The Israeli Right Marches On, While the Left Tsk-tsks Itself Into Oblivion

The Levy report on settlements exposes the “rule of law” as a false idol and a cover for the left’s fatal flaw: Laziness.

1. Supreme Court Judge Edmond Levy’s report “legalizing” Israeli settlements in the “occupied” territories, as they were once known, created a stir in the international arena and was hailed as a historic milestone by the settlers and their supporters.

But for the dwindling number of Israelis who believe that the settlements are an ongoing disaster of epic proportions, the report, with all due respect, is, or rather should be, much ado about nothing.

It’s true that after four decades of declaring their adherence to supreme halachic commands that supersede the lowly man-made laws of the Zionist state, there is something comically hypocritical in the settlers’ sudden enthusiasm for the precedents and sub-clauses of public international law.

Still, having dictated “facts on the ground” in the West Bank for over forty years and then taking effective control of the government itself, one can appreciate the joy that the settlers must feel, now that their endeavors have been retroactively legitimized and the judicial system, the last pocket of rational resistance to their messianic quest,has fallen into their hands.

One can also understand the genuine relief felt by hasbara types and other followers of the “Israel can do no wrong” religion who have grappled with justifying the settlements, long considered the Achilles’ heel of presenting Israel’s case to the world. The Levy report provides such people with a legal document proclaiming Israel’s complete exoneration and, simultaneously, with further irrefutable proof of the world’s anti-Semitism, which is the only possible explanation for its refusal to accept Levy’s unassailable logic. 

2. On the other hand, it is much harder to empathize with the vehement protests and indignant outrage voiced in recent days by some of the settlers’ fiercest political opponents. The settlements are legal under international law? So they’re legal. What difference does it make?

If you believe, as many critics do, that the settlements have sapped Israel’s internal strength, diverted its energies, depleted its coffers, undermined its integrity corrupted its values, scuttled chances for a two-state solution, shattered the Zionist dream and condemned Israel to immoral lordship over a disenfranchised people – does it really matter if the 1922 League of Nations mandate said this or that or the other?

 Or does it matter that Judge Levi’s panel relied on the same few and far between “usual suspects” among international legal scholars to buttress their claims? Did the previous “illegality” of the settlements ever stop the settlers or their legions of lobbyists and supporters in the corridors of power from having their way with us all?

It’s like the difference between unlawful suicide and legal euthanasia: the bottom line remains the same, and the funeral takes place at exactly the same time.

3.  In fact, perhaps its high time for Israeli leftists to reassess their decades-long addiction to the so-called “rule of law” and to recognize it for what it is and always has been for them: an extreme form of laziness, an excuse for doing nothing, a shelter in which to feel virtuous while the right wing takes over the country.

Instead of fighting for the hearts and minds of the populace and trying to prove the devastating long term implications of the settlements, most Israeli liberals have been content to hide behind the Supreme Court’s skirts and to rely on the legal establishment to keep the settlers in check and to safeguard some semblance of basic human rights law in the territories.

With those trusty judges and lawyers in charge, the average enlightened Israeli could conveniently forget about what was going on “beyond the mountains of darkness,” as the Talmud puts it, and get on with his life. Every once in a while he or she might look up and see the settlers fighting tooth and nail to establish their independent kingdom in the harsh hills of Judea and Samaria, and then tsk-tsk something about the “rule of law” before going down to the beach.

But as many liberals in America have found out in the past decade with their own Supreme Court, the rule of law is neither the Ten Commandments nor the Rock of Gibraltar; it is often in the eye of the beholder and whoever happens to be in power.  The hand that giveth civil rights and freedom of speech can also be the hand that taketh away abortion rights and campaign finance laws, just as the court that evacuates one settlement in the name of the law can reinstate it thirty decades later and ten times over under the very same law, citing its own precedent.

“The law is an ass,” as Mr. Bumble observed in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and both its load and direction can, and usually does, change with the times.

4. This great gap between the laziness of the left and the fervor of the right is one of several overlapping characteristics that have determined the outcome of the battle over the settlements: the right is hungry, the left is content; the right is ambitious, the left is spoiled; the right takes risks, the left plays it safe; the right is emboldened, the left is dispirited; the right is self-righteous, the left is wracked by doubt; the right is fueled by malice and resentment, the left is crippled by its own contempt and its scorn.

The right plays relentless offense throughout the match and the left plays perennial defense, if it shows up for the game at all.

It’s been an imbalanced matchup, between a coalition of true believers and fanatic ideologues who have been willing to sell secular Zionism’s soul to the single-minded ultra-Orthodox in the name of their quest for Ariel and Beit El and liberal, secular politicians who think there are still some rules to the game.

In recent years, it was Kadima leader Tzipi Livni who turned down a chance to become prime minister because she didn’t want to get her hands dirty with Shas and then refused to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition as an equal partner because she didn’t like the tone of his voice. In this Livni was the epitome of her constituents: the right pays any price to realize its dreams, while the left stays squeaky clean on the sidelines and tsk-tsks itself to oblivion, as Livni repeatedly did.

In Israel, such people are called “feinshmeckers,” and, unlike the original German meaning of the word, it is not meant as a compliment.

5. And if the coalition of right wing ideologues and fundamentalist believers, driven by hefty doses of spite and hostility, backed by powerful forces who are willing to put their money where their mouths are, do “whatever it takes” to get to power and to achieve their goals sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is only further proof of the much-touted common heritage and shared values, no?

Follow me on Twitter @Chemi Shalev