Israelis and Americans are asking: Whose country is this anyway?

The loss of a shared national narrative to inspire and bind citizens is a threat to both countries' future. The two nations need to define anew what it means to be a pluralistic democracy.

Both Israel and the US have had roiling experiences with highly polarising, but incredibly media savvy, populist leaders - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (above, in black mask) and former president Donald Trump - ready to break all the rules unlik
Both Israel and the US have had roiling experiences with highly polarising, but incredibly media savvy, populist leaders - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (above, in black mask) and former president Donald Trump - ready to break all the rules unlike any leader before them, says the writer.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

As Israel struggles to put together a ruling coalition, I was struck by a television report there that a senior ultra-Orthodox rabbi and spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism party said he'd prefer a government propped up by Israel's Islamist Raam party to one with leftist Jewish parties, because Israeli Arab lawmakers were less likely to turn everyone secular.

That pretty well sums up how polarised Israeli politics is today - and why Israel just held its fourth inconclusive election in under two years and could soon be heading for a fifth, which must be some kind of Guinness World Record for democratic electoral haplessness.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2021, with the headline 'Israelis and Americans are asking: Whose country is this anyway?'. Subscribe