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Is Israel's Far Right More Extreme Than In Italy Or The U.S.?

French writer and political scientist Dominique Moïsi was in Israel last week for the country’s latest elections, which saw the victory of a hard right coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu. He warns that there is an inherent conflict between the self-declared "start-up nation" and the anti-science, anti-liberal program of the new government.

Photo of Netanyahu electoral leaflets on the ground

In Jerusalem on Nov. 1

Eyal Warshavsky/SOPA Images/ZUMA
Dominique Moïsi


PARIS — In his autobiography Things Seen, seminal French author Victor Hugo describes daily life in Paris during the revolution of the 1830s. He writes about the “limited reach of tragedy,” where one street is covered in barricades and the next is completely peaceful.

On Nov. 1, the day of the elections in Israel, I was walking around the streets of Tel Aviv with those images from Victor Hugo in mind. There was no indication that the future of the country might be at stake despite the huge election signs on buildings and buses. But for their fifth general election in four years, the people of the country's largest economic and cultural metropolis seemed jaded, if not indifferent.

This impression was quickly contradicted by a turnout of more than 70%, a significant increase over previous elections. But nothing seemed to suggest that Israel was on the brink of a tipping point.

Will the so-called "Republic of Tel Aviv'' — with its LGBTQ+ rainbow flags draped from balconies and real estate agencies offering penthouses with jacuzzis and sea views — be able to resist the return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu?

Openly racist

This time with a majority of 64 seats out of 120 at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, “Bibi” Netanyahu heads a coalition that includes a particularly vicious extreme right, which despite its acronyms is neither Zionist nor religious, but simply openly racist.

If you are not careful, your turn will come very quickly.

In the early 2000s, in the midst of the second Intifada, Israeli leaders such as Ariel Sharon had a message for Europe and especially for France — the country with the largest Jewish community in Western Europe:

"We Israelis are in the front line of the fight against Islamic terrorism. If you are not careful, your turn will come very quickly."

Sharon even invited the French Jewish community to make their aliyah, and move to Israel. Today, the Jewish state constitutes in itself a warning of a different nature. It is not about what it’s fighting against, but what it has become: a country at the forefront of the most extreme religious nationalism, if not a democracy on the veritable edge of collapsing; a country where political forces now in power openly call for the expulsion of Palestinians and a reactionary fight against modernity.

Women’s status at risk

Israel used to boast about its status as a "startup nation," about its number of Nobel Prize recipients, the creativity of its artists, and so on. If we were to follow the Israeli far-right’s program to the letter, the teaching of mathematics and English would be relegated to a minor place — if not prohibited altogether.

This fight against science, against openness to the world, goes hand-in-hand with a questioning of the role of women in Israeli society. Their function is, to put it plainly, to bear children. What tragic irony, and such a contradiction in terms! Is this retrograde example really what Israel wants to turn to, at a time when an extreme fringe of its society wants to expel the "Arabs" from its midst?

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens compared the evolution of London and Paris in 1793. One could be tempted today to imagine a "Tale of Three Cities," where Tel Aviv’s dynamism and openness would contrast with a self-collapsing Beirut, and Tehran’s growing isolation and withdrawal.

Photo of Itamar Ben-Gvir

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new star of the Israeli far-right

Guy Butavia/Wikimedia Commons

​Ben-Gvir, an Israeli Zemmour?

We may think that the country’s far-right — even if it was to hold Israel’s reins — would not be able to shake the foundations of “The Republic of Tel Aviv. But it can still seriously harm democracy in Israel. For years, alongside French human rights defenders Robert Badinter and Simone Veil, I was a member of the International Board of the Israel Democracy Institute.

One of its priorities was to maintain the independence of the country’s Supreme Court. Without judicial power, wouldn't Israel — a country without a Constitution and a steadfast proportional electoral system — risk falling prey to absolute corruption, and enter an era of post-democratic chaos?

At best, an illiberal democracy. At worst, a failed democracy.

Capitalizing on the rift between Israel’s center and left, Netanyahu won his bet — just like Giorgia Meloni did in Italy. But to do so, he had to rely on the support of more extreme and better organized forces than Matteo Salvini's Liga or Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia.

In fact, a more apt comparison may be found not in Italy, but just next door: Isn’t Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new star of the Israeli far-right (who with 14 deputies is now the new “kingmaker”) a kind of Israeli Eric Zemmour? Infinitely less cultured, of course — but infinitely more skilled politically — than the extreme right French politician.

Whiff of Viktor Orban

It is also worthwhile to compare the situation with the United States. And to wonder whether what has just happened in Israel could prefigure what will go down this week with the midterm elections.

Democracy, in the U.S. and Israel alike, seems to have become a bit of a nuisance for the elites. A good thing, of course, but relegated to the background, as compared to other priorities such as physical or economic security.

We can find solace in the fact that Israel’s right-wing bloc probably won’t last long, that its internal contradictions are far too great, that Netanyahu won’t be able to control Ben-Gvir and his radical ideas.

But we can also shudder at the thought that after this election, Israel has become, at best, an illiberal democracy, like Viktor Orban's Hungary — and, at worst, a failed democracy. And the United States now stands before the very same risk.

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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