David Horovitz is often a voice of reason and what I interpret as centre-right pragmatism. But in his latest Op-Ed, Israeli democracy isn’t broken, but it is under assault, Horovitz really misses the mark. Unfortunately, at a time when Israel needs its friends the most, it is unfortunate that those like Horovitz and Ron Lauder have chosen to join the jackals against the Jews. Horovitz deserves credit for the fact that, unlike Lauder, he published his more measured criticism of Israeli democracy in The Times of Israel instead of the viciously anti-Israel Times of New York.
On the other hand, on the day Horovitz published his op-ed, right next to it on The Times of Israel homepage was an article about Mahmoud Abbas’s criticism of the law. Being on the same side of an issue as someone as odious and anti-Israel as Mahmoud Abbas should be a good clue to Horovitz that he is on the wrong side of this issue.
Strangely, Horovitz begins his latest op-ed by referring to the case of extreme leftist Peter Beinart, who recently wrote a crocodile tears story about how he was questioned by airport security on his recent visit to Israel only because of his “beliefs.” Beinart, a commentator I consider part of the anti-Israel ZINO (Zionist In Name Only) left, is no friend of the Jewish state or the Netanyahu government. Indeed, he admitted in the article itself that he had in the past participated in an anti-government demonstration in Hebron. So, as it turns out, he wasn’t detained because of his “beliefs” alone. When Netanyahu issued an apology for the detention (something Beinart did not deserve), Beinart smugly shoved the apology back in Bibi’s face by stating, “I’ll accept when he apologizes to all the Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans who every day endure far worse.” When it comes to “point-first advocacy” to make his argument about Israeli democracy, Horovitz leading off with the Peter Beinart sob story is hardly going to get a runner on base to start the inning.
Horovitz proceeds to try to cobble together a few examples to show that, on the aggregate, dangerous things are happening in Israel. His next example is the criticism of Yair Golan, an Israeli senior officer who reportedly wanted soldiers to take more risk to protect Palestinian civilians. I am not sure how criticism of this comment is controversial. Under whose rules should a Jewish boy or girl defending Israel risk his or her life to protect a Palestinian civilian? Palestinian terrorists do not play by any rules of international law, they do not properly demarcate combatants from civilians, and they do not target only combatants. While Israeli soldiers should not go out of their way to harm civilians, if the choice is between a Palestinian civilian and an Israeli soldier, not one Jewish Israeli in their right mind would say the soldier should sacrifice his or her life. Considering the moral bankruptcy of Mr. Golan’s statement, if he made it, it is unclear how this example proves Israeli democracy is under attack.
Of course, the most recent target of the left, and now Horovitz too, is the rather-innocuous-if-you-read-it Nation State Law. Horovitz has previously criticized the law and in this article takes aim at Ayelet Shaked, who stated, rightfully, that there would be an “earthquake” if the High Court struck down the law. Horovitz writes, almost dogmatically, that:
Plainly, such talk was out of line, but the justices, formidable and independent, are unlikely to be deterred — even though the composition of the Supreme Court is gradually changing as the self-same justice minister seeks appointees she thinks are not unsympathetic to her worldview.
Perhaps the justices should be deterred, not by those comments, but by the fact that the King of the Ideological Left on the court, Aharon Barak, staked his whole legacy on the belief that the Basic Laws amounted to a constitution for Israel. Having for years relied on those laws to strike down other democratically passed laws, it would cause an earthquake if the Court overturned a Basic Law itself. Imagine, for a minute, if the US Supreme Court decided to strike down the First Amendment. Earthquake would be far too light a word to describe the reaction.
And what does Horovitz think, for example, of Arab and former High Court Justice Salim Joubran, the man who refuses to sing Israel’s national anthem, sharing his thoughts on the Nation-State Law? Joubran unambiguously stated:
Had I been sitting in court, I would definitely overturn that law,” Joubran said, adding a not-so-subtle appeal to the current High Court judges who will discuss the appeals: “We have decent and professional judges and I hope they will consider it.
Joubran made his comments before Shaked made hers, so it is likely she was at least in part responding to Joubran.
Before even analyzing his comments, it is worth noting that Joubran obviously does not see the irony that his criticism, and the potential that an Arab judge might influence the self-determination of the Jewish people, proves why the law was needed in the first place. He also clearly doesn’t share Horovitz’s concern that the judiciary and the legislature not go out of their way to undermine each other. From my perch, Joubran’s comments, a former “independent” jurist encouraging his former colleagues to take a specific action on a Basic Law, are far more worrisome than Shaked’s.
It would take an essay to respond to Horovitz’s hit-and-run comments on other issues he is concerned about: the Orthodox monopoly over the country in the religious sphere (nothing new and for another article), “hierarchies being eroded” (whatever that means), and concerns about corruption (probably the one place where Horovitz has a point).
But what is lost in Horovitz’s criticisms is perspective. Israel is Jewish and democratic because expressing the culture and history of the majority through public displays, traditions, and laws is the essence of democracy itself. The self-determination of the Jewish people, and the preservation of Jewish laws, traditions and customs within the state of Israel, must take precedence over completely secular democratic notions such as those found in America, where the foundational beliefs of the people are for separation of Church and State. In the State of the Jewish people, the Nation State Law is a product of the democratic will, not an erosion of it. As Liel Leibovitz so eloquently explains in Tablet,
The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are still deeply committed to the Zionist idea, and see Israel as the historic homeland of the Jewish people. When the Jewish left—a political camp that had for decades embraced both Zionism and socialism without great difficulty and strove for justice without compromising its core values—abandoned its old affinities, this majority reacted by exercising its right for self-definition, a cornerstone of the democratic idea.
Before the recent Netanyahu era, and during the Oslo years, Israel was subsumed with a leftist, anti-democratic spirit, where the elite tried to impose values on the majority to which they did not subscribe. Since Netanyahu became prime minister, there has been a steady move towards Israel regaining not only its deterrence militarily, but its pride, dignity and self-confidence as the Jewish nation. Under Netanyahu, Israel stands up for itself and is not ashamed of being the Jewish State; love us or hate us, but we are who we are. The Nation State law reflects that sentiment and is a justified response to the previous era of eroding Jewish pride and self-confidence.
In general, the rightward shift in Israel is the epitome of democratic rebalancing in which the collective consensus of the people of Israel, who are at the very least overwhelmingly proud of their Jewish heritage, now properly guides the direction of the state. What could be more democratic than that?