TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The Israeli historian, philosopher, and best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari said Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may go down in history as the man who destroyed Israel.
Harari, who has been vocal about his opposition to a proposed judicial overhaul by Netanyahu’s right-wing government, said the long-serving prime minister has divided the country to preserve his political longevity.
This has caused rifts that will be difficult to heal, Harari said.
“If Netanyahu had retired after two terms in office or after, say, eight years, I think even though I didn’t like many of the things he did, I think he would have retired as one of the great leaders of Israel,” Harari said during an interview with The Associated Press in Tel Aviv.
“Now, his legacy is he is certainly the divider of Israel, the person who divided the Israeli nation against itself. And I hope ... we don’t get there,” he said. “But he could go down in history as the person who destroyed the state of Israel.”
Harari is among the scores of academics, business leaders, and military figures, both active and retired, to speak out against the judicial overhaul.
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, says the plan is needed to rein in the powers of an interventionist judiciary.
But critics say it will push the country toward authoritarianism by weakening an independent court system and concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his allies. Among the proposed changes is to give Netanyahu’s governing coalition control over the appointment of judges and authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions.
Following especially heavy protests, Netanyahu this week froze the plan and launched negotiations on a compromise with his political opponents.
Harari said Netanyahu, who is in a coalition with ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist parties affiliated with the West Bank settlement movement, could move toward a dictatorship if the plan is passed, and sounded the alarm for Israel’s Western backers.
“If this kind of power falls into the hands of an autocratic regime, which is also a fundamentalist religious regime with expansionist aims and with this belief in Jewish supremacy, it will set the whole Middle East on fire,” Harari said.
Harari, 47, is known for such books as “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” a best seller recommended by well-known figures, including former President Barack Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.”