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In Israel's elections, only the far right is talking about democracy

A new campaign ad by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked signals that this time around, only the far right is talking about democratic norms — and how to undo them. Does the opposition have a response?

Of all the aspects of political campaigns that voters love to hate, none is more maligned than the political advertisement. The term “30-second spot” has become synonymous with dumbing down, mudslinging, and manipulation of political campaigns ever since the Daisy Ad.

But punchy ads are great. They can help de-code the strategy each party has chosen, and short scripts packed with narrative are enormously revealing about the country’s electorate, seen through the eyes of the candidates. Political campaigns are us, the voters, reflected back to ourselves – even if we don’t like what we see.

This week, Israelis looked into the campaign mirror and saw Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, with the ad that launched a thousand memes and at least as many headlines. In just 44 seconds and with only five essential words, Shaked redefined democracy in Israel.

In a mock-up of the familiar “Obsession” perfume ads, a vixen-voiced narrator lists the minister’s policies to weaken and restrain the Israeli justice system. “Judicial revolution,” she purrs, “reducing [judicial] activism, appointing judges, governance, separation of powers, reigning in the Supreme Court.” The ad sarcastically refers to these policies as bottled “fascism.” Shaked then lifts a bottle of perfume towards her face, sprays and utters the five critical words: “Smells like democracy to me.”

The ad crystallizes a bitter divide of this election that has bubbled below the surface for years. Shaked didn’t just say “the court needs to be restrained” or “I’m against judicial activism.” She said that these positions are democracy itself.

On one side of the divide lies Israelis who believe that the Supreme Court is among the most important state institutions, an essential check on other branches of government. They view the assault on the court by right-wing governments of recent years as an attack on democracy itself.

The other camp views the court as an unelected leftist group of elites, who uphold human and civil rights of minorities – even Palestinians. This side is not necessarily against human rights – there are few complaints when the court rules against accepting evidence of Jewish suspects whose rights were violated in the process. It’s the...

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What the candidates in Israel's elections say about the conflict

For a long time, politicians perpetuated the idea that Israel sought peace and a two-state solution, even while taking contradictory steps on the ground. In these elections, that dissonance seems to be dwindling. A look at what each party is saying.

The scramble to predict who might win the Israeli elections is understandable, but it begs a towering question: Will the next government actually change anything? To hone in further: Will it change Israel’s direction on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The left is inclined to say there’s no difference between centrist challengers Blue and White party and Netanyahu’s ruling Likud. Netanyahu’s campaign slogan “Bibi or Tibi,” referring to a prominent Arab politician, is a compact way of saying that anything to his left means the end of Jewish identity in Israel.

How is a voter to gauge the difference between the parties’ policies regarding the conflict? Maybe voters aren’t trying. A survey I did for B’Tselem in December found that just over one-fifth of respondents chose “resolving the conflict” as one of their top two national priorities — on a list of six problems Israel needs to solve, it ranked fourth.

The parties appear to be mindful of the public disinterest. On Monday night, the Geneva Initiative held an event billed as “the great debate” on policy toward the conflict, scheduled with representatives of Likud, Blue and White, Labor, The New Right (Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s far-right party), and left-wing Meretz. Likud and Blue/White cancelled last minute. It appears that the leading parties prefer not to risk losing control over any of the few words they release on this issue.

The two most serious contenders for Israel’s premiership may not have shown up, but a look at their platforms shows what the parties claim to stand for. What do they actually propose? Do they differ from one another, and would they truly change current policies? Here at +972 Magazine we often analyze how Israeli policy plays out on the ground for real people – but what does Israel tell itself it wishes to do?

Blue and White, the centrist slate challenging Likud, has been accused of having no coherent ideology than replacing Netanyahu. Still, the party managed to release a platform last week (Hebrew). The chapter on the conflict mentions the word “Palestinian” twice and nowhere else: first, to propose “accelerating economic development in Palestinian Authority areas”; and...

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How to read election polls, explained by an expert

When should you be suspicious of poll results? Can election polls really influence voter behavior? Do people lie to pollsters? Public opinion expert Dahlia Scheindlin has the answers.

Public opinion polls get things wrong, and not only in Israel. They failed to predict the 2016 American presidential election, Brexit, the U.K. elections in 2015, and the exit polls in the 2015 Israeli election. But anger at polls — and pollsters — can sometimes feel like misplaced anger at election results themselves. It’s as if disappointed voters think that if only pollsters had predicted Trump’s victory, paradoxically, that the result might somehow have been different.

Social science is an extremely fallible endeavor. The great scholar of democracy and public opinion, V.O. Key, once called political advertising people “insecure, ulcer-ridden hucksters,” and this is a species for which I feel some kinship. We are paid on the premise that human behavior can be measured and predicted with rule-governed formulas, in the desperate belief that if we crack the code we can change voter decisions.

But human decision-making excels at not following rules. Further, both candidates and readers tend to forget that social or other scientists impose personal, methodological, and social biases on our reading of the world, even if unintentionally. All this can make it hard to understand what we can and can’t know from polls.

In general, I advise being a critical consumer of any kind of research, not only when voting but also when deciding what to eat, how much to sleep, which medicines to take, how to understand sides of a conflict, or the attitudes of our compatriots.

Therefore, what follows is an attempt to answer some common complaints I hear about polls, and tips for how to get the most out of them instead. I’ll focus on the current Israeli elections, but hopefully the ideas are applicable to polls about politics in general.

There are three points at which polls can go awry: how the survey is designed and conducted, how it is reported, and how it is interpreted (by you, the readers). All of these should be considered when deconstructing the following complaints.

‘Israeli polls are of terrible quality’

Like anything, there is high and low-quality polling. The only way to distinguish between them is transparency. Even the most perfect poll is worthless if the methodology is not made available.

Any media report or poll publication...

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What will it take for Israel's right-wing voters to say enough?

A small group of right-wing voters could tip the balance and lead to a change of government in Israel. Who are these voters, what do they care about, and would a Kahanist party in the Knesset be a step too far?

Until one week ago, it looked unlikely that Benjamin Netanyahu could lose an election. It looked even less likely that the center and left-wing parties in Israel could ever outnumber the right-wing bloc to form a government. But last week, former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz merged with Yair Lapid’s centrist party and polls showed their new Blue and White party pulling ahead. Then on Thursday, the attorney general finally announced a long-anticipated decision to indict the prime minister on corruption charges.

Now, everything depends on Israeli right-wing voters. Their choice will determine if Likud and the right shrink sufficiently in April to herald a new era of leadership, or whether “King Bibi” proves unbeatable, yet again. All votes are equal, but some could change everything.

Since a stable plurality of Israelis – and a clear majority of Jewish citizens – are right wing, it has looked unlikely that the right-wing bloc will lose the 12-seat advantage it won over the center and the left in 2015. Yet on February 9, a two-week average gave the right-wing bloc just a two-seat advantage. A new average produced on February 25, just after the creation of the Blue and White party, showed an even 60-60 split (from a total of 120 seats).

These shifts could represent just a bounce for the new center party, drawn out by the attorney general’s likely indictment of Netanyahu; a bounce that can always fall. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to ignore polls – especially averages and trends – entirely.

Are some right-wingers planning to turn their backs on the bloc? Given the merger between the Jewish Home party with the extremist, Kahanist-inspired Otzma Yehudit, is it possible that the right has gone too far even for many of its own?

In recent years, the right has made it all too easy to brand its entire camp as racist, nationalist, populist and fascist. Since Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, a slew of anti-democratic and racist legislation, creeping annexationist policies in the West Bank and ongoing torment of Gaza, as well as rhetorical attacks on Arab-Palestinian citizens, the left,...

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To unseat Netanyahu, his challengers risk becoming just like him

As party lists are finalized in the lead-up to Israeli elections, the big bangs offer little substantive changes. And the challengers of the center look uncannily like the current leadership.

A visual expression of the Israeli election campaign would look a lot like a Jackson Pollock painting. All of the parties running were required to finalize their lists on Thursday, and declare whether they would merge, split or stay single-by-choice. For 24 hours before the deadline, the parties darted around in a strategic frenzy accompanied by the relentless whine of 1,000 blooming rumors.

The latest changes should be seen in the context of the earlier dramas in the political system.

Start with the center and left: When elections were called, a new party led by former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz sprung up in the center of the Israeli political map, draining votes from the existing center party, Yesh Atid, and from Labor on the center-left. The new Labor leader, Gabbay, was failing in his attempt to tack right so, naturally, he lopped off his more centrist co-leader, Tzipi Livni. This week, Livni pulled out of the race entirely, after surveys showed her party failing to cross the electoral threshold. Yair Lapid saw his support flow with centripetal force towards Gantz. As the latter consistently won more votes in surveys, Lapid finally consented to join up with Gantz and take second spot, to maximize votes. The two banded together with former generals Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi to form the “Blue and White” party.

The Israeli right wing can be faulted for many things, but not for complacency. Earlier in the campaign cycle, Jewish Home, the main party to the right of Netanyahu, broke apart: Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked left to form the “New Right.” The old Jewish Home party – well-stocked with extremists – was left competing for right-wing religious votes with both Bennett and a fringe party of fanatics called “Jewish Power.” Netanyahu’s reaction was a bit frenzied. In addition to indiscriminately firing off his poison arrows of “Left! Weak” at anyone in the Gantz crowd, Netanyahu cancelled a meeting with Vladimir Putin, a not-unimportant figure, to stay home and bribe the Jewish Home and the fanatics to merge as well. He promised them two ministerial positions if he wins, and they agreed to run on a joint slate — at the prime minister’s request.

What does all...

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It’s time to stop asking why the Israeli left has disappeared

For Israeli left-wing voters, nothing is more important than overthrowing Netanyahu. Yet despite their common cause, the left remains anything but united and it is polling at unprecedented lows.

There is one thing shared by nearly every Israeli who does not define her or himself as right-wing: a profound desire to oust Benjamin Netanyahu. And yet, despite all their efforts, none of the left-wing parties today look capable of doing so.

Polls show the left-wing Meretz party hovering near the four-seat minimum threshold to enter Knesset. and at least one poll had Labor down to just five seats in recent weeks. After Ahmad Tibi’s recent announcement that he would leave the Joint List and run independently, the two Arab parties reach 12-13 combined seats in most polls, the total representation of the Israeli left — notwithstanding wide variations between them — could be down to 21 seats (4, 5 and 12). Such a result would be unprecedented. These parties won 42 seats in the 2015 elections. When Labor had its lowest showing ever in 2009, the total still reached 27 seats.

Nearly 20 years after the Second Intifada precipitated the collapse of the Israeli left, it’s time to stop asking what happened. The real question is why after so many years has the left failed to resurrect itself — and whether it could do so in the future?

In the mid-2000s a fresh generation of leaders who were either young or new to politics seemed poised to put the party back on the map. Campaign billboards in 2006 showed “the team” — beaming faces including Ofir Pines, Yuli Tamir, Ami Ayalon, Avishai Braverman, Shelly Yechimovich, Eitan Cabel and the newly-elected leader Amir Peretz, who was generating a wave of excitement.

Tamir, Ayalon, Braverman and Pines have since abandoned politics altogether. Similarly, journalist Daniel Ben Simon entered Knesset during the term from 2009-2013, and then left.


If leaders flee, is it any surprise that voters do as well? This week, the Labor Party elected a young and energetic crop of leaders to its top slots, while Meretz will hold its primary on Thursday. Can the two parties most closely associated with the left avoid the same fate?

I asked some of those would-be leaders from the mid-2000 what went wrong. Their answers ranged from the personal to the political...

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Do Israelis vote for political ideology or cult of personality?

Although Israelis have historically voted for strong political frontmen, it seems that dazzling personalities are no longer sufficient to winning elections. It turns out that voters are looking at the values, worldview, and policies.

Last October, Lior Shlein, Israel’s top satirist, made a convincing case that Yair Lapid is a cult leader. Lapid was a TV celeb who entered politics in 2013 trading on his teeny-bop looks and name recognition. He had no discernible ideology other than a vague promise to represent the mostly middle classes behind the social protest of 2011. Yet despite his own tony demographic, his Yesh Atid party ended up winning 19 seats in his first run. Shlein had a good time comparing Lapid to Jonestown cult leader Jim Jones.

Lapid could be proof that when it comes to election campaigns, Israel has completely gone American: personality takes all. He might represent the end of a process that arguably began with Netanyahu himself. But a deeper look at the complex interaction of people, parties, and issues on the agenda shows that voters aren’t as cynical, shallow, or prone to manipulation as we think.

The idea that campaigns are merely a personality contest carries a deep stigma of campaigns as empty manipulation. In this view, all it takes to sell a leader is a slick adviser, the right hair, makeup, height, and some ready-mix rhetoric. Hope, change or unity will do. Or the flip side, fear.

In the 1990s, Netanyahu was considered the ultimate personality candidate. When he first entered politics, he was criticized for being too “American,” as recalled in the excellent new documentary film King Bibi. Netanyahu had clever timing for a charisma-candidate; Israel had just changed its electoral system and in 1996 held direct elections for prime minister for the first time in its history. The horserace threw a spotlight on the now-famous televised debate between Netanyahu and incumbent Shimon Peres. Like the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960, Netanyahu was nimble and sharp, all butterfly and bee around his older, slower opponent. He ended up winning.

Dr. Israel Waismel-Manor, director of the Department of Government and Political Thought at the University of Haifa and an expert on political campaigns, agrees that Israel is moving toward personality politics and away from a focus on either ideology or institutions, in both campaigns and the media. According to Waismel-Manor, this is a global trend. “It’s hard to cover institutions in...

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The future is the center: Meet the parties shaking up Israeli politics

Caught between growing extremism on the right and a battered left, Israelis are flocking to a new crop of centrist politicians who prioritize economic issues over solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Galia Ben Haim discussed her political opinions while driving back from jail. In addition to her day job, she volunteers at a women’s prison.  The inmates, she says, committed their crimes after Israel’s social institutions failed them.

In the last two elections the 48-year-old mother of four says she voted for Yesh Atid, the centrist party founded by TV icon Yair Lapid in 2013. She is considering supporting them a third time when Israel holds general elections in April. “I really care about social issues,” she explains. “We need to rehabilitate families, help social workers, welfare agencies, women who are in prison, the poor,” she says.

Over the last two electoral cycles, Israel has experienced the rise of a new kind of political center in an arena generally seen as a battle of left and right, largely due to voters like Ben Haim. There are now two main centrist parties in Knesset, Yesh Atid, and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, which first competed in 2015. Together, they hold 21 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

This is an important development, given that the Israeli electorate is weighted in favor of another right-wing victory. Only around 20 percent of adults in Israel self-define as left wing — not enough for the left to win an election. Any chance for a real change of government will have to come from the center.

By contrast, the center camp shows potential for growth. In 2015, the two parties won just over 16 percent of the vote (10 seats for Kahlon and 11 for Lapid). Yet in surveys, about one-quarter of Israelis regularly self-define as centrist. In other words, 10 percent of Israelis are potential swing voters for centrist parties. Those numbers could be augmented by moderate right-wingers who are increasingly disenchanted by Netanyahu’s longevity in power, the corruption investigations against him — or simply his rhetoric and style of governing.

Ronen Ashkenazi, 42, runs a kiosk in the heart of Tel Aviv. He considers himself to be centrist and has supported Likud in the past but voted for Yesh Atid in more recent elections. Now he’s not sure which party to vote for, but Netanyahu has to go. “Enough of Bibi already – he’s corrupt, he needs to go home....

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Israel's upcoming elections will have plenty of surprises in store

Israeli voters will head to the polls in three-and-a-half months to elect a new government. Here’s what that means, and where the elections may go.

After weeks of feverish speculation, the Israeli governing coalition voted unanimously on Monday to disband the Knesset and call early elections in April 2019.

Prime Minister Netanyahu had kept the country on its toes since November when some Israeli news outlets irresponsibly reported that Israel was headed for elections following the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Instead Netanyahu wriggled out of a tight spot and convinced his remaining coalition partners to stay for a spell. But with just 61 seats out of 120, the slim government was precarious from the start and the announcement was hardly a surprise.

How should we understand what these elections mean, what will they be about, and what might they bring?

One thing should be clear: these elections should not be considered “early.” It is true that they will be held before the regularly scheduled date, which would have been in November 2019. But any meaningful consequence of the date is overshadowed by the fact that by April, four full years will have passed since the previous elections in March 2015. This reasonable length is rare in a country best known for squabbling, short-lived governments; Netanyahu will invariably be credited with stability, not blamed for elections half a year early.

Further, 3.5 months might be meaningful if poll numbers and electoral trends were volatile – if so, early elections might reflect the best possible speculation, like buying the right stock at the right time. Not so – in Israel, broad electoral trends have been remarkably stable over the last decade. Likud, Netanyahu’s ruling party, has won the last two elections (2013 and 2015) and the right-leaning breakdown for ideological blocs – right-wing, center, and left-wing parties – meant that only Likud was able to form the coalition in 2009, even though the party came in second place by one Knesset seat.

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Since the last elections, public opinion surveys have shown Likud winning relentlessly over all runner up parties, with a lone exception or two well over a year back – outlier polls that showed...

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The right keeps winning in Israel because Israelis are right wing

The political map in Israel hasn’t fundamentally changed since a decade ago, when left-wing voters migrated to the center and centrist voters moved right.

The last week has seen feverish speculation about the possibility of early elections in Israel, primarily against the backdrop of infighting about how to handle Gaza. Defense Minister Liberman resigned and the governing coalition teetered; but on Monday the Jewish Home party announced its intention to remain, pulling Israel back from the brink of elections — for the moment. The situation is so volatile that new elections could still be called early — in March or May. At latest, they will be held one year from now, as scheduled, in November 2019.

To understand where Israel might wind up, we need to know what about the political system will not change — and where potential surprises might lie.

What we know

First, the current government has essentially maxed out its four-year term, and Netanyahu will be credited with generating relative stability in Israel’s notorious political jungle. In the past, it was rare for an Israeli government to last even close to a full term.

Second, the ideological splits in the Israeli public have been stable for roughly a dozen years. Seismic shifts during the Second Intifada led to a migration of left-wingers to the self-defined political center. They added to that camp but also replaced some centrists who migrated right, causing the percentage of Jewish right-wingers to drift upward over the decade (from around 40 percent prior to the intifada).

By around 2007, this process was complete. The political map has hardly changed since then. Currently, the portion of all Israelis who call themselves right wing stands at around 46 percent — among the Jewish population, that’s just over half. The number of self-defined centrists is roughly one-quarter, and the portion of left-wingers is stable at about one-fifth (about 14 to 15 percent of the Jewish population). Overall, most polls show a slight plurality of right-wingers, versus the center-left bloc.


Given that, the Knesset is a roughly fair representation of the citizens who vote in national elections. Of 120 seats, the right and religious coalition has 12 more seats than the center, left and Arab opposition parties combined — 66 to 54.

It makes sense, therefore, that a third relatively stable feature...

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Death penalty for Pittsburgh terrorist is wrong

Sentencing Robert Bowers to death isn’t likely to honor the victims. What’s worse, it might build up the case for capital punishment for terrorists in Israel.

Prosecutors are reportedly planning to seek the death penalty for Robert Bowers, suspected of murdering 11 Jews in a mass shooting attack as they celebrated a bris at their synagogue in Pittsburgh. They shouldn’t.

There is a human instinct that cries out to match the most awful crime with the ultimate punishment. As I watched the miserable news pour in, every face looked like someone in the synagogue where I grew up, in Brooklyn. Every time I saw Rabbi Myers speak of his congregants, tears flowed uncontrollably.

At moments, the pain this week ran so deep that even imagining death of the murderer feels unsatisfying — as if his one evil life somehow equals 11 innocent ones. Maybe there’s something worse: torture, suffering, hellfire.

But none of these ideas actually make me feel better; they disgust me. If emotions are a spectrum, the revenge side feels like a brick wall. Maybe that’s what prompted a woman from Charleston to say, “I forgive you,” to Dylann Roof, who slaughtered her mother at prayer. It was astonishing to see a woman at her darkest hour triumph over the worst and most natural of human instincts — I doubt I would be able to do it. In his book Between the World and Me, Ta Nehisi Coates admitted with candor that he felt “a great distance from the grieving rituals of my people,” when those whose loved ones had been cut down for being black, offer forgiveness in return.

But even Coates opposed the death penalty for Roof, who was convicted of 33 charges and sentenced to death in a federal court. Coates didn’t forgive Roof, but he thought about the kind of society he wanted America to be. For that, he looked to Dr. King:

Although hackneyed by the tragic necessity of overuse, there is something to the entreaty “don’t let the terrorists win.” Robert Bowers represents an America that confronts difference by destroying it. He longs for an America where political opinions are expressed by violence, in which difference of opinion is punishable by death. in response, America should not enforce law and morality by killing a man.

Would killing him honor the victims? It’s unlikely. The large majority of American...

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Who needs a Nation-State Law? What Israelis really think

Several polls show that a surprising coalition of Israelis oppose the Jewish Nation-State Law, or at least think it is unnecessary and harmful.

Those of us who are committed to equality of all citizens in Israel feel, once again, like specks drowning in a sea of chest-beating nationalists.

The passage of the Jewish Nation-State Law looks like another example of ethno-nationalist populism sweeping Israeli society. “Massive support from the right for Nation-State Law,” read a headline reporting on a survey from Walla! News this week; Haaretz commentator Yossi Verter declared:

“Public support for it extends beyond the borders of the right-wing camp… It sharpens the debate between right and left, and redraws the ‘us’ and the ‘them,’ the former being those who love the country and the latter, its denigrators.”

But a close reading of public opinion this week shows a more complex picture. From the government’s perspective, the best news is the Walla! News survey, conducted by Panels Politics, showing 58 percent support for the bill. That does look like a strong majority, and would justify Verter’s claim, since the self-identified right is only about 45 percent of Israeli society.

But the ideological breakdown also shows the opposite side of the coin: there is near-consensus on the right and the left in support or opposition, respectively, while center-identified respondents were split clear through – about half for (49 percent) and just under half against (45 percent). Of Joint List voters in the poll, 100 percent opposed the law.

With nearly half of the mainstream Israeli center camp against the bill, the opposition is not just a matter of isolated dissidents. The center is a key constituency and currently holds a combined total of 21 out of 120 seats in the Knesset – in other words, about 10 centrist seats oppose the law. Together with almost the whole left and Arab respondents, this is a substantial portion of society.

Does it re-define the left and right, as Verter claims? Yes, but not in the way he thinks. The ‘against’ camp can’t be smeared as a bunch of radical leftists as Netanyahu tried hard to do, rather, the center is legitimizing opposition to the bill.


But another survey exposes more serious doubts. The monthly Peace Index, conducted by Tel...

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Torture ruling unites right and left, but leaves justice by the wayside

Both left and right-wingers hailed a decision by an Israeli court to throw out parts of confessions provided by two Israelis suspected of a murdering a Palestinian family because they were obtained through torture. The shared satisfaction across political camps is rare. It is also flawed and worrying.

Both left-wing and right-wing voices lauded an Israeli court on Tuesday for throwing out parts of the confessions provided by two Israeli Jews suspected of a lethal terror attack against a Palestinian family, because they were obtained through torture. In the middle of the night in August 2015, attackers set fire to the Dawabshe family home in Duma, outside Nablus. Both parents, Saed and Riham Dawabshe, and their baby son, Ali, were burned to death. Ahmed, four at the time, suffered severe burns, and has required extensive surgeries and rehabilitation.

The shared satisfaction across political camps about the ruling is rare; it is also flawed and worrying. Why?

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), a tireless human rights organization, broke with its usual statements of outrage to issue a rare positive response.

Throwing out the confessions is “commendable,” PCATI wrote, noting that “[t]he judgment also clearly stated that ‘necessity interrogations’ are a severe violation of basic human rights, and as such disqualify their products.”

Physicians for Human Rights — Israel, another dogged human rights organization, gave a similarly enthusiastic response decrying the use of torture in any form.

Meanwhile Haim Shain, a right-wing commentator for the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper, wrote: “A freedom-seeking democracy should not allow interrogators to employ any means without limits or proportionality to reveal the truth. It is obliged to find the appropriate balance between protecting human dignity and the right of the public to live secure from criminals and terrorists…” Such words would make any human rights organization proud.

And in fact, supporters of human rights should laud the court’s decision. This was different from the horror scenes of Abu Ghraib, which represented a total breakdown of command and pornographic levels of torture. Rather, Israel’s internal security agency (Shin Bet) had prior legal approval from the attorney general to use “special methods,” which reportedly included forcing suspects to hold painful positions for long hours. The exact nature of the interrogation tactics have not been made public.

In 1999, the Israeli High Court outlawed the use of torture but left a loophole for suspects who...

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