Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Compromise? We Are Not Netanyahu’s Travel Agent

So, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, veteran Likudnik, says, straight up, that the mass demonstrations stopped the coalition’s legislative coup from being implemented as planned.

That has long been plain knowledge but here it is, from him.

This admission, however striking, does not hold a candle to that of Amir Ohana, Speaker of the Knesset, who gave the full lie to the ongoing and escalating claim (huge ads in the Jerusalem Post, for instance), that this coup was what the last election was about and for; that it was “the voters'” choice, and therefore, the legitimate mandate of this coalition– which won with a total of 30,000 votes and got its slim majority of 64 Knesset seats because several parties did not pass the electoral threshhold, skewing the proportional division of votes cast.

Ohana, in an interview with Ran Kubi, said that he had no idea what Levin– who crafted the coalition agreement, in which the coup, of course, was the core– was planning, of course, with Netanyahu’s mandate, down to the last jot and tittle. Ohana is a senior Likudnik, as evident in the post he now holds and the many prominent ones he’s held in past Netanyahu governments.

This coup was not the issue, or even an issue, on which Likud ran and voters voted. Poll after poll have shown that the vast majority of Israelis a) had no idea what Levin was planning, much less b) voted on that basis. Poll after poll show that the vast majority of Israelis do not want the package this coalition is pressing to implement.

And it is a package: it is the skeleton, sinews, and beating heart of this government. There is no passing this coalition’s radical agenda in a functioning, constitutional, democracy. The means and the ends, the form and the content, are inextricably tied. That is why the radicals of various kinds, however diverse, have been united behind this coup.

All the incitement against the Supreme Court for allegedly “stealing the votes,” “stealing the election”– Americans, sound familiar?– is precisely that.

A Big Lie.

And now, news of a “compromise” which Netanyahu has approved– a week before the Supreme Court is to begin deliberations about the law the coalition passed to strip the Court of recourse to the “reasonableness standard” in rulings about– for one, the reasonableness of appointing Arye Der’i to be a Minister again. This, because Netanyahu pledged to appoint Der’i, twice convicted of serious financial crimes while serving as a Minister, to a new Ministerial post. At the sentencing for his second conviction, as part of a plea deal to spare him prison time (unlike the jail sentence that followed his first conviction), Der’i said he was leaving political life.

He then walked out of the court and declared, I did not mean a word of that, and indeed, he didn’t. He was right back in Knesset in the next of Netanyahu’s elections and pressing Netanyahu to make good the deal to give him another Ministry.

Der’i, of course, is a big proponent of gutting the Supreme Court so it can’t function as a Supreme Court, ruling on the legality, constitutionality, or “reasonableness” of government actions, based on precedents about what legal “reasonableness” means. To cite one such predecent, the Court used that standard to rule against a plan by Avigdor Liberman when he was a Minister, to cease child care subsidies for yeshiva men who don’t work. The Court ruled against the “reasonableness” of such an action in the midst of an already proceeding year. So much for rank (“smolani,” Ashkenazi, “elite”) Court bias.

As one of the slogans of the protests goes, put indicted and convicted politicians in charge of selecting judges– what could possibly go wrong?

The proposed deal has the coalition agreeing to freeze the coup for 1.5 years in return for  concrete concessions now.

Meaning, we are supposed to trust Netanyahu, serial, compulsive liar, manipulator– and Levin. And Rotman. And Smotrich. And Ben Gvir. And the haredi parties. To hold off for 1.5 years. What of the rest of what these radicals want, achievable only if the coup proceeds?

But even if, in some fantasy, they did thus hold off, why would we agree to pause the current crisis, as if it would not repeat on us, like a bad meal? Is not such irresponsibility, from Israel’s founding to now, why we are in this mess now?

The demonstrations have long since passed from being about the particulars of Levin’s coup. Of course, they are about that. But all the social issues, the festering injustices, the systematic inequities and wrongs, the racism, the theocratic, misogynistic demands, the corruption which is the haredi legislative agenda, the systematic discrimination against and failure to meet the needs of Palestinian Israelis, the institutionalization of the occupation and the accelerating annexation of area C and subjugation of the rest of the west bank to permanent Israeli rule, with no discussion even of necessary alternatives in OUR, Israeli, interest—

all this is nowhere in this proposed deal.

Ignoring all the above only to give Netanyahu, the supreme conductor of all we have been enduring, what he wishes– chiefly if not entirely, to avoid the September 12 Supreme Court hearing—cannot fly. The Court is then set to meet with a full complement of all 15 justices to hear arguments on the legality of the law passed just before the Knesset’s summer recess to strip the Court of recourse to the reasonableness standard.

Netanyahu has repeatedly refused to say that he, Prime Minister in a state governed by law, will abide by what the Supreme Court rules. Do what I want and then I’ll abide, he has said.

Levin  and the other radicals have been filing motion after motion to get that deliberation “postponed.”

Now, Netanyahu has artillery guns behind that effort. Tell the Court, “we’re negotiating,” so it will table its deliberations.

The airwaves are rife with speculation about what Netanyahu is up to this time.

Gantz is the prime target for these manipulations. He, of course, is why we still have Netanyahu in our lives to begin with. He threw him a political life line when Netanyahu was on the ropes after one of his failed elections. Gantz abandoned his own party (then, Kahol Lavan)– and partners– Lapid, Ayalon– who had waged an historic election campaign against Netanyahu– and joined a “unity” government with Netanyahu (the pretext then was the covid crisis). Netanyahu full-faced lied to the public, no tricks, no shtiks, he said, I will uphold the agreement with Gantz. Then proceeded to eat Gantz for lunch. Got back into the PM seat and called another election. Didn’t even say, thanks, Benny.

In the critical matter of judgment, I would not trust Gantz to read meteorological charts predicting next week’s weather.

So, the proposal is to “soften,” not repeal, the law ending the reasonableness standard. There were more “moderate” versions of this law. The coalition passed the most extreme version. So that now, Netanyahu, playing the game du jour, could “soften” it, in return for benefits. Like the coalition having veto power over the appointment of all judges and in particular, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Pure coincidence that the one in line to succeed the current Chief Justice is anathema to Levin and Netanyahu, et. al.

Not least, another hoped-for benefit is throwing dust in the eyes of the hundreds of thousands of us who go out every week for the better part of a year now to demonstrate not just against this coup but FOR the Israel that must come out of all this pain and wreckage.

It is remarkable that not a syllable is being spoken about the needed CONSTITUTION for this country.

Why do those backing “reform,” not address this need? Truly, ask yourselves that.

In the absence of a full, solid, Constitution that grounds equal civil and human rights AND OBLIGATIONS for ALL citizens; defines a tri-partite system of government, with the roles, functions, and limits of each branch– the Supreme Court is the only institution doing that, necessarily, on a case-by-case basis.

That is a very bad situation, structurally.

It gives the Court a role it should not have.

The solution is not to gut the Court– unless, of course, you are against equal civil and human rights and obligations for all citizens and the rest of the above– which, of course, is Levin, et. al., empowered by Netanyahu.

The real solution to the crisis we are in is such a Constitution. Based and building upon Israel’s Declaration of Independence but doing all the way-too-long delayed, basic, constitutional work that desperately needs to be done.

The rest of this is blather, meant to confuse and distract us.

I doubt very much that the cumulative millions of us who have been out for 35 weeks straight and some of us, for way longer and more frequently than that, will buy this rotten merchandise.

Netanyahu and family may need a triumphal visit to the US in a few weeks.

We are not their travel agent.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book, the first history of agunot and iggun across the map of Jewish history, with a critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals for fundamental change to end this abuse, is entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains to Free Agunot and End Iggun." She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. She opposes the Kotel deal, which would criminalize women's group prayer at the Kotel and end the site's status as a "national holy site," awarding it instead, to the haredi establishment. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.
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