Young Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize fifty years ago for his book Profiles in Courage, which he supposedly wrote during years of bedridden treatment for a bad back. In the book, which may have been crafted by his aide Ted Sorenson, Kennedy recounts critical moments in the lives of eight U.S. Senators in which they showed extraordinary courage. They clashed with their parties, their colleagues and their constituents. They put their careers at risk to stand on principle or fight for a cause. They placed their country’s needs above their personal interests.
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Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin’s speech to the Knesset this week was a chapter in a Profile of Courage. Rivlin looked Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party in the eye, delivering a bible-sized Jeremiad against their campaign to sabotage Israeli democracy and the rule of law. Rivlin spoke harshly and with full knowledge that he would immediately become the object of torrents of abuse from Israel’s right wing bullies. Whatever his known and unknown motives, Rivlin would not have volunteered to rail against the evil winds that Netanyahu is spreading if any other senior figure in their shared political movement would have done so, instead of and before him. In Donald Trump’s America, such brave souls have already been found.
In the Likud, however, no one has risen. Israeli democracy, its state institutions and its liberal values don’t have sufficient divisions, it seems, among Likud and right wing voters. Senior ministers were demonstrably uninterested in Rivlin’s speech, joking and sniggering amongst themselves in the Knesset hall as if they weren’t the first addressees on Rivlin’s list. The next day they sent out their attack dogs to cast the president as yet another traitor and left wing appeaser who is simply settling personal scores with Netanyahu. That’s more convenient, of course, than looking in the mirror that Rivlin held up to their faces and seeing the instigators, collaborators and enablers of a right wing putsch against Israeli democracy.
In the senior echelons of Israel’s ruling party, no one has stood up to resist efforts to delegitimize the Supreme Court and clip its wings. No one has said a word to protest Netanyahu’s ongoing incitement against the media and his attempts to scare it into submission. No one has voiced any objections to the dangerous initiatives that aim to destroy the delicate balance between Israel’s Jewish and democratic natures, nor, for that matter, about the dangerous rift Netanyahu has widened with American Jews. No one protests Netanyahu’s machinations to avoid prosecution, including sweeping immunity laws, attacks on the police and questioning the integrity Israel’s law and order. And not one of them got up from his seat on Monday, when Netanyahu once again exploited the formal setting of the opening of the Knesset’s winter session to continue his personal vendetta against his critics, investigators and potential prosecutors.
This right wing counter-revolution, Rivlin said, is the antithesis of the dignity and majesty once associated with Zeev Jabotinsky, founder of the Likud’s ancestor, the Revisionist Movement. Rivlin spoke like the last remnant of a political outlook and a historical era that are already long one. His friends and colleagues in the Likud who dedicated themselves to the state’s needs and rejected the personality cult nurtured by Netanyahu have all been ejected and silenced by the prime minister long ago. Among the others, a minority of fanatic and/or feebleminded politicians is genuinely eager to eat away at the delicate fabric that has kept Israel together but most are simply Profiles in Cowardice. The timing is not right for them to fight for a cause or a principle.
“Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem. If you can find a man, if there is anyone who executes judgment, who seeks the truth, and I will pardon her” Jeremiah warned, but in the party that Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin and Rivlin once belonged to, there isn’t even one hero to stand up to the rest. The voters might not mind, but history won’t be so forgiving