For years, a slow process has been happening right in front of our eyes: the erosion of liberal, open and pluralistic democracy, which is the only true democracy. In all other variations – above all the ethnic, xenophobic “illiberal democracy” tainted by the anti-Semitism of Viktor Orbán, the hero of the Israeli right – the aim is to do away with human rights and make discrimination and inequality the norm.
Make no mistake, the nation-state law is a station along that road, but it isn’t the last station. The claim that it involves nothing new, nothing that didn’t exist before in legislation or practical terms and therefore it doesn’t matter, is nonsense. What had been barely tolerable, even considered wrong and needing change, has become the norm.
But for the move to be complete, it has to pass the test of the High Court of Justice. This is why the right wing has been closing in on liberal democracy from both sides: both legislation and a dramatic change in the Supreme Court’s role as the supervisory, balancing authority. Both moves are being pursued in broad daylight, brutally and shamelessly.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s announcement that until Prof. Alex Stein was appointed to the Supreme Court, no other justices would be named, and the Judicial Appointments Committee would be paralyzed, was totally frank. All that was needed was to stand up against her courageously and firmly, but for that the committee members desperately needed the support of their former colleagues.
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They waited in vain: justices and former justices, including five former presidents of the Supreme Court, did not show up for the fight. Instead of wielding their professional authority and personal prestige to prevent the disgrace of hiring a lawyer from a third-tier American law school, for whom Israel was just a stepping stone between Russia and America, they let Supreme Court President Esther Hayut make a deal with Shaked. This is something highly improper from Hayut’s perspective and destructive from the perspective of Israel’s governing norms.
I have no complaint against the leaders of Israel’s right wing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu included. That’s why they’re in politics. This is what they think and want. In European terms, they’re the far right, not hesitating to enacting laws that discriminate based on ethnicity and nationality.
In American terms, they’re alt-right. If the alt-right had been in power in the 1960s, African-Americans wouldn’t have received equal rights. And today, if not for the determined struggle by the liberal camp, the events at Charlottesville would have been repeated.
The politics of the right, as in Germany and Italy in the 1930s, France in 1940 – culminating in anti-Jewish laws – and Poland and Hungary today is a politics based on nothing but hate, hostility, confrontation and incitement. It’s the same as the politics that almost destroyed European Jewry. Like all demagogues since the Dreyfus affair, like those who would bury freedom in the 20th century, our right wing is still fighting the enemy within, which for its part was fighting even before for truth and justice, without fear of the regime.
In our case the enemy is the “liberal elites,” the left, the human rights groups like the New Israel Fund and Breaking the Silence. Lest we forget, if not for the enemy within of the time, the despised “cosmopolitan” and “rootless” elites such as the novelist Émile Zola, the socialist leader Jean Jaurès and the liberal newspaper editor Georges Clemenceau, Dreyfus would have rotted away on Devil’s Island to the cheers of the great majority of France.
If after the enactment of the nation-state law, capitulating to the right wing and the State of the Shin Bet Security Service takes over our lives, the left will have nobody to blame but itself.