Analysis from Israel

In the almost two weeks since Jewish Israelis allegedly killed two Palestinians and a Gay Pride marcher in two separate attacks, much has been written about the hypocrisy of the international response. COMMENTARY contributor Jonathan Neumann offered another incisive contribution to this genre in the Times of Israel this Tuesday. But in my view, the prize for most hypocritical reaction goes to Etgar Keret’s essay in the New York Times last week. And the problem with it goes far deeper than mere double standards about terrorism.

In a piece entitled “Do Israelis Still Care About Justice?” Keret lamented the relatively sparse attendance at an anti-violence rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square after the murders and concluded that Israelis must not see anything too terrible about hate crimes. “How is it possible that fewer people would come to demonstrate against the murder of children and innocent people than to demonstrate against the high cost of housing or the halt to building in the settlements?” he asked.

But the answer to that disingenuous question is evident in the very photo the Times chose to illustrate the piece, and it has nothing to do with indifference to murder. It has to do with the left’s decree that nobody is allowed to object to murder unless they’re willing to check any non-leftist political and religious convictions at the door.

The picture prominently featured two English-language signs reading “Settlements destroy Israel” and “Settlements create violence.” And this accurately reflects the nature of the demonstration. It was organized by Peace Now, which believes Israel must quit the West Bank immediately. The only invited speakers were left-wing politicians who share this view. Then, not content with merely excluding Israel’s center-right majority, the speakers actively declared it persona non grata. “I say to Netanyahu and to MKs from the right: We don’t want your condemnations, and we don’t want your soul-searching,” Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon declared.

Benjamin Netanyahu just won his third consecutive election; in pre-election polls, an absolute majority of Israelis repeatedly deemed him the most qualified candidate for prime minister. In that same election, center-right politicians won 56 percent of all Knesset seats, and 63 percent of those won by Jewish parties. Years of polling have found that most Israelis no longer consider “peace now” feasible in light of serial Palestinian rejectionism and the rampant terror sparked by previous withdrawals.

Yet this absolute majority of Israelis was unwelcome in Rabin Square unless they were willing to spend an entire evening being ostracized, collectively accused of murder and told their political views were beyond the pale – and this was made completely clear in advance. And Keret wonders why most of them chose to forgo this pleasure?

Nor were things any different at the anti-violence rally organized by the LGBT community in Tel Aviv’s Gan Meir that same night. Organizers nixed a planned appearance by Naftali Bennett, head of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party. They refused to let another MK from his party take the stand. And while they did let a secular MK from the ruling center-right Likud party address the crowd, he “was booed incessantly during his speech and protesters waved red-stained gloves at him, which were meant to indicate he had blood on his hands,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

In short, here, too, the center-right majority was both excluded and vilified. And then Keret wonders why many chose not to attend.

In the left’s view, it seems, you can’t oppose the murder of Palestinians if you aren’t prepared to recant your political and/or religious concerns about territorial withdrawals. And you can’t oppose the murder of Gay Pride marchers if you aren’t prepared to recant your political/religious concerns about some or all of the LGBT community’s demands. To be blunt, this is ridiculous: People shouldn’t have to agree on policy in order to join hands in condemning murder.

Nor, unfortunately, is this particular sickness confined to the left. I’ve heard plenty of rightists condemn political opponents as “anti-Zionists,” even if said opponents have long track records of contributing to or advocating for the Jewish state.

Any decent person should denounce Keret’s effort to paint Israelis who don’t share his politics as acquiescing in murder. But the center-right should also learn from his mistake. Accomplishing anything usually requires building coalitions among people who may disagree fiercely on other issues. People who insist on political purism are liable to find themselves exactly where Keret did: standing in a half-empty square and wondering why so few other people chose to join them.

Originally published in Commentary on August 13, 2105

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Israel’s constitutional crisis has been postponed, not resolved

After years of leftists crying wolf about democracy being endangered, Israel finally experienced a real constitutional crisis last week. That crisis was temporarily frozen by the decision to form a unity government, but it will come roaring back once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

It began with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to let the newly elected Knesset vote to replace him as speaker and culminated in two interventions by the High Court of Justice. I’m one of very few people on my side of the political spectrum who considers the court’s initial intervention justifiable. But its second was an unprecedented usurpation of the prerogatives of another branch of government, in flagrant violation of legislation that the court itself deems constitutional.

Edelstein’s refusal, despite its terrible optics, stemmed from a genuine constitutional concern, and was consequently backed even by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who had opposed Edelstein many times before and would do so again later in this saga. The problem was that neither political bloc could form a government on its own, yet the proposed new speaker came from the faction of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party that adamantly opposed a unity government. Thus whether a unity government was formed or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government continued, the new speaker would be in the opposition.

But as Yinon told the court, speakers have always come from the governing coalition because an opposition speaker can effectively stymie all government work. And once elected, he would be virtually impossible to oust, since 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members must vote to do so. An opposition speaker would thus “hurt democracy,” warned Yinon. “We’re planting a bug in the system, and this, too, undermines our constitutional fabric.” That’s why Edelstein wanted to wait, as Knesset bylaws permit, until a government was formed and could choose its own speaker.

Yet despite this genuine and serious concern, the fact remains that a newly elected majority was being barred from exercising its power. Moreover, it had no parliamentary way of solving the problem because only the speaker can convene parliament and schedule a vote. Thus if you believe majorities should be allowed to govern, the court was right to intervene by ordering Edelstein to hold the vote.

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