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 unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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