An Israeli High Court Judge's Shady Use of a Religious Song

According to Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, if I call for a boycott, which might be the only hope against apartheid in our emerging binational state, I threaten to destroy Israel.

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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Israeli left-wing activists demonstrated against the boycott law in July 2011, but in practice no Israeli has been sued for not buying products nade in West Bank settlements.
Israeli left-wing activists demonstrated against the boycott law in July 2011, but in practice no Israeli has been sued for not buying products nade in West Bank settlements.Credit: AP
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

The song Vehi She’amda – “This is what stood by our fathers and us” — from the Passover Haggadah has been enjoying a revival in recent years. Performed by singers Yonatan Razel and Yaakov Shwekey with a new melody full of mournful cantorial trills and sickly sweet strings, it has become a big hit. It has more than 1.5 million views on YouTube and a number of cover versions on Channel 2 programs such as “The Voice,” showing how the song expresses the spirit of the times.

Jews in Israel identify with it, obviously because it claims that the attempt to destroy the Jewish people is still going on, and that fortunately even now the Holy One blessed be He stands by us to save us from those who seek to annihilate us. To my mind, it was always the most infuriating song in the Haggadah.

Was its message not proved false by the Holocaust? And doesn’t it now entrench the Jewish people as the eternal, and false, victim in the minds of the Jews of Israel and the world? With this song playing in the background like an anthem, they hold divine proof that in any conflict, Jews by definition cannot be the aggressor.

Last week it emerged that High Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein is a fan of the song. He quoted it in the ruling in which the court rejected petitions against the so-called Anti-Boycott Law. The highest court in the land legitimized damage suits against anyone who calls for an economic or a cultural boycott of Israel or an area under its control.

Thus people who try to organize an international boycott of Israel to topple the apartheid against the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are liable if it’s proved a boycott caused damages. The person issuing such a call could be sued even if the boycott only applies to products from the West Bank. The harm to freedom of expression is obvious. The High Court justices don’t deny it. They justify it.

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, vice president of the Supreme Court.Credit: Tess Scheflan

“This is what stood by our fathers and us,” Rubinstein said, quoting the song. “For in every generation they try to destroy us, and the Holy One blessed be He saves us from their hands.”

There it is, in pure poetry, the entire doctrine of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political paranoia, the doctrine of eternal persecution, the regime of intimidation on which his rule is based. There it is, crammed into a few lines of a song that provides the authority to blunt the principles of democracy, in a High Court ruling.

What stood by our fathers and us? The divine promise to save us from annihilation. So what do we need the Anti-Boycott Law for? Isn’t the divine promise enough? Does Justice Rubinstein doubt the validity of the promise?

Not necessarily. It obviously still stands, but “there is no flaw in the Knesset giving expression in law to a struggle against those who try to destroy us.”

So why did Justice Rubinstein silence me? Because if I call for a boycott, an accepted political action that brought down apartheid in South Africa and might be the only hope against apartheid in our emerging binational state, I threaten to destroy Israel.

And who threatens to destroy the state? An enemy. A bitter enemy. I’m a bitter enemy and all they want from me is money? I’m getting off easy. They’re trying to be nice to me. If that doesn’t work, the torture chamber awaits.

The quote “This is what stood by our fathers and us” as a reason for abusing freedom of expression, portraying the boycott movement as Israel’s bitter enemy, is no small thing. When God enters the High Court, Judgment Day is at hand.

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