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Upheaval! Knesset neo-fascists taking a beating

Latest blow: Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein tells Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu he won’t defend anti-NGO bills in Supreme Court.

In all the (well-placed) wailing over the totalitarian legislation being pushed in the Knesset by the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, the good guys don’t seem to have noticed that all their wailing has had a tremendous effect. I’m almost afraid to say it, but the Left, together with its centrist and old “Jabotinskyan” Likud allies, seems to have turned the tide against the neo-fascists.

The latest and possibly most decisive evidence was reported today: Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein wrote Netanyahu a letter saying that if the Knesset legislation aimed at stifling left-wing NGOs becomes law, he won’t defend the bills against challenges in the Supreme Court because they’re indefensible from top to bottom.

“They deal a harsh blow to a long list of constitutional rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to equality,” Weinstein wrote. “Instead of enabling open discussion in an efficient ‘marketplace of ideas,’ they try to suppress speech. They put Israel on a par with the handful of countries that have taken similar steps, and I doubt the State of Israel should be jealous of these regimes and act like them.”

Not a lot of air in that statement. I don’t see where MKs Ophir Akunis, Fania Kirschenbaum, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Danny Danon and their henchmen can go now in their campaign, which seeks to shut off foreign government funding to B’Tselem, Adalah, Breaking the Silence and all the other Israeli NGOs that expose abuses of Palestinians.

Before this, Netanyahu was obliged to freeze the two bills Weinstein referred to. (Akunis and Kirschenbaum have come up with a new bill that’s worded differently, but which is is just as harmful to all those freedoms Weinstein mentioned as the original proposed laws.) Netanyahu also pulled back the worst of all this wrecking-ball legislation – Levin’s bill that would give the Knesset ultimate power to appoint Supreme Court justices, God help us.

Between the anti-Supreme Court bills, the anti-NGO bills and the anti-media bill, together with the spectacle of women being forced to ride in the back of Israeli buses and facing walk-outs by Orthodox Jews when they dare to sing, there’s a vivid sense that Israel’s democracy is being shredded. And the backlash has been fierce – from Israeli civil society, media, academe, Knesset opposition, the “Likud princes” (Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin and cabinet ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin) and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish. It  spread overseas to the foreign media, U.S. and European ambassadors to Israel, American Jewish bigwigs Abraham Foxman, Jeffrey Goldberg and Martin Peretz, and finally to Hillary Clinton.

This is not good for the Jews. These days, it seems to me, the neo-fascists are putting on their shit-eating grins. They have caused Netanyahu a big headache. Their dark art in the Knesset has turned into a scandal, and my guess is that they won’t bring it out again soon.

The great putsch is faltering in the face of opposition, to the opponents’ surprise. What lessons can be drawn? That there are limits to what a country that purports to be democratic, that values its ties to the West, can do.

But it seems to me that the backlash wouldn’t have been remotely so powerful and urgent if it hadn’t been the local equivalent of “white folks” whose rights were under attack. The victims of all this legislation are seen to be liberal, or at least moderate, Israeli Jews. If the primary targets had been Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, there would have been opposition, but not this mounting outrage. There is a limit to what you can do to Israelis, but not to Arabs – even when they’re Israelis, too. For evidence, remember that while there was protest against the bill requiring new citizens to pledge their loyalty to a Jewish state, and to the barring of Nakba memorials in schools and other state-supported institutions, both those bills were passed into law.

On the other hand, though, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are the indirect beneficiaries of the current backlash. The reason why the Levins, Akunises and Danons want to get rid of liberal Supreme Court judges and human rights activists is, of course, because they stick up for the Arabs. Just about all the neo-fascists who are pushing this legislation are secular – they don’t care about the “culture war,” the Orthodox vs. the non-Orthodox, they care about the real war, the Jews vs. the Arabs, and they’re out to get not only the Arabs, but the Jews who help them.

And they’re getting their asses kicked fairly well. So this is good for the Arabs, too, which, as far as I’m concerned, is good for the Jews. Smile, comrades; it seems like we’re actually winning one.

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    1. Elan Miller

      Larry, who would have known it? The left have friends in the right.

      I’m glad that we can find some common ground. Really, really, really glad.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Hands across the Yarkon, Elan.

      Reply to Comment
    3. dafi cohen

      Larry Derfener,
      what is exactly the difference between the positions of Yisrael Beitenu and the ones that you expressed in your recent article “Response to Joseph Dana”?
      Peraphs you write things in a more polite way than them. And that’s the reason why you have the impression to be more “open” and “enlighted” than them

      Reply to Comment
    4. Dafi- are you seriously asking what the difference between Larry Derfener and Yisrael Beitenu are? If you can’t see worlds of difference in their positions, can’t see that far more than stylistic differences of politeness separate them- then I think you’ve simplified the world to a completely meaningless black-and-white constants.

      Reply to Comment

      read the content of “Response to Joseph Dana” and you will see that it is the other face of the same medal.
      Derfner is mutatis mutandis like Barak: personally I prefer much more Lieberman, at least he speaks clearly

      Reply to Comment
    6. I wrote that I’m in favor of a Palestinian state encompassing the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and that it should have equal rights of soverignty with Israel, i.e. right to unlimited military power, and that hundreds of thousands of refugees should be allowed to return to Israel proper – and I’m the same as Lieberman, only less honest. Thanks, Dafi, for clearing that up.

      Reply to Comment

      Larry Derfner,
      let me quote just one passage, a passage that Lieberman would subscribe without any problem:
      “I’m against the right of return…on moral grounds. It’s not just that the Palestinians started the 1947-48 war, it’s that they, too, carried out expulsions in that war,….If there had been a small number of refugees, I personally would have had no objection to letting them come back – not as a matter of right, but rather because there would have been no good reason to refuse….But again, not as a matter of right, because I don’t think it is their right.”
      These is just one of the key issues. To speak about the right-wing Knesset of our days is so much more easy
      PS I can agree that only a symbolic number of refugees can be absorbed in Israel. But at least this has to be done as a matter of right and acknoledgement of the price that the paid and not as an act of charity

      Reply to Comment
    8. Piotr Berman

      I guess the principle “they are all the same” is vert appealing in its simplicity.

      On the other hand, I have a somewhat similar feeling, if not toward Larry. To wit, as a wee lad I have heard an expression “the fascists of Zhabotynski” and indeed, Jabotinsky had some summer camps organized in Italy under friendly auspices of Mussolini. It is fair to say that he was a “moderate fascist”, not a Nazi but … And thus I believe that it causes Natanyahu no mental pain to support the beautiful NGO bill in the last edition: basically, if the state approves an NGO getting money from abroad, it can, if not, it cannot. Lukashenka would surely approve.

      Now, if the proponents of NGO bills really, really though that this dog will hunt, they are indeed quite stupid. But as a vehicle of vilification of the “Radical Left” this is very useful. The Right needs a constant war, and a never ending campaign on internal traitors offers plenty of exercise with little risk. Even Hamas can bite, but NGOs? As long as you let them live, they are toothless (strangely enough, while actual human right violations may give rise to unfriendly reports and an occasional diplomatic note, muzzling the NGOs that report on them seems to switch on some actual red lights).

      So it is a little like fishing when caught fish have to be returned back to the stream. But what a pleasure to have one on you hook!

      Reply to Comment
    9. And I’m sure Abbas’s view of the 47-48 war and the principle of the right of return matches Islamic Jihad’s, but that doesn’t make Abbas and Islamic Jihad the same thing.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Dafi Cohen

      Larry Derfner,
      I am sure that you got the point

      Reply to Comment
    11. KL Ching

      Those of us Americans that are monitoring the protection of Arab and Muslim Israeli civil rights are relieved when we see that progressive liberal Israelis are ensuring that all Israeli institutions are performing their civic responsibilities in a fair and just manner. The November 25th issue of “The Economist” has an extensive article titled “Left vs, Right, A battle is underway for the control of Israel’s judicial system”. Much publicity have been focused on the UN and the Palestinian bid for an independent state and how efforts by UNESCO to accommodate the Palestinians and Fatah are progressing. The world is WATCHING. President Obama is carefully balancing commitments to Israel and treating the Palestinians fairly. Good reporting Larry.

      Reply to Comment
    12. David

      The social-economic and political alignement of the main parts of Israeli society portend a ever worsening fascist control.

      The Israeli mainstream (Dichter, Barak) has sold out long ago in simialr fashion to other times in history.

      Don’t mean to depress anyone but the future will just see more of this.

      Reply to Comment
    13. sh

      “Smile, comrades; it seems like we’re actually winning one.”
      I’m smiling. The JNF-Himnuta kind of retreated – at least temporarily – over the eviction of Silwan’s Sumarin family in order to hand their home over to Elad. With the help of Rabbi’s for Human Rights, we need to keep the pressure up there too.

      Reply to Comment
    14. AF

      The Knesset will just cut off the funds to the Supreme Court. Nothing the Supreme Court can do about that.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Your Attorney General is trying to save the Knesset. If he sees this bill as so obviously damaging to latent (non-textual) rights within Israel proper, he knows that the Supreme Court, hearing a case on the bill if later made law, might well use such a case to expand its direct constitution oversight over Knesset legislation (mostly, the Knesset avoids doing this, focusing on review of Administrative Decisions; future AD’s can try to walk around a given court decision as a “special case”). Direct nullification of such a law would enflame what I have advocated herein as an ongoing constitutional crisis. And, as I have pointed out too many times, the trump card of the Court is to declare the Declaration of Independence as a constitutional document.
      So you quote your Attorney General as writing to Bibi (can’t spell his name):
      “They deal a harsh blow to a long list of constitutional rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to equality. “Instead of enabling open discussion in an efficient ‘marketplace of ideas,’ they try to suppress speech”
      Equality of expression and association follows directly from your Declaration. How many in the Knesset are ready for the Court to declare that Israel is in fact not wholely without a constitution? How many in the Knesset are ready to abandon the courts in all of their business activities, and those of those who support them and their parties?
      If you box your High Court into a corner, I believe you will get a proto-constitution. I think the High Court, if finally explicitly declaring your Declaration constitutional, should also then call for a constitutional convention, not created by the Court, but urged by the Court, to FINALLY fullfil the direct promise of the Declaration.
      Israel is not as constitutionally helpless as the left makes out. But it will take a real push against the High Court, followed by courage on the Court, to move things ahead. Your Attorney General is trying to avoid that push.

      Reply to Comment

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