Whatever happened to the Likud’s liberal values?

The Likud Party’s Constitution defines it as “a national-liberal party advocating  for the ingathering of exiles, the integrity of the Jewish homeland, human freedom, and social justice.”  Along with the goals of maintaining the integrity of the homeland, developing the country, and adopting a liberal economic approach, the constitution also mentions striving for a true peace with neighboring counties and “safeguarding moral values and ethical principles, maintaining a democratic form of government: guaranteeing the supremacy of law, human and civil rights, individual freedoms, equal rights and opportunities of all citizens.”

Looking at the present-day Likud party, it is difficult to see what remains of all this. There is no need to go far back to Jabotinsky’s vision of complete equality or Begin’s “supremacy of law.”  As recently as the 18th Knesset, the government included Ministers, committed to liberal democratic values such as — Benny Begin, Miki Eitan and Dan Meridor, and the Speaker of the Knesset was Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin. That government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, included the following clause in its Policy Guidelines: “The government will act in accordance with the principles of democratic government and will respect the standing and decisions of those institutions entrusted with overseeing its work: the Knesset, the Courts, the State Comptroller and the Attorney-General.”  In February 2012, speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for the President of the High Court of Justice, the Prime Minister said:  “I maintain, that above all in a democratic country, the institution that protects and safeguards these freedoms and rights is the legal system … I believe that a strong and independent legal system is what enables the existence of all the other institutions in a democracy … in the past few months alone, I have quashed any law that threatened to harm the independence of the courts … and I will continue to do so … each time that a bill threatening  the independence of the courts is brought to me … we will do away with  it.”

Look at how far removed today’s Likud is from the Likud of yesteryear, a mere seven years ago, both in terms of personalities and ideologies.  We have come to see that not only do today’s Likud elected representatives fail to protect the independence of the courts, most are even actively involved in trying to curtail t the courts’ independence, by politicizing the appointment of judges and making other attempts to weaken the courts’ powers, including the “Override Clause,” which would grant the Knesset absolute power and render the court’s rulings as mere recommendations.  Members of the Likud party proposed and supported bills that hamper the work of legal counsels and even proposals that would make it difficult to investigate public figures (the “Recommendations Law”).  They even tried to promote the “French Law,” whose sole  purpose is to place the Prime Minister above the rule of law and make him immune to criminal investigations into alleged corruption, while in office.  The Prime Minister and the party leaders are also responsible for the Nation-State Law that contravenes the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Jabotinsky’s beliefs in equality and liberalism. Likud party ideologues have also initiated proposals limiting human rights’ organizations and curbing the freedom of expression for artists and cultural institutions.  With regard to matters of religion and state, the Likud has caved in time and time again to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties on the Minimarket Law, the Surrogacy Law and a host of other decisions on issues of religion and state, such as the Western Wall plan for an egalitarian prayer area.  Avigdor Lieberman’s latest comment, noting that the Likud has become a “semi-ultra-Orthodox” party has no factual basis neither in the makeup of the party’s list, or in its voter base, but is apparent in the party leaders’ total capitulation to the dictates of the ultra-Orthodox.

Things hit an all-time low in the embarrassing spectacle when not one of the Likud’s elected representatives spoke out to condemn the Prime Minister’s tirade against the State Prosecution office, after the announcement of an indictment, pending a hearing (the only exception was MK Benny Begin who will not be serving in the next Knesset).  We are now seeing an all-out attack against the rule of law in Israel, with all the leading official Likud representatives toeing the party line, either by keeping silent or by actively backing the party message that the Attorney-General, the State Prosecutor, the Police and the Antitrust Authority are all busy bringing about a “left-wing” putsch instead of fulfilling their professional duties.

There is no need whatsoever for right-wing positions to be diametrically opposed to liberal values and to a commitment to human rights, the rule of law, and equality.  Begin and Jabotinsky proved that the two are not contradictory, as did their successors.  The liberal Right continues to exist, but in the Likud party — it seems to be on the verge of disappearing.

About the Author
Dr. Amir Fuchs is head of the Defending Democratic Values project at the Israel Democracy Institute.
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