The Winter of Israel's Descent From Democracy

Every person and party that is not anti-democratic must wake up and join the fray. Including, of course, the Labor Party.

Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
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Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky

Naftali Bennett's victory in the primary held by Habayit Hayehudi constitutes a continuation of the earthquake. The latest public opinion polls give his party's joint slate with National Union 13 Knesset seats. That was not a typographical error; seven seats are expected to move from Likud to the religious parties.

Bennett made sure that half his slate would be picked by three rabbis, headed by Dov Lior. He cooperates gladly with the rabbi who ruled that Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Muslim worshipers at Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, is "holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust"; the rabbi whom religious Zionist Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun once named as the source of a ruling that the Jewish laws of rodef and moser (which allow a person to kill someone who is trying to kill him ) applied to Yitzhak Rabin, thus leading to his murder; the rabbi whom Menachem Livni, head of the Jewish terror underground of the 1980s, said had sent him out to murder Arabs. The rabbi who endorsed the book "Torat Hamelekh: The Laws of Killing non-Jews" will rule the party that seems likely to be the second-largest in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's next coalition.

Nor are Lior and Bennett alone. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party is expected to win at least 12 Knesset seats, while United Torah Judaism, another ultra-Orthodox party, is expected to win six. Am Shalem, the new party of Shas MK Chaim Amsellem, will win votes from secular Israelis who are unaware of the political positions that will lead him to join National Union. In short, the extremist religious parties are expected to have more than 30 MKs in the next Knesset.

It doesn't stop there. More than half of registered Likud members are religiously observant, and a majority of them are extremists. Moshe Feiglin and around half a dozen more Jewish extremists are expected to be on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ticket. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, whose late father Yosef "Tommy Lapid" was a champion of secular Israelis, is putting up a rabbi as his party's candidate for education minister - a rabbi who is less extreme, but who still wants to "fix" homosexuals and dreams of a state governed by halakha (Jewish law ).

Altogether the next Knesset is expected to include around 40 MKs who want a halakha state. The vast majority of them also hold racist and anti-democratic views.

Nor are they alone: "Likud-Beiteinu" will hold more than 30 Knesset seats. The political implications of the two parties' merger have already been dissected, but too little has been said about Likud's being swallowed up in an anti-democratic sea. Thus we are looking at a Knesset in which around 70 of the 120 seats are upholstered in khaki.

The Knesset is Israel's legislature. The outgoing Knesset also discussed social-welfare and defense issues but its main role was legislating, and what it mainly legislated was a raft of anti-democratic laws. In most cases bills that rode roughshod over democracy passed their first reading by a large majority. It was only after public figures outside the Knesset sounded the alarm that disaster was averted.

The outgoing Knesset contained a handful of people who tried to mitigate the damage. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ), the humanist Shlomo Molla (Kadima ), Eitan Cabel (Labor ), Meretz MKs led by Zahava Gal-On; Dov Khenin and Mohammmed Barakeh (Hadash ). A handful will be insufficient in the next Knesset; the threat that has risen up to destroy Israeli democracy is too great.

In "The World of Yesterday" Stefan Zweig did a marvelous job of describing the wonderful summer of 1914. How sweet it was. How preoccupied people were with their own affairs. How even after Europe embarked on the suicidal process that led to two world wars, those leaving for the battlefield sang that they would be home by Christmas.

Israelis would do well to remember this winter. It may be our last winter as a democracy.

Worst of all is the fact that this existential threat has thus far been gathering force unopposed. The camp that is supposed to try to stop this evil is busy with its own affairs - as if these were ordinary times, as if the personal were everything.

This is the time to ring all the warning bells. Any deed that could possibly be done to wake the public from its daydreams before disaster strikes is an honor to perform: handing out bumper stickers in the street, holding parlor meetings and demonstrations, influencing the political system, anything that might help. The only shame is in standing on the sidelines. Losing is permissible. But to lose the battle for democracy without even a fight is an unpardonable sin.

Every person and party that is not anti-democratic must wake up and join the fray. Including, of course, the Labor Party. The party behind Israel's Declaration of Independence, now being trampled; the party whose leader was murdered by the anti-democratic, racist forces that oppose territorial withdrawals and that now threaten to take over Israel, cannot stand on the sidelines.

It's worth taking a look at Bennett's gleaming smile as he says that there will never be peace here, that almost 400,00 settlers are what matters most. Look at his intention: for the Arabs to submissively accept their current situation, in which they are deprived of citizenship, a situation of de facto apartheid. Look, and remember why that gleaming smile looks familiar. Remember, and take action.



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