Who is really running things in Israel? Is it the Israeli people via the ballot box and the Knesset, or is it the entrenched progressive globalist elites via the Supreme Court?
Gloves are coming off in the high stakes chess game between the progressive globalists and the nationalist populists in Israel. On the progressive side, nationally recognized politicians, media figures, academicians, and legal experts are no longer shying away from openly saying what they have so far been reluctant to spell out: that the people of Israel may choose their leaders, but only from a list pre-approved by the elites.
On the populist side, this revelation evokes comparisons with the Iranian regime in which an unelected Supreme Council of clerics decides who may and who may not run in every election. These comparisons are not without merit and thus the battle lines are drawn. Who is really running things in Israel? Is it the Israeli people via the ballot box and the Knesset, or is it the entrenched progressive globalist elites via the Supreme Court?
The answer to this question is what the unprecedented three in a row elections are all about and it may well determine whether this crazy experiment in Jewish self-governance, a rare event even in deep antiquity, can succeed in modern times.
These types of epic struggles are always born of fundamental contradictions and they answer the question: can the contradiction be settled by peaceful means or even be settled at all. The American Civil War was the answer to the question can America survive the contradiction of the equal protections given to all its citizens and the institution of slavery. It took an exceedingly bloody conflict to answer that question because it clearly could not be answered by peaceful means.
In Israel today, the so far cold war between the populist and globalist movements, a war that is stretching to its limits the Israeli system of civil governance, is going to give us an answer to the question whether the inherent contradiction within the Zionist movement can be resolved by peaceful means or will it spell the end of the Zionist movement.
This contradiction, the source of Israel recent political woes, but the also the reason for its amazing successes and resiliency is the tension between secular and religious, ancient and modern, Jewish and democratic.
Zionist movement was started by people who saw in Judaism the religion nothing but backwardness and superstition. They looked at their parents and grandparents with their prayer shawls and phylacteries and saw only weakness, naught but a historical dead end. The Zionist pioneers and their leading ideologues starting with Theodor Herzl himself set out to create a new Jew, a Jew who buried his prayer shawl and phylacteries, if he even owned any, deep in his closet and set out to build a secular modern state replete with the best that modern science and technology could offer.
But there was one problem, one contradiction, that the secular Zionists could not resolve: why build that state in the Holy Land, in Eretz Israel? The ties between the Jewish nation and the Jewish historical homeland stem from the Tanakh, the Old Testament, which serves at once as a real estate deed, a geographical guide, and a repository for our nation’s founding myths and historiographical literature. Without it, there can be no Zionism, no return to Zion, and yet it is, after all, a holy Book, a religious text.
In practical terms, Zionism’s success brought to Israel many Jews, especially from places other than Europe, who were deeply religious and for whom religious lifestyle was the foundation for their Jewish identity. Some European Jews who have never given up on their religious identity and beliefs joined the Zionist movement, founding its religious wing.
The concept of Jewishness and thus of Zionism, it turns out, rests on the three foundations of the Torah, the Land, and the People. There is no redundancy built into that foundation. By taking away the Torah, by focusing only on the Land and the People, the secular Zionists could not have created a consistent ideology nor built a sustainable and prosperous country. By taking away the Land, the religious Jews, to this very day, are risking persecution and extinction in exile, reduced to begging Gentile overlords for protection as we are now witnessing in America.
Neither one of these two-legged approaches offers a future to our people; we need all three to survive, but can we have them? That is the question that is being answered right now in Israel.
In tactical terms, the Supreme Court, fearful no doubt of the public backlash should they blow up the forthcoming election by making incumbent PM Netanyahu ineligible to form a new government, refrained from rendering their decision, hinting that they would likely not do so until after the election. This highlights the blatantly political nature of the Supreme Court, a supposedly non-political body. What they are in essence saying is that they would prefer to wait and see if Mr. Netanyahu has a mandate from the people before giving their verdict. But if the verdict is a matter of law rather than of politics, why wait?
Some say, not without merit, that by deferring its decision the Supreme Court made itself so highly politicized that it has for all intents and purposes become a party to the election, making a vote for any of the globalist parties into a vote for an all powerful Supreme Court and a vote for any of the nationalist parties a vote against it. This plays into the hands of Mr. Netanyahu, whose voters have long sought an opportunity to return the Israeli judiciary to its traditional role of interpreting laws rather than serving as an Iranian-style unelected supreme council that approves a list of contenders from which the public can choose its leaders.
Upon learning that the Supreme Court will not be immediately deciding the matter of his eligibility to form a government, Mr. Netanyahu issued a live statement last night in which he detailed why he would be asking the Knesset to grant him his right to parliamentary immunity from prosecution, an immunity that lasts while he remains a member of the Knesset.
This move further clarifies the battle lines in the Israeli political battlefield, especially when it comes to Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party. Since Mr. Lieberman has immediately come out saying that he and his party will vote against granting Mr. Netanyahu his request for immunity, he has discarded any claim to being a part of the nationalist camp and put himself squarely on the progressive globalist side of the ledger.
As the mutual attacks between the religious and secularist forces become increasingly and horrifyingly toxic, as the true identity of players in the Israeli public arena become known, and as those who tried to straddle the fence are forced to choose sides, the battle lines are hardening and the stakes could not be higher.
Most Israelis can, in their private lives, accommodate the contradiction between the religious and the secular. Most can kiss the little Torah scroll on their door jambs, the mezuzah, while going for drive to the beach on the Sabbath. Can this balancing act, this tolerance, this flexibility be extended from the personal and private to the public and the political? For Israel’s sake, for all Jews’ sake, we must pray that it does.
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