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Something Great Has Happened to the Israeli Liberal Camp

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FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Credit: Ronen Zvulun/AP

If I were an opposition MK, Id waste no time submitting at the start of next week a private bill, along the lines of the Minimarkets Law (banning most stores from operating on Shabbat), named the Lechers Law. It would stipulate that in keeping with the Hours of Work and Rest Law, state employees would not be required on Shabbat to drive, escort or safeguard a protected figure to strip clubs and brothels; exceptions will be allowed in special cases only with the approval of Interior Minister Arye Dery.

Then my colleagues and I would move on to a brief, resolute, uncompromising struggle in the Judicial Appointments Committee. According to past understandings, a set on the panel goes to an opposition MK. This term the representative was Robert Ilatov of Yisrael Beiteinu. Ilatov, in case anyone doesnt remember, is the genius who recently submitted to the Knesset the bill calling for the death penalty for terrorists. When his party joined the government, after Benjamin Netanyahu threw Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon under the bus, Ilatov and his party leader, Avigdor Lieberman, didnt have the minimal decency to vacate their seat on the committee. The remaining opposition factions turned a blind eye, to preserve their good relations with Lieberman, whom they saw as a future coalition partner.

But that was in another era, when we didnt have a functioning opposition. One hopes those times are over. The past weeks have shown that the gloves are off, and all that remains is to throw them into the trash bin. Two new judges are about to be appointed to the Supreme Court. This is a crucial issue. If Lieberman and Ilatov insist on acting like thieves, the opposition must boycott the plenum discussions and paralyze the committees work. Then well see what the only democracy in the Middle East looks like to the world and to its own people.

Something great has happened in the past month to the liberal democratic camp in Israel. Suddenly it realized it had power, and started using it. At last it has parliamentary representation commensurate with its power and size. Thanks to the voters and medias pressure, the summer vacation is over. No more offsets and unjustified absences in Knesset votes, no more flying off to the far ends of the earth. The public has made it clear to its public servants that the Knesset is neither a college fraternity nor a frequent fliers club.

The Recommendations Law (which aims to protect the public image of prime ministers under police investigation) was passed with a majority of four votes, the Minimarkets Law passed on the strength of one vote. Thats a badge of honor for the opposition parties. Those clucking their tongues dont understand a simple thing: This is how resistance is built. This is how the ethos of struggle is generated. It begins with the uniting of forces against corruption and religious coercion, and inshallah it will reach other core issues, such as the occupation and West Bank settlements, the death of the peace process, the looting of the welfare state, and the treatment of minorities and foreigners.

Until recently the opposition MKs dealt mainly with internal disputes, with many of them indulging in hedonism and idleness. Now, however, the closing of ranks and cooperation carry far-reaching potential, perhaps even in joint campaigns in future elections. Does anyone really understand the difference between the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, or between Meretz and Hadash? But the change is already yielding results. It is forcing the coalition to sweat and unite, and then it becomes evident how flimsy its seams are and how easy it is to tip it off balance.

One thing is clear: Backbone and self-respect are threshold virtues. In todays Israel, the moderate camp will have great difficulty returning to power. Its people may dream about it at night, but in the daytime the goal should be not victory, but struggle. Resistance has a huge practical and moral value, and it gives life meaning and spirit.  

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