued displacement of Palestinian civilians and destruction of Palestinian homes not only has not received similar condemnation, but the United States has continued to provide Israel with billions of dollars’ worth of military aid. Both Israel’s expansion into the West Bank and Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine have resulted in massive population displacement, with the UNHCR reporting that the number of Ukrainian refugees forced to flee currently stands at 7,996,573.
Israel has played a crucial role in American foreign policy in the Middle East for a long time. After 1967, America would come to rely on its alliance with Israel to curb Soviet influence in the region. As the United States has continued to intervene in regional disputes even after the end of the Cold War, largely in the name of protecting their access to oil, Israel has continued to receive significant American support (9). For these reasons, America is unwilling to condemn it to the same extent that we condemn Russia — despite the similarly destructive natures of both countries’ actions, Russia represents a threat to American and NATO influence across Europe. The strategic deterrents to criticizing Israel do not exist compared to the reasoning for criticizing Russia.
While I do not intend to go through the entire history of the conflict, it is important to note that there are extensive records of the Palestinian population inhabiting the region prior to Israel’s establishment as a state. The term “Palestinian” was used to describe the inhabitants of the region even while it was under Ottoman rule, and at least 750,000 of about 1.9 million Palestinians are recorded as having been forced to leave their homes by Israeli forces during the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948. The Palestinians have the same right to remain in their ancestral homes as the Ukrainians, who are currently being forced into refugee status by Putin’s war of aggression.
Returning to the present moment, Netanyahu has maintained his promise, and the displacement of Palestinians en masse has continued. Protests have emerged recently against Israel’s declaration of intent to forcibly remove the entire population of the village of Khan al-Ahmar, an action that is illegal under international law, in order to connect its other settlements in the region, effectively cutting off the Palestinian half of Jerusalem from the West Bank. This is not the only instance of mass displacement that has occurred under Netanyahu’s government — 1,000 Palestinians who have lived in the collection of villages known as Masafer Yatta currently face expulsion as well as the demolition of their homes. The United Nations has condemned the possibility of forced eviction as “arbitrary displacement,” and the people of Masafer Yatta have stated their intention to remain in their homes regardless of government decision. A month after taking power, between Khan al-Amar and Masafer Yatta, Netanyahu’s far-right nationalist government has already taken steps to continue the illegal settlement of the West Bank and the systematic forced removal of the Palestinians who have lived in the region for centuries in a process that arguably constitutes ethnic cleansing.
Putin and Netanyahu both have dubious political claims to the regions that they are seeking to dominate and are both waging wars that are creating massive refugee populations. Both leaders are willing to turn to aggression and the perpetuation of humanitarian crises in the name of their respective nationalisms. Both leaders additionally represent an insurgence of right-wing nationalistic sentiment that is rising across the world, including within the United States. Anyone upset over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, anyone concerned with protecting people from forced displacement and with preserving the autonomy of those who have inhabited their home countries for centuries, as well as those simply interested in peace, should be deeply concerned over Netanyahu’s new far-right government and with Israel’s consistent aggression toward and displacement of Palestinians on the whole.
Desmond Keuper is a junior majoring in philosophy.