Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Israel’s Faltering Reputation and Vanishing Identity

The faltering reputation of Israel is not new. It has been a result of long-standing policies adopted by the successive Israeli governments.

Israel’s Faltering Reputation
A demonstrator covers her face with a sign against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a march against the government’s judicial reform bill in Tel Aviv on April 1, 2023. JACK GUEZ / AFP

Majed Kayali

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has made sure to portray itself as the victim, present a moral narrative and conceal its political illegitimacy. Israel’s establishment was based on replacing native Palestinians with Jewish migrants, and it does so by employing all forms of force and coercion with the backing of international powers.

Israel has also presented itself as an oasis of democracy and an extension to the West in the “Middle Eastern desert.” This was done to improve its reputation, gain sympathy and support from the international community and attract more Jewish migrants. Israel’s positioning achieved significant success, and as a result, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, it experienced a significant influx of immigrants.

The strategy enabled Israel to cover up the grievances, racism and repression inflicted upon the Palestinian people. Moreover, it provided legitimacy to its aggressive and expansionist wars by portraying them as “defensive wars.”

The First Intifada, however, revealed Israel’s true nature as being nothing other than a settler-colonial state. The intifada, commonly known as “The Stone Intifada,” showed Israel trying to exert control over other people through brute military force. It, too, was evident that Israel was attempting to strip these people of their rights, freedom and future through racist, discriminatory policies.

The sacrifices made during the First Intifada broke Israel’s monopolisation of the victim narrative in global public opinion. This victim narrative, albeit controversial, gained credibility in the West due to the injustices committed against the Jews during World War II and Israel’s small and isolated state in its hostile Arab environment.

The narrative disintegrated when the Arab-Israeli conflict diminished, and the Palestinians continued to pursue the Oslo Accords even though any true Israeli intent to implement them was absent. Nevertheless, Israel continued its settlement activities and insisted on moving forward with the Judaisation of Jerusalem. Additionally, it killed and used excessive force to hinder the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence.

Numerous factors have aided the Palestinians in this regard. Firstly, the immense progress in media, communications and information technology has allowed the world to witness Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. Additionally, globalisation has led to the emergence of civil society as a key player in promoting values such as freedom, justice and equality while combating discrimination, racism and injustice.

Lastly, ongoing transformations within Israel have led to the rise of extremist religious right-wing nationalism. These factors combined have contributed to the portrayal of Israel as an aggressive, racist settler-colonial state.

However, today’s crisis in Israel’s internal and external state of affairs, particularly its relationship with the United States, is not new. It is an extension of the country’s transformations and long-standing policies. Netanyahu’s tenure is believed to have triggered the exposure of Israel’s true face as a fanatical country that gives precedence to religion over democracy and liberalism.

At the same time, as has become evident in recent developments, Israel appears to have tapered its usual eagerness to be considered an extension of the Western world in the region.

It is significant to note that Netanyahu first assumed office after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. His programme aimed to dismantle the Oslo Accords and distance Israel from Shimon Peres’ vision of a “New Middle East” that the Clinton administration promoted to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and integrate Israel into the region.

During his second term in office, Netanyahu hindered US efforts by refusing to halt settlement expansions and restraining the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, he began bolstering the influence of radical religious factions by enacting laws that curbed the freedoms of journalists and limited civil society activities.

These laws also strengthened religious coercion in public life, education and the army and affected women’s rights. Moreover, discriminatory policies against Arabs were implemented regarding housing, language, calls to prayer and land ownership restrictions.

During this time, the Knesset passed a law that declared Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” excluding Arab citizens of Israel and affirming Israel as a state for Jews only, granting them the right to self-determination.

Massive protests in Israeli cities reflect the widespread and fierce opposition that Netanyahu faces in Israel. This opposition was also evident through the Western efforts to isolate and put pressure on Netanyahu.

These measures aim to prevent Israel from transforming entirely into a religious state where a controlled majority holds all power. This is particularly significant considering that Israel does not have a constitution defining common principles accepted by all demographic groups or outlining the rules governing the relationships between individuals and the state, as well as between the legislative, administrative, and judicial three powers.

Israeli media frequently report on the repercussions of internal and external turmoil. Regarding the external turmoil, journalist Amos Harel wrote, “Netanyahu wanted to be officially welcomed in the two countries he regards as critically important – the United States and the United Arab Emirates (and had certainly maintained a fantasy about rapid normalisation with Saudi Arabia and a first official visit to the kingdom) . . . but exactly the opposite has happened.”

Journalist Orly Azoulay also expressed her thoughts, “When an American President loses trust in an Israeli Prime Minister, it’s more than just a cancellation of an invitation to the White House. Netanyahu punished Israel not only with the deterioration of democracy and the enactment of laws that suit the Ayatollah regime . . . but also caused Israel to lose its most powerful and faithful ally, the United States.”

According to journalist Zvi Bar’el, the transformations happening in Israel are likely to result in unravelling “the false connection between “Jewish” and “democratic” and to create a theological-fascistic monster.” He added, “Israel will be transferred to the administration of political gangs and militias . . . [which] will turn Israel into a binational state, of two Jewish nations.”

Journalist Nahum Barnea considered what happened a “historical turnaround“ that will change the face of Israel and marks the beginning of the end of the era of liberal, secular Israeli Zionism.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our writers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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