Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

When Is the Truth a Lie? When It’s a Half Truth

When is the truth a lie?

When it’s a half truth.

Now that the coalition is back to advancing various parts of their upheaval, they proceed full force in propagating deceptions, like their core assertion that, “in all other democracies, politicians appoint judges,” citing the US, in particular.

They leave out– the “half” part, though if you do simple math, it’s actually way more than half— that the US and the other democracies they cite have Constitutions that enshrine individual, equal, civil and human rights– the right to free speech, the right to practice but not impose religion, the right to a free, independent, press, the right to demonstrate, all of which limit what any government can do or what judges can do.

They leave out the fact that other democracies have bi-cameral legislatures, not concentration of all legislative power in one house.

That they have federal systems, so that the central government is not the only one making laws that affect the entire country.

Israel has NONE, zero, nada, of the above.

We have a terrible system, stymied since the State’s creation without a Constitution that  does what I outline, above, and which also clearly demarcates a tri-partite system of government, with clear functions and limits to the three branches and transparent checks and balances between them.

We do have “Basic Laws” that have constitutional status, which the Supreme Court enforces– a core function, of course, of a Supreme Court: to hold laws accountable to basic rights and limits, as Constitutionally defined. The Court has done this at times, importantly, and often, weakly or not at all. According to the agunah advocacy organization, “Mavoy Satum,” one in five women in Israel are denied a gett, a rabbinic divorce which, in the absence of civil marriage and divorce in Israel, is the only way Jewish citizens can formally end a marriage. Ask any woman denied a gett and held in marital captivity and extorted for a divorce or just denied one because, in Israel, with divorce administered only by rabbinic courts, men can do that– ask them if the Supreme Court has acted to protect them. In a recent interview, the demonized former Chief Justice, Aharon Barak, when asked about needed reforms, said that leaving marriage and divorce to the rabbis must stay on the books. And he’s the supposed champion of the “left.” It was the remark of utter and totally unconscious male privilege operating as legal opinion. May he and all the rest of them wake up tomorrow, a la Kafka’s, “Metamorphosis,” women. Married women. In Israel. Watch the lightening quick fix of that supposedly intractable situation!

Because there is terrible dysfunction in the lack of a clear, explicit, detailed Constitution, we are in the mess we are in and have been in since this government took office six months ago, with no end in sight.

The racist, hyper-nationalist, kahanists and their allies in the haredi parties who, along with them, seek to impose a theocracy here, demonize the Supreme Court because they can only achieve their extremist goals if the justice system is gutted and under the control of the Executive, who commands a majority, however small, in the Knesset. “The Executive,” of course, would be the thrice-indicted Netanyahu, on trial in a seemingly endless process, whose eventual verdicts may well end up before– the Supreme Court. A Court, conveniently, if the upheaval proceeds in Levin’s core demand, under the Executive’s control. Unrestrained by a Constitution or an independent court, the coalition can then do as they wish. Indeed, that is the meaning of “democracy” to the Kohelet Forum and their accessories, Levin, Rotman, Smotrich. The correct words for what they seek are demagoguery and autocracy. But here, too, lies, lies, duplicity, manipulation of language and they hope, our minds.

The haredi parties target the Court because it stands in their way of implementing a permanent exemption from army or alternative service for their sector, while also getting huge and growing subsidies to support their lack of an education system-system at the cost of well funded health care and education, a competent, adequately trained and staffed POLICE force, and social services for ALL of us. Explicitly including Arab citizens of this country.

So, since we are back to open implementation of the coalition’s schemes, job number one is to call out their lies, manipulations, their genevat daat.

Why we are not demonstrating, demanding a full Constitution now, as outlined above, but just keep going around in circles with Levin, Rotman, Smotrich, Ben Gvir and their semi-master, Netanyahu, whose conflict of interest in all this shrieks to the heavens, I truly do not understand.

THIS– CONSTITUTIONAL democracy– must be the demand, so that the threat now before us ends– and so that we are never again confronted with such a threat– a Hebrew-speaking version of Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Modi’s India, taking from us the Israel which we– all of us, here and abroad– love and have fought for.

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.