Day of Rage

Netanyahu's government has declared war against liberal democracy in Israel. It’s time to fight back

FILE PHOTO: Meretz lawmaker Ilan Gilon
Olivier Fitoussi

On October 26, 2004 the Knesset held a vote on the disengagement plan from Gaza. Israelis raged in the streets and the public was split into two camps. The coalition of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seemed to have a bare majority, and the opposition united its ranks.

Knesset member Prof. Yehudit Naot of the Shinui party was dying in her home of throat cancer. Her party colleagues and the cabinet secretary invested great effort in finding an opposition member of Knesset to offset her vote as a humanitarian act. Not a single opposition MK agreed to offset her missing vote. Shas Knesset members said this was an order from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The chairman of Shas, MK Yair Peretz, explained: “We cannot violate the rabbi’s decision.”

Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Knesset
Rafi Kutz

This week MK David Azoulay of Shas was hospitalized on the day of the vote on the “grocery store law,” which gives the interior minister the authority to repeal municipal bylaws and in the process prevent the opening of grocery stores on Shabbat.

This is a fundamentalist law initiated by his party for internal political propaganda purposes. The head of the party, the released convict Interior Minister Arye Dery, even threatened to resign if the law did not pass that same night.

Shas members ran around trying to find an MK to offset his vote “in the spirit of humanitarianism.” It never occurred to them that it was possible to postpone the vote, in the spirit of humanitarianism. Fifty two MKs from the opposition justifiably refused Shas’ request. Only MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) broke ranks and said he would offset Azoulay’s vote. Later he committed an additional sin with his arrogant, self-satisfied explanations.

The important news is what happened later. Gilon encountered fury of a rare force. The social networks were flooded with responses from leftists and Meretz supporters. His act was called everything from a serious mistake to treason. The video clips he posted to justify his decision only got him into more trouble and aroused further waves of criticism.

It is possible that he lost everything in a single day. It is hard to believe he can now fulfill his dream of being elected as head of Meretz. And even if he nonetheless succeeds in doing so, because he and his colleagues insist on preserving Meretz as a closed politburo instead of opening up its ranks, it is possible he will drag the party down so far it will not get enough votes to enter the next Knesset. Gilon, a veteran MK with a great deal to his credit, seemed in shock. Rightly so. The bastards changed the rules and never told him. Or they told him but he had blocked his ears.

The new rules are that there is an opposition in Israel. It was born at the demonstrations in Petah Tikva and Rothschild Boulevard, in NGOs, in an assertive press, on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. And when the gap between the public and its representatives becomes too large, the spirit of opposition reaches the Knesset too.

The time of the limitless offsetting votes has come to an end. So too, the endless overseas trips, the countless absences from the Knesset. The parliament is not a day camp or a country club. The next stage must be an end to cooperation with the government coalition in all sorts of cross-party caucuses.

The present government has declared war against liberal democracy in Israel. Nothing is sacred in its eyes, except for buttressing its rule and looking after the sectoral interests of its own people. Netanyahu, his partners and collaborators have changed the rules. We won’t play with them anymore.

The liberal democratic camp will find it very difficult to return to power. So they must dramatically rejuvenate their ranks. They must choose to carry on with only those representatives who know how and want to fight, with a fire in their belly. People who see being in the opposition as an opportunity and not just as a constraint, and understand that resistance is a supreme value. The tired, complacent, polite hedonists will be forced to step aside. In a war, you must act as in a war.