Analysis from Israel

That Desmond Tutu once again accused Israel of apartheid yesterday is nothing new; he’s one of several Nobel Peace laureates who have made second careers out of Israel-bashing (think Jimmy Carter or Mairead Maguire). But it’s far more worrying when similar rhetoric is used by a sitting U.S. president – as Barack Obama did in the most outrageous but widely overlooked line of his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this month. Culminating a series of rhetorical questions about what Israel would do if no Palestinian state arises, he asked, “Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”

As Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid noted, “There is not much distance between this statement and an explicit warning that Israel is liable to turn into an apartheid state.” In short, even if Israel isn’t an apartheid state today, the U.S. president considers it perfectly reasonable to assume it will be someday soon – that instead of a democracy where all citizens are equal before the law, it will become the kind of state that imposes legal restrictions on certain citizens because of their ethnicity. But since Israeli Arabs haven’t been subject to special restrictions since Israel abolished its military administration in 1966, and no subsequent Israeli government has ever contemplated reinstating such restrictions, on what exactly does Obama base this assumption?

The logical conclusion is that he got it from the Israeli Arab leadership and radical Jewish leftists, both of which accuse Israel of apartheid ad nauseam. Yet believing these accusations requires willfully ignoring the facts.

This past December, for instance, one Ahmed Tibi wrote an article for The Hill accusing Israel of treating its Arab citizens like southerners treated blacks in the Jim Crow era. The analogy was a trifle marred by the tagline at the end, in which Tibi admitted he is currently deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset: Blacks didn’t occupy prominent positions in southern legislatures under Jim Crow, much less in South Africa under apartheid. It was further undermined when another Arab deputy Knesset speaker, Hamad Amar, wrote a riposte in The Hill the next week terming Tibi’s claims arrant nonsense. The spectacle of two Arab deputy speakers of parliament publicly dueling, without any fear of consequences, over whether their country discriminates against Arabs isn’t exactly an example of proto-apartheid behavior. But hey, who you gonna believe: Tibi or your lying eyes?

Then there are all the other Arabs in prominent positions – college presidents, hospital directors, ambassadors, army officers, Supreme Court justices and more. The Elder of Ziyon blog has a must-see poster collection featuring these and many other examples that are the very antithesis of apartheid. But hey, who you gonna believe: Haaretz’s Gideon Levy or your lying eyes?

Indeed, on the issue that seems to concern Obama most – freedom of movement, which he highlighted in the rhetorical question immediately preceding the one on Arab Israelis – Arab citizens and permanent residents arguably have greater rights than Israeli Jews: For instance, they can freely visit the Temple Mount, which Israeli Jews can’t; they can also visit the Palestinian Authority, which Israeli law bars Jews from doing. In fact, their freedom of movement is precisely why terrorist organizations consider them prize recruits. It’s a sad day when Palestinian terrorists have a better grasp of Israel’s true nature than the U.S. president.

Obama, of course, is just a symptom of a much larger problem: Too many Western liberals willfully close their eyes to the truth when it comes to Israel, preferring to parrot the current bon ton. But for an administration that explicitly pledged to pursue “evidence-based policy,” a little more attention to the evidence on Israel would be a nice place to start.

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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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