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 do-over election performed a vital service for democracy

Like many Israelis, I was horrified when April’s election led to another in September; it seemed a colossal waste of time and money. But the do-ever election proved critical to maintaining Israel’s democratic legitimacy among half the public—the half that would otherwise have thought that April’s election was stolen from them.

In April, rightist parties that explicitly promised to support Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister won 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. In other words, a clear majority of voters seemingly cast their ballots for a rightist, Netanyahu-led government. But after the election, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman refused to join such a government.

Thus even if an alternative government could have been formed—whether a unity government or one led by Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz—it would have undermined rightists’ faith in the democratic process. Any such government would have looked like a product not of the majority’s will, but of the whims of a single individual who “stole” right-wing votes and gave them to the left.

The do-over election showed this wasn’t the case. Lieberman’s party not only maintained its strength, but increased it, thereby proving him right that his voters cared more about curbing ultra-Orthodox power than about keeping Netanyahu in office. Moreover, the pro-Netanyahu bloc shrank even further—from 60 seats (excluding Lieberman) in April to 55 in September—due entirely to Netanyahu’s own appalling behavior in the intervening months, which prompted a nontrivial number of center-right voters to either switch sides or stay home and a massive increase in Arab turnout.

That doesn’t mean Gantz won; the bloc he heads can’t form a government on its own. But neither can Netanyahu’s bloc. Any possible solution—a unity government, a Netanyahu government with leftist partners or a Gantz government with rightist partners—will require compromise between the blocs. And nobody will be able to claim the election was stolen when that happens.

This matters greatly because the democratic process has been subverted far too often over the past 25 years, usually in the left’s favor, with enthusiastic applause from the left’s self-proclaimed democrats.

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