When I left Israel a week ago Sunday, I wondered whether I would have a country to come back to. I am now here in the U.S. just over halfway through a speaking/fundraising tour, watching Israel ripping herself apart. Many understandably breathed a sigh of relief on Monday when Prime Minister Netanyahu made his long-anticipated announcement that the judicial overthrow legislation is being frozen and were happy to see the sides meeting on Tuesday. But the quid pro quo was a commitment that Itamar Ben Gvir will be able to set up a national guard that could easily become his private militia.
We are still at each other’s throats. Many in the pro-democracy movement fear that the freeze is a tactical maneuver, even as supporters of the destruction of our justice system as we know it reacted angrily to the freeze, Violence against pro-democracy demonstrators on the streets Monday night was arguably even greater than up until now. To the extent that there are those who call full democracy for Jews only democracy, even that questionable democracy is still in danger.
In his remarks, Netanyahu referred to the very same well known Biblical story that I have been citing in some of my presentations. In First Kings 3:16-28 two women come to King Solomon after one’s baby dies, and she switches her dead baby with the live baby of the second woman in the middle of the night. When King Solomon says that the living baby should be divided in two, the real mother says that the baby should be given to the second woman rather than be killed. As reservists refuse to serve, money flees the country, massive strikes were announced (now called off) and some are trying to ram their cars into those protesting the destruction of our judicial system, is there a point that for the sake of the country’s survival, those of us who care about the welfare of our country need to concede or compromise?
But were we to do so, we would not be left with a healthy baby.
Our country, already plagued with human rights violations and injustice would descend even further into darkness.
Ben Gvir’s proposal as it now stands says that if the prime minister declares a state of emergency, the national security cabinet comprised entirely of government ministers would unilaterally be able to authorize untrained civilians to do more or less anything. I am opposed to giving anybody that sort of unchecked power. Putting such a force in Itamar Ben Gvir’s hands is terrifying. Those who are willing to tolerate Ben Gvir’s militia because they don’t believe it will be used against them would to well to remember the words of Pastor Niemoller. When they came….. I am not making a Holocaust comparison, but an important lesson about the price of indifference must not be rejected simply because it was made in the context of the Holocaust.
While votes scheduled for this week have been postponed and negations have begun, the bill that would give the governing coalition free reign to unilaterally choose judges was submitted for the final plenum votes. That means the commitment to postpone the vote can be rescinded at any moment. The danger of eliminating the protections for the weak and disadvantaged that our courts sometimes provide remains all too real.
We must remember that the fired defense minister Yoav Gallant called for a pause out of concern for the army being dragged into the political arena and weakened, but not out of concern for democracy as we in the human rights community define it. Frankly, there are also many within the protest movement who do not share our understanding. When we are told by fellow demonstrators that they rely on the High Court as the “flak jacket” of the army because our judicial system’s reputation abroad prevents prosecution in international courts when our courts are judging alleged abuses, I think of all the cases of human rights abuses and violence by both security forces and civilians that are never prosecuted either at home or abroad. The physical violence that has been directed against me and many other human rights defenders, not to mention Palestinians, is a directly related to the fact that those acting violently or violating human rights in other ways know that there is almost no chance that they will ever pay a price.
For all these reasons and more, the protests must therefore continue both in Israel and abroad — even as and particularly because the politicians are now talking. There is a very real danger that in the desire to reach an agreement red lines will be crossed. The The governing coalition can neither be given the ability to unilaterally select judges or override the High Court. We must not kill the baby in the name of not dividing it.
And, we must continue to challenge the protest movement. I see some positive change within the pro-democracy activists. There are thankfully signs that since the Hawara pogrom many have been shocked into confronting reality. But we must continue to sound the message that democracy is only democracy if it is democracy for all. It is not acceptable to fight for a “democracy” that ignores the Occupation, the Israeli single parent mother opening the empty refrigerator or the residents of the “unrecognized” Israeli Bedouin villages. It is not acceptable to pave the way for the expulsion African asylum seekers by ignoring international standards for determining refugee status and the dangers they face if sent home.
The undivided baby we must save must include its Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab, Palestinian, wealthy, poverty stricken, asylum seeker parts.