Analysis from Israel

It’s no secret that Israel isn’t an Olympics power: It came away from the London Games without a single medal, and since its inception, it has won only one gold and seven medals overall (making it one of very few countries with more Nobel Prizes than Olympics medals). What is less well known is that Israel does much better in the Paralympics, which begin today: There, it has won more than 300 medals overall, 113 of them gold.

First and foremost, of course, that’s a testament to Israel’s cutting-edge medical care, developed in response to the grim necessity of having to treat far too many victims of war and terror. But it’s also a testament to Israel’s priorities: Whereas athletes competing in the regular Olympics often struggle financially, since state funding for most forms of sport is minimal, Paralympics athletes benefit from a network of state-supported rehabilitation centers where sports is part of the program for those who want it. It’s not that Israel wouldn’t love having more Olympics medals; the country went wild when Gal Fridman won his gold in 2004. It’s just that caring for its wounded veterans and victims of terror takes precedence–as it should.

Nor is it Israelis alone who benefit from the country’s medical expertise. Israel has a variety of programs that offer medical help to people worldwide–not only its well-known emergency medical missions to disaster areas, but also ongoing programs like Save a Child’s Heart, which provides heart surgery to children from throughout the developing world year-round, as well as training for medical personnel from these countries. Israeli cardiologists donate their time for this purpose, and an Israeli hospital donates the space; fundraising covers other expenses, like plane tickets for patients from Africa.

For the knee-jerk anti-Israel types, of course, Israel can do no right. Regrettably, that even includes some of the people Israel helps: When Haaretz tried to interview Palestinian doctors who had been trained by Save a Child’s Heart earlier this month, for instance, every one of them refused to talk, fearing the wrath of enforcers of the Palestinian Authority’s anti-normalization campaign.

But anyone who takes the trouble to look knows the truth. As one Palestinian from Gaza whose daughter was treated by SACH told Haaretz:

“At the checkpoint I met many people from Gaza who come to Israel for medical treatment, here and at other hospitals. I am not the only one who came here. It is obvious that people come to Israel for medical treatment, regardless of the political conflict.”

And that’s a badge of honor shinier than any Olympic gold medal.

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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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