Yeshayahu Leibowitz once said that moral rulings cannot be argued over; moral rulings must be fought for. Apparently there’s a third way too – caressing. This discovery was revealed by Haaretz photographer Emil Salman as he covered the Knesset session at which the decision to dissolve the parliament was made. Salman’s camera captured Miri Regev (Likud) standing behind Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid and Ofer Shelah, who were both seated. The three look very happy, they’re having a good laugh – someone must have said something they found funny – and at the same time Regev’s hand is spread over Shelah’s bald head, and Shelah’s hand is resting naturally on it.
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What are the conditions that enabled this caress between Regev and Shelah? I mean, up to the moment the coalition came apart, the country appeared to be at a historic juncture, most notably seen in the attempt to reopen its formative document for discussion and update the Declaration of Independence. The moral chasms uncovered in Israeli society over the last two years were seemingly so vast they could no longer possibly be bridged without first asking for the nation’s trust once again.
So how could it be that Regev – one of the most prominent and familiar voices of one camp, who fights with all her parliamentary determination to protect that camp’s values; and Shelah and Lapid – who wish to distance themselves from that camp and to represent and lead the moral alternative – are laughing and exchanging friendly caresses like a bunch of giddy high-schoolers on the last day of school? Is Israeli politics nothing but a soccer game where the burning hatred between opposing players turns to hugs and pats on the back as soon as the match ends? Are the issues under discussion not really so urgent? Are the respective worldviews not really at odds? Is the danger of "the right" that the “left” and “center” are warning of not real? Is the fear of a rising fascistic trend in Israel not really serious?
Because if the situation is as grave as they’ve been telling us, and akin (or not!) to all sorts of bleak historic examples, then how in the world can our political rivals be so merrily yukking it up together? If Miri Regev is really a threat to Israeli democracy, as they’d have us believe, then how can those who profess to be out to save democracy from her clutches be such good pals with her?
The paradox vanishes once we grasp that there is no vast moral chasm separating Regev from Shelah and Lapid. Partnership in the coalition was not forced upon them; it was an expression of an ideological partnership. What makes the friendly caress between Regev and Shelah possible is a pre-ideological intimacy shared by all members of the Jewish nation. If the nation-state law could be represented visually – this is what it would look like: Regev stroking Shelah’s bald pate while the two of them enjoy a hearty and uninhibited laugh.
These supposed ideological rivals chose to dedicate the 19th Knesset’s final breaths to saving us from “the cancer in our body” – to borrow a phrase from Regev, who led the move, and permitted the amendment to the anti-infiltration law to pass without opposition. Before we go pinning on them our hopes for the salvation of democracy, we should pay special attention to how they voted, including democracy’s champion Tzipi Livni, and to how fled the plenum rather than vote against the amendment after MK Ahmed Tibi turned the third vote into a no-confidence vote in the government they had already left. Their behavior was essentially unaffected by subjective considerations and coalition discipline, and so it reminds us of who they really are.