Israel’s Dangerous New Ultranationalist Government Likely to Trigger Crisis

Interview with Mel Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former CIA analyst, conducted by Scott Harris

Jewish extremist and ultranationalist parties are about to have more power in Israel than they’ve had in 70 years. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to return to office after his far-right coalition won elections Nov. 1, appointing some of the most incendiary figures in Israeli politics to key positions in his government.

One of those named to a high-level position is Itamar Ben-Gvir of the fascist Jewish Power party, who will be in charge of police services inside Israel and the border police that operates in the occupied Palestinian territories. Ben-Gvir is a supporter of the virulently anti-Arab ideology of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and an admirer of Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others in 1994.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Melvin Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, and a former CIA analyst. Here he talks about the danger ahead for Israel’s new extremist government that many observers fear will provoke internal divisions inside Israel, further erode the rights of minorities and incite violent conflict with Palestinians.

MEL GOODMAN: Well, we’ve never had a government in Israel with so many — or any extremist politicians — in such important positions of influence. That’s the important thing, I believe. Netanyahu has already assigned 10 portfolios, 10 ministries to people from the religious Zionist party and the Jewish Power party, which is part of the religious Zionist group. And the religious Zionists themselves are already the second largest group within the coalition that Netanyahu has put together, which is the hard-right ultra-Jewish coalition.

And it’s the third largest party in the Knesset. And all of this happened in the last couple of years.

So I look at Netanyahu the way I look at Donald Trump. They’re both trying to stay out of jail. Netanyahu is facing serious charges that are working its way very slowly through the Israeli court system. Trump’s case is moving even more slowly through the U.S. legal system. And Netanyahu felt the only way he could get back into power was to turn the government over to these ultra-nationalists who I consider the existential threat to Israel to begin with.

I’ve never bought the idea that these are Arab countries out there, or even Iran, for that matter, that are existential threats. It’s the ultra orthodox. Well, now they can claim 10 significant ministries, including Ministry of Immigration, Education, Religious Affairs. There’s a new ministry that’s been set up to cater to these ultra right-wingers regarding the national mission that’s going to take over from the Defense Department a lot of the old custodian aspects of dealing with the West Bank and the settlements on the West Bank.

Actually, I don’t like the word settlements. They’re really out military outposts, rather than settlements.

And then when you look at the individuals themselves, who are the leaders of the religious Zionists and the Jewish Power, people like (Bezalel) Smotrich, (Itamar) Ben G-vir, who will really be a major factor in controlling the West Bank. And then Avi Maoz, an extreme right-winger who’s made his case to develop not just Jewish identity, but Orthodox Jewish identity. He’s been very critical of Israeli Jews who are not Orthodox. He’s anti-LGBT. He’s against women serving in the military.

He makes numerous references to Jewish identity and Jewish heritage, I think, which is one of the reasons why I point to this is fascism, because race and ethnicity is very important to a fascist state and that’s what we have here.

So what it could mean once they get into these powerful positions, if Netanyahu can’t control them or has to give in to them, then I think you’re going to get to see greater control of the day-to-day workings of the government over the West Bank by these ultra-right individuals. I think they will push for annexation of the West Bank, particularly what’s known as Area C of the West Bank, which represents more than 60 percent of the territory that is under some Palestinian control.

I think they’re going to face de facto annexation. And there are 200,000 Palestinians in this area and only about 25,000 Israelis and a lot of these illegal settlements — or what I call outposts — which actually violate Israeli law.

SCOTT HARRIS: Mel, there was an op-ed piece recently written in The Washington Post by two former U.S. diplomats, Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller, who urged the United States to cut U.S. weapons supplies to Israel if Benjamin Netanyahu’s government moves forward to annex Palestinian land, as well as some other moves that would cause enormous controversy and possibly an explosion of violence. What are the chances that the Biden administration will heed the advice of not just these two diplomats, but a lot of observers around the world who are concerned about the direction of this new Israeli government?

MEL GOODMAN: Well, I think Biden is doing his best to ignore what’s happening in Israel. It took him a long time to respond to the killing of (journalist) Shireen Abu Akleh, which I think was an important marker in the Democratic party’s willingness to step aside when these controversies come to the surface. But as you say, the pressure is building on Biden.

And I know Aaron David Miller. I don’t know Dan Kurtzer, but these are two Zionists who’ve been strong defenders of Israel. So the fact that they’re willing to even talk about military aid, even though I don’t expect anything to happen, I think it’s important. And it does raise the possibility that people are willing to challenge Israel’s control over U.S. decision-making and that our automatic vetoes in international fora, such as the United Nations, Israel may not be able to obtain on a regular basis.

So this could start a more honest debate. It could offer more credibility to the J Street Lobby, which is a more progressive organization in terms of their stance toward a two-state solution. But Netanyahu, I think, believes he has the United States situation under control. And until he sees otherwise, I don’t expect him to be conciliatory in any way, certainly not toward the Palestinians, but not even toward Western Europe or the United States.

And it should not only be the government. I think that made the point in this op-ed or a previous one. It’s time for the Jewish diaspora in the United States and Western Europe to look back at what the ideals of Israel were in dealing with the founding of Israel in 1948 and where Israel is now.

And what a steady political decline this has been. That’s quite alarming.

Mel Goodman’s recent article on Israel’s new extremist government is “Fascism: Israeli Style.” For more information, visit his website at or the Center for International Policy at

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Mel Goodman (26:37) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

For the best listening experience and to never miss an episode, subscribe to Between The Lines on your favorite podcast app or platform: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicTunein + AlexaCastboxOvercastPodfriendiHeartRadioCastroPocket Casts,  RSS Feed

Subscribe to our Weekly Summary