Zev Farber

When Tactics Overwhelm Values

On Saturday night, Meretz supporters protested outside the home of MK Rinawie Zoabi because of her refusal to vote for the extension of the bill that applies Israeli law to settlers in Judea and Samaria. It was a surreal protest, given how Meretz is generally antagonistic to the settler movement, and at the very least, does not support the settlement enterprise as long as Israeli law discriminates against the Palestinians living in that same part of the West Bank (Area C), who live under military occupation law, not Israeli law.

The reason for the protest is because, if the law doesn’t pass, the right wing New Hope party, as well as Yamina, will feel it necessary to leave the government and it will fall. The protesting Meretz supporters reasonably argue that such a collapse will be terrible for the country, especially for its Arab citizens, given that the next government could very well be hard right, with no centrist and left wing parties to function as a moderating force.

They are correct, of course, but Zoabi reasonably responds that voting for something anathema to her world view and her conscience is going too far. There should be some room for core beliefs, shouldn’t there, especially if they are commensurate with those of the party she ran with?

To give an example from the other side of the aisle, in 2020, when Likud was still the ruling party, a vote came up in the Knesset for a bill banning Conversion Therapy for homosexuals as a harmful and discredited practice. Likud opposed the bill, since their alliance relied on the support of the ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionist parties, who were against this bill. And yet, Likud MK Amir Ohana, the Minister of Justice at the time, voted for the bill. No party disciple was invoked, and for good reason: Amir Ohana is himself gay, and it is simply asking too much for him to vote against the bill.

If the current government had 70 seats instead of 60, I imagine Zoabi would get a free pass, considering the nature of the legislation, but there are no margins now, so every vote is playing for keeps. To make matters worse, the MK from the Ra’am party, Mazen Ghanaim, has also voted against the bill, but as Ra’am doesn’t have a significant amount of Jewish voters, there have not been protests as far as I have heard. Indeed, it is a testimony to how badly the members of the government wish to find compromise solutions and move forward that only these two, as opposed to all of Ra’am and Meretz, voted against the bill.

While I wish they had voted for the bill, I think the concentration on these two MKs misses the real story: In order to try and crash the government, the right-wing Likud and even the ultra-right wing National Religious party, voted against the settlers. The reason they did this is not because Netanyahu suddenly had a change of heart about the settlement project, or the unfairness of applying one set of law to Arabs and another to Jews in Area C, but because he guessed, correctly, that at least some of the Arab MKs would not have the heart to vote for it.

In other words, Likud blocked the settler law against their own value system for tactical reasons. If it causes havoc with the settlers for a time, this is, to their minds, a small price to pay for the possibility of taking charge again. This fits with what Likud MK Miri Regev said in a speech only a little while back, that the new rule is vote against everything, even if the legislation helps rape victims, soldiers, or the disabled. Nothing is more important than crashing the government and taking power again.

Certainly, there are times when no-holds-barred, no-moral-qualms tactics make sense. I would guess that in Ukrainian cabinet meetings nowadays, President Zelenskyy is interested only in what will save his country from Russia and no other consideration. I imagine cabinet meetings in 1948 were similar.

The craziness of our world today is that every political opponent is now treated as an existential threat. The fact that the current government has three right wing parties is written off. “They are controlled by the left or by the Arab party” is the claim. “We have no choice but to tank our own values because the opponents are a threat to our very survival.” Why? Because they aren’t us.

About the Author
Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Kogod Center. He is also the senior editor of and a novelist (writing as Z. I. Farber).
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