Analysis from Israel

If I were UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, or any of the 120 countries that sent delegates to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran this week, I’d be more than a little embarrassed to discover that Hamas, a terrorist organization that thinks nothing of slaughtering innocent men, women and children in buses, restaurants and hotels, actually has a more developed sense of morality than I do.

While Hamas was invited to attend the NAM summit by Iran, it ultimately declined. This decision followed a public threat by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that if Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh went, he would stay home. But senior Hamas officials say the desire to prevent an open rift with Abbas was only a secondary consideration. Their number-one reason for staying home was that they didn’t want to be seen as supporting Iran at a time when Iran is openly supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s slaughter of his own people by supplying him with arms and even troops.

Clearly, no such qualms troubled Ban or any of the other high-profile delegates, most of whom are very senior officials of their own countries. By attending the summit, they sent the clearest possible message: Assad is free to continue slaughtering his people (the death toll has already topped 19,000, with no end in sight). And Iran is free to continue helping him do so without suffering any consequences whatsoever: It will still be treated as an honored and valued member of the international community.

So now we know that even Hamas has a red line: Murdering 19,000 fellow Sunni Muslims is beyond the pale. But for Ban and the other 120 delegates, there are no red lines: Mass murder is fine and dandy.

Actually, this shouldn’t come as a surprise; both the UN and the Non-Aligned Movement have shown many times before that they have no moral red lines. But here’s what is surprising: that so many Western countries–including all of Europe and, under Barack Obama, the U.S. as well–nevertheless continue to treat the UN as a source of moral authority, without whose imprimatur no international action is justified.

After all, these are countries that do think murdering 19,000 of your own citizens is beyond the pale. So why do they accord moral authority to the UN when both its secretary-general and its automatic voting majority (NAM comprises a majority of UN members, and frequently votes as a bloc) have shown so blatantly that they don’t?

If you outsource moral authority to a tarnished agency, you can’t help being tarnished yourself. And that’s precisely where the West stands today: Having declared that no action on Syria is possible without UN approval, it is now viewed by many Syrians as no less indifferent to their plight than the UN itself.

But if even Hamas can renounce its former paymaster in Tehran on moral grounds, is it really too much to ask that the West muster the courage to do the same to the UN?

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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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