“If it’s not clear to everyone here why Seinfeld has the right to immigrate but a refugee from Sabra and Chatila has no such right, that means he succeeded,” said attorney Yoav Many, representing the Yisrael Beiteinu party. In those very words, he defended the Central Elections Committee’s decision to disqualify Ofer Cassif of the Hadash party from running for the 21st Knesset.
By “he,” Many meant Cassif, whom he sees as an agent of evil. As he explained, “Evil creeps in slowly, and then it’s suddenly there, and then suddenly there’s a debate on the question of what’s wrong with a state of all its citizens.”
The transcript of the hearing that took place in Jerusalem on Wednesday about Cassif’s candidacy ought to be published and distributed to every Israeli, because the purpose of disqualifying him is exactly that – to prevent Israeli citizens from holding the discussion that took place in the Supreme Court. And what does it constitute, in his opinion, that evil must be destroyed while it’s still small? Many explained, “Anyone who talks about a state of all its citizens, that’s a code for abolishing the Law of Return.”
Thus the danger Cassif poses has nothing to do with the fact that he equates some Israelis to Nazis or can sympathize with a guerrilla war against Israeli soldiers and settlers in occupied territory. The danger he poses lies in his challenge to the Law of Return.
At this point, a citizen may ask himself, “Isn’t the Israeli legislature exactly the place where questions of this sort are supposed to be discussed? Is it conceivable that questions that touch on the core of our existence in this country are banned from discussion in the legislature, and can only be discussed in exclusive committees with limited membership, or in the courts?
“We all know what a Jewish and democratic state is,” Many insisted. “Here we are truly coming to the fundamental code of our existence here.” The fundamental code of our existence, no less.
To paraphrase the heroine of the hour, Rotem Sela: Who entitled you, attorney Many, to deprive citizens of the state of the right to discuss questions relating to “the fundamental code of our existence here”? Why are you entitled to discuss and debate these crucial questions in court while ordinary citizens, via their Knesset representatives, are barred from doing so?
When Justice Isaac Amit understood where Many was going, he asked, “In your view, is anyone who opposes the Law of Return not a Zionist and unable to be in the Knesset?” Many then shared his interpretation of the Law of Return. “The Law of Return has a purpose – to ensure that Israel has a Jewish majority,” he said.
Justice Menachem Mazuz queried, “Who said that’s the purpose of the Law of Return?” Many replied, “With all due respect to the Law of Return, it’s a shorthand for something else, … to ensure something that was more important to the state’s founders – the existence of a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel.”
Mazuz tried again: “You say that Arab MKs by definition have no place, because nobody expects them to support the Law of Return?” And Many replied, “I didn’t ask them to support the Law of Return. That’s exactly the point, and that’s where I want to get to. ... Where should we begin? In Basel?” he continued, referring to the site of the first Zionist Congress.
“The state of Israel has core values,” he added. “It’s the home of the Jewish people and will open its doors to any Jew; with regard to others, it has discretion.”
But the bottom line, Mazuz pressed him, is that “anyone who objects to the Law of Return can’t be represented in the Knesset? This means that Arabs have no place in the Knesset? Please say yes or no, and if no, how does that fit?” But Many insisted, “This is the state and that’s how it is.”
Mazuz understood. “Is the fact that someone has an opinion about the Law of Return sufficient to disqualify him?” he asked. And Many finally broke down and admitted, “That’s sufficient.”
“Am I supposed to be embarrassed by what I said just now?” Many asked at the end of the hearing. In a word, yes.
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