Israel's Far Right Finds a New Level of Absurdity

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Yisrael Beiteinu MK Robert Ilatov.Credit: Michal Fattal

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is an obedient soldier. Told to vote for MK Robert Ilatov as one of the Knesset’s two representatives to the Judicial Appointments Committee, he saluted and voted. Ilatov is from Yisrael Beiteinu, the opposition party whose chairman, Avigdor Lieberman, bashes the coalition at every opportunity, outflanks it on the right and covets Ya’alon’s post. But an order is an order, and a deal is a deal.

The right, within and outside of the coalition, deemed it essential to control one-third of the committee in order to block undesirable appointments, even at the cost of distorting democracy and depleting the ideological opposition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aim of expanding his government — his current target is Yisrael Beiteinu’s six MKs — bested all ethical considerations, the coalition’s members drafted to bless the faulty deal.

But Ilatov, it turned out, is not a nameless pawn in the service of politics, but a man of principle. One of his demands is that judicial candidates must be able to say all the words of the national anthem, including the phrase “the soul of a Jew yearns.” No singing, no judging.

Among those who opposed this nonsense was Ya’alon. Despite not expressing regret over voting for Ilatov, Ya’alon said in a statement that “anyone who insists on a non-Jew’s singing ‘a yearning Jewish soul’ as a condition for integration into society maliciously incites against an entire population and seriously harms the fabric of life in Israel.”

His comment drew an appropriate Zionist response from Ilatov, who termed Ya’alon — a former head of Military Intelligence and army chief of staff — a “post-Zionist.” This is the nature of the fanatical right, which will always produce an even purer element of extremism, as well as a new victim for condemnation, including someone who never dreamed that his loyalty would be called into question.

Ilatov’s anthem test brings Israel’s declared identity as a Jewish and democratic state to a new level of absurdity. The democratically elected Knesset democratically elects to a judicial appointments committee someone who demands that non-Jewish citizens of the state pretend to have a Jewish soul.

As a diligent reader of the author of “Hatikva,” Naftali Herz Imber, Ilatov surely knows that the poet took care to position the yearning Jewish soul deep within the heart. Not all Jews are Israelis and not all Israelis are Jews. It suffices that officials who express respect for the state’s symbols perform their duties while being true to their conscience. One can only hope that Ya’alon, together with the rest of his colleagues on the right, understood the lesson they have just been taught. The ultranationalist sword, after its incessant efforts to harm Arabs and anyone not belonging to the nationalist camp, will sooner or later be turned against them as well.

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