Israel Is Turning Into the Republic of Gilead

Zehava Galon
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A Ketubah, traditional Jewish wedding contract detailing the groom's responsibilities toward the wife
Zehava Galon

During Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said the president had become a victim of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” The idea was mocked at the time, but as it turns out she was right: Conservative oligarchs secretly funded attacks and conspiracy theories targeting the Clinton administration, in an effort to paralyze and delegitimize it. The conspiracy was quite successful. Now the same conspiracy is being used against us.

In October the Knesset debated the Prevention of Economic Violence bill, meant to prevent a situation in which a man can exert economic control over his wife, in effect shackling her to him. The Jewish right wing came out against the draft law, in a series of wild statements. Lawmaker Shlomo Karhi (Likud) said during the debate: “The law was first submitted by Zehava Galon. Although she has left the Knesset, large parts were drawn into the vacuum she left. … This is a law that will drive families crazy and destroy them. … Don’t allow this law to destroy the family.”

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In other words, the idea that the law would protect a woman from the possibility of her husband making her an economic slave, without access to the family capital, is what will destroy families, not the economic violence itself. To the religious right, it makes sense: After all, “A woman is acquired [that is, becomes betrothed] in three ways” – she is property, and it is inconceivable for property to develop its own opinions.

Karhi and his colleagues managed to scuttle the bill. The Forum of Organizations for the Family – a collection of straw organizations whose goal is to prevent the “disintegration of the family” – brought it down. The forum opposes feminism, denies the legitimacy of LGBTQ people and attacks the struggle against sexual assaults, whose definitions it seeks to change because they are associated with men.

Most of these “organizations” are minuscule, compromising two or three activists, and sometimes only one. They represent the fringe of the religious right. There is a reason for their broad influence: They are connected to the Kohelet Policy Forum, which is financed by the oligarch Jeffrey Yass, who seeks to change Israeli politics. Yass is now suspected of funding the organizations behind the January 6 coup attempt in the United States.

We know Kohelet for its promotion of a libertarian agenda, but in Israel libertarianism is combined with the misanthropy of the Jewish right. After all, there is nothing farther from libertarianism than the welfare state we have established for the West Bank settlers, but you won’t hear an Israeli libertarian calling to disband the settlements or defending the Palestinians’ right to property.

In addition, this “libertarianism” is mired in misogyny and homophobia and insists on promoting “the family” – an institution that has nothing to do with personal rights. Our “libertarians” want to return us to a time when men were men, women were women and the sheep were all nervous.

Personal freedom is reserved for Orthodox white men. The rights of everyone else should be curtailed, because they undermine “the family.” An institution that has changed constantly throughout history – no, dear reader, the historical family is not a man, a woman, a boy and a girl in an American suburb in the 1950s – now supersedes individual rights. All of this is being imported here from the inflexible American right. The time has come to tell them to build their Republic of Gilead somewhere else.

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