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In Israel the (Jewish) Majority Rules

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President Reuven Rivlin at the retirement ceremony for Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, left, October 26, 2017.
President Reuven Rivlin at the retirement ceremony for Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, left, October 26, 2017. Credit: Emil Salman

Many on the right were furious at the statements by President Reuven Rivlin at the opening of the Knesset winter session. Culture Minister Miri Regev considered them contempt for the will of the people and deemed the president’s speech undemocratic. The president warned of a political culture in which a “chance majority rules.”

We can understand Regev; after all, all the laws of democracy are made by a chance majority. The laws of the land consist of democratic decisions by a chance majority that came together in the past and made those laws. Why then is Rivlin so against the laws of the current chance majority?

In his speech, Rivlin conceded that in the past he was among the most outspoken critics of the constitutional revolution led by former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. The criticism voiced then (and still heard on the right) about “the judicial branch encroaching on the legislative branch” can be broadly described as tension between the values of yesterday and today. The judicial branch can be described as faithful to the laws and principles that express the will of the people “yesterday,” (which coalesced into laws and precedents by which the judges make their rulings), while the legislative branch can be described as expressing the will of the people “today.”

According to the left’s accusations against the right, these aren’t the “values of today” but a loss of values. The right accuses the left of hypocrisy; the old power structure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, and Regev shouts, refuses to let the new power structure rule.

The techno-democratic position of the new right is attractive. Democracy is the rule of the people, and what’s fairer than asking the people what they want?

But the root of the matter is in the concept of “people” — that is, the list of invitees: who is invited, and especially who isn’t, to take part in elections. It’s no coincidence that Rivlin is the one who expresses discomfort with the Israeli chance majority. Rivlin supports the full annexation of the territories and equal rights for all Palestinians. He’s known to be a “true democrat.”

Why true? Because he understands that democracy means one person, one vote. If the right wing wants to play it technical and limit democracy to a procedural system only, then by all means let the right wing give the 13 million people living under Israeli rule the right to vote; then it can say without lying that it’s expressing the will of the majority.

Some will rightly say that “the left” doesn’t support the Palestinian right to vote. That’s true, but neither does the left want to annex the territories. Its manual of political values recognizes that this is an unjust situation, that there should be an aspiration to correct it via two states for two peoples.

But the annexationist right wing wants sovereignty only over the land of the Palestinians and not over the Palestinians themselves. It’s unwilling to invite them to the democratic game, and it’s unwilling to allow them their own state. If Rivlin is a “true democrat,” then Netanyahu and Regev are “not true democrats.”

And the case of the law to “expand Jerusalem’s borders” provides a glimpse of the kinds of fraudulent actions that Israel’s bogus democratic project will require. The settlements will be annexed to the Jerusalem municipality physically, but not politically. This is a cartographic manipulation as a response to the demographic threat; that is, the democratic threat. Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz expressed the goal: “It will weaken the Arab hold on the capital.”

The democratic project of the Israeli right requires legislative activism to prevent the minority from becoming a majority. After all, it wants only a Jewish majority to rule, not a true majority.

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