Israel's Center-left Politicians Must Fight for a Liberal Western Democracy

What’s happening in Jerusalem shows that in the face of the messianic-nationalist tide it’s not enough to plug holes with fingers that serve up appeals.

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni during a cabinet meeting, July 31, 2014.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni during a cabinet meeting, July 31, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

There comes a time when the attempt to “influence from the inside” by means of “calculated pragmatism” turns into collaboration. There comes a time when the attempt to moderate, to restrain, to prevent, to halt, etc., etc. – turns into nothing more than a layer of makeup concealing some very ugly flaws.

Over this past summer, the destruction of Israeli democracy kicked into high gear. I recently heard a young college student say that democracy is the rule of the majority, “and it’s what the people want.” Responsibility for the general lack of understanding of what democracy is lies in large part with the right, which has discerned Israelis’ existential anxiety, frazzled nerves and economic frustration and is offering them unrealistic, not to mention inhumane and immoral, solutions of force.

The election campaign that is already underway, and taking place solely on the right – in the realm of Netanyahu, Bennett and Lieberman – is speeding up the already dizzying pace. The tom-tom drums of the primaries, and the real thing, the election, are making very senior ministers dispense with any veneer of responsibility.

When the prime minister recommends that the Arabs who are demonstrating against the state should move to Palestine (too bad he didn’t also bother to say just where Palestine is located), and threatens to strip them of their citizenship; when the cabinet is advancing problematic methods of collective punishment, such as demolishing the homes of terrorists who murdered Jews, but can’t conceive of touching the homes of the murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir; when the possibility of talking with Abbas (“a terrorist in a suit”) scares our government officials more than a bloody war with Hamas – then Tzipi Livni, Amram Mitzna, Ofer Shelah, Yael German and Yaakov Peri have no business sitting in the government.

If they believe in human rights, in freedom of expression, in protecting the rights of minorities, in a diplomatic solution and an end to the occupation of the West Bank, then they are in opposition to Uri Ariel, Yariv Levin and Orit Strock. The consequences of their remaining in the government are more severe than if this was meek passivity. They give the seal of approval to further fanning of the flames between Arabs and Jews, and to the infringement of human and civil rights.

The time has come for this layer of makeup to be peeled off. Its job is done, and it was doomed from the beginning anyway. Let Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin be elected as co-heads of the Likud. Let another anti-democratic law pass. Let the government annex occupied territory to Israel. Let the apartheid rule become official.

If this is what the people want, as that student said, then let the people bear the cost of an extreme right-wing government: thugs with clubs who trample anyone who’s not to their liking; an emasculated court system that won’t be able to protect them from the whims of the authorities; international isolation; poverty and secret and not-secret police that will prohibit people from voicing criticism of the government. In short: the cost of living in a non-democratic country.

Even if this is the will of the people and it is striding towards this future with eyes wide open, our elected officials from the center-left have a duty to fight on behalf of those who put them in office. There are still people here who want a liberal Western democracy.

Let them stop all the chattering in English about the importance of relations with the American administration, when meanwhile they are the ones propping up the government that works for Sheldon Adelson. Let them stop busying themselves with zero-VAT plans, when people are being shot without trial, as violent and despicable as their actions may be. Don’t tell us you’re promoting reforms, and don’t be so concerned with bringing down the price of Milky. First of all, before anything else, safeguard our democracy. For if you haven’t noticed, it’s in mortal danger.

What’s happening in Jerusalem – in the Knesset and in the bleeding city itself – shows that in the face of the messianic-nationalist tide it’s not enough to plug holes with fingers that serve up appeals. Labor, Hatnuah, Yesh Atid, Meretz and the Arab parties – this is the bloc. And this is the war.

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