"Now, darkness and secrets are everywhere. Now there has to be an Us. Because now, there is a Them."
"The Handmaid's Tale," Episode 2
All eyes were on Israel's military headquarters in Tel Aviv Monday night, as Benjamin Netanyahu literally unveiled his magician's cabinets, the glittering CDs and snaggle-toothed binders holding what he said were 55,000 pages and 183 discs of Iran's nuclear secrets.
As the prime minister spoke, however, as a war-anxious nation and an attentive, approving White House hung on his every word, a little over 30 miles up the road, in Jerusalem, a mortal threat to Israel was being assembled under our very noses. In the Knesset, no less. A set of three time bombs, complex, deadly, radioactive.
Each of them a step toward annihilating Israel as we have come to know it. Each of them a step toward dictatorial rule, toward fascism. Each of them approved by – spurred by – Netanyahu himself.
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- The Knesset approved the first of three votes on the Jewish Nation-State Law, which, among other provisions, effectively undermines equality and democracy as guiding principles for Israeli law; effectively downgrades the status of Israel's Arab citizens by downgrading Arabic, presently an official language of the state; and effectively enshrines segregation in Jews-only communities.
- The Knesset gave full approval to an amendment, pushed into passage by Netanyahu, which grants a prime minister "under extreme circumstances" the power to declare war alone, with only the "consultation" of his defense minister. Until now, a declaration of war was a decision for the full cabinet.
- While it is still unclear if the final version of The Nation-State Law will include a provision which would instruct the justice system to give Israel’s Jewish character preference over its democratic one in cases where the two are at odds, a third law passed on Monday may provide a back-door path to the same goal. The law urges judges to turn to Jewish law and tradition in interpreting legislation open to question. Opposition lawmakers said the law paved the way to a dictatorial, Jewish-nationalist theocracy. Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli said the law "does not recognize equality, not between Jews and non-Jews, and not between men and women."
From Netanyahu's standpoint, the best part of all of this was that most Israelis - dazzled or dismayed by the prime minister's performance at the Kirya military compound – had no idea that any of the legislative activity was going on.
And they still don't. The news media gave barely passing mention to the far-reaching, potentially crucially significant legislative moves. The mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily, for example, devoted its first 15 pages to Netanyahu and Iran. Only on page 16 was there a cursory item on the Knesset, less than a quarter page, bereft of detail, and even that had to give room to a featured television review on – what else – Netanyahu's performance.
Sheldon Adelson's aggressively pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom waited 19 pages before its relatively brief treatment of the Knesset session, sandwiching its account next to an ad for "The Innovative Solution for Creating Shade."
But, for Israel's rickety democracy, already shot through with holes, the worst may well be dead ahead.
A Netanyahu-endorsed bill, coming up for consideration at the beginning of this coming week, may in practice be the closest to enabling fascism. How do we know?
Because the only Israeli NGO which an Israeli court has actually ruled can be likened in some respects to fascism, just took out a full-page ad in Israel Hayom, warning that we Israelis – and Netanyahu – had better pass the bill, which has the misleadingly benign name of the Override Law.
The bill, in its most extreme form, would enable the Knesset to invalidate any decision of the Supreme Court by a 61-vote parliamentary majority. In the near term, rightists hope to use the bill in order deport thousands of African asylum seekers, circumventing court-ordered restrictions. In the longer term, hardliners hope to use the law to enable full legalization and eventual annexation of settlements.
It is a bill so obvious and dark in intent that Israeli Chief Esther Hayut personally told the prime minister on Sunday that it constituted "a danger to democracy."
Along with four other far-right NGOs, one of them co-founded by vocally racist and homophobic MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), the Im Tirtzu organization stumped for the bill with an ad as divisive as it was derisive.
"IT'S US OR THEM," the Im Tirtzu ad warned in big block lettering. The "US" was written in Israeli-flag blue, as was a caption for Netanyahu's picture - "WE CHOSE YOU" which could also mean, in an implied threat to Netanyahu, "WE ELECTED YOU."
The "THEM" was in blood red, as was the caption for the Chief Justice, which read "NOT HER."
Just who are these "THEM"?
Whether you're in Israel or North America or elsewhere, whether you're Jewish or non-Jewish, chances are that if you're reading this, it's you.