A dispassionate guide for the perplexed
Now we learn thanks to the intelligence leaks reported on by the New York Times and others that the Mossad played an active role in encouraging the judicial demonstrations in Israel. Of course, everyone’s denying it which is all the evidence we really need that it’s true.
The Mossad was out to get Netanyahu in much the same way that the CIA was out to get Trump. Invariably, intelligence services become loyal only to their own sense of self-importance.
For those wondering how a leak of this magnitude could have happened, it’s a bit of a misnomer to refer to these spies as members of an intelligence service. Calling them keystone Kops would be more accurate.
In the United States perhaps the recent embarrassing leaks might have been prevented if the CIA had redirected some of its efforts from coming up with laughable excuses to suggest that the United States didn’t order the destruction of NordStream to a greater focus on counterintelligence.
This is so great. It has taken me a couple days to get to it. But i have spent my morning today reading. This is invaluable because there is virtually no in depth discussion anywhere of what the reforms mean and where they come from. I knew from the outset when I first heard that Israel was seeking to give the government total power to override judicial decisions and make judicial appointments--that this was terrible! Because I am already aware of how vital independent judiciary is to any functional liberal democracy. So reading these headlines, I already knew why what’s happening in Israel is so alarming, but so far I’ve totally lacked knowledge of the new government’s potential for authoritarianism in the context of Israeli history. Thanks so much
It would be particularly interesting to get Adam Garfinkle’s take on the judicial controversy in Israel. He knows more than most about internecine Jewish conflict which has been a constant feature of Jewish history from ancient times.
The current judicial conflict is reminiscent of the struggle between the Hellenistic Jews and the more devout Jews that led to the Hanukkah story.
While the Sunday School version of the story suggests the conflict was between the Maccabees and their Greek-oriented overlords, Garfinkle has relayed the historically accurate version. According to Garfinkle, the ancient conflict was between Jews who thought that what was beautiful was holy, and those who thought that what was holy was beautiful. Fast forward more than two thousand and the Israeli demonstrators play the part of the Hellenized Jews while their opponents play the part of the Maccabees and their partisans.
This is from Garfinkle,
“In the Hellenistic culture of the day, along with its aesthetic and philosophic/proto-scientific accomplishments, its wealth, and its power, there was at least de facto social sanction for infanticide and patricide, slavery (as opposed to indentured servitude, which is actually what is discussed in the Torah), male homosexuality up to and including pederasty, concubinage outside of marriage, and, least of all I suppose, public sports nudity, among other things. Call them stuffy and old-fashioned, but Jewish traditionalists could not abide such behaviors, all of them prohibited by Jewish law and custom.”
No one suggests that the demonstrators in today’s Israel support infanticide, patricide or slavery, but they are far more likely than their more traditional political opponents to eschew Jewish law as it has been understood for centuries.
Garfinkle’s rendition of the Hanukkah story is both riveting and brilliant. On the eve of another and far more important Jewish holiday (Passover) It is well worth a read. See,
The similarity between the ancient conflict and the current conflict is uncanny.
Thanks for all the work.
I have a much better understanding of this now.
I have always been suspicious of parliamentary systems being too close to mob rule.
Majorities, without checks, can endanger the individual, liberty, liberalism and freedom.
“Trump, Orbán, Erdoğan, Bolsinaro, Kaczyński, Modi, and now Netanyahu—the movements these figures lead have a great deal in common.” (Claire Berkinski)
What they have in common is enormous popularity unlike Macron, Sunak, Biden or the other national leaders more to Claire’s liking. Trump and Bolsinaro lost by the skin of their teeth while the other populist leaders Claire despises cruise from one electoral landslide to the next.
Just in the past few months, populist parties have enjoyed enormous success all over Europe. First there was the Italian election that deposed a globalist icon. Then there was the unprecedented success of a populist, supposedly neo-fascist party in Sweden (of all places). Just in the past couple of weeks the Finns Party in Finland and the brand new Farmers Party in Holland had huge electoral successes and are on their way to marginalizing the mainstream governing coalitions that Claire is partial to.
The more interesting question is how to explain the increasing revulsion to globalism and liberalism that is becoming increasingly apparent almost everywhere.
Obviously local concerns are always paramount. In Italy maybe it was immigration. In Sweden maybe it’s the bombs planted by Islamic militants that blow-up with alarming regularity. In Holland it was the Governments inexplicable decision to destroy the nation’s economy in the search for a nitrogen-free future.
Still, there are common themes underlying the increasing affinity for populism.
The Neoliberal projects in Iraq and Afghanistan cost $7 trillion. What did the West get for its money? The Taliban was replaced by the Taliban and we handed Iraq to Iran on a sliver platter. Sadly, these wars made a laughingstock of U.S. military power and moral authority.
Even in the unlikely event that Ukraine reclaims every square inch of its territory, the United States and the West end up as the biggest losers of the current war. We’ve midwifed an increasingly intimate relationship between our two biggest nuclear adversaries, China and Russia. We’ve pushed Saudi Arabia into the arms of the Chinese and India has made it clear that it won’t saddle its economy by pledging fealty to Ukraine. Most importantly, we’re clearly on the precipice of losing the dollar’s role as the sole world currency. At the beginning of the Ukraine War, Claire claimed the war would reinforce the role of the dollar. It’s now obvious she was wrong.
Liberalism is failing to deliver the goods; that’s why it’s being rejected. The reason is obvious; our ruling elite is grossly incompetent and their stupidity is giving liberalism a bad name almost everywhere.
As far as Israel is concerned, the people marching in the street are the foot soldiers of the ruling elite. They can’t win elections but they are still quite capable of screaming bloody murder like the intellectual infants that they are.
As far as I can see, the problem boils down to one salient fact: Israel has no constitution. This, if not a fatal flaw, is a serious impediment to the maintenance of democratic accountability under the rule of law.
In the United States, the status of the federal judiciary is clear: It possesses all the powers necessary to discharge its lawful functions but is subject to a measure of democratic accountability. Judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. They have life tenure but are subject to impeachment and removal from office by Congress. One may argue that the US system is not perfect, but it's a model of legitimacy and probity by comparison with the mess in Israel.
Because Israel has no constitution, its Supreme Court has no claim legitimized by settled law on the powers it wields. On the other hand, the Israeli government, embodied in the Knesset, has no checks on its powers. In a parliamentary system with no formal constitution, the voice of the legislature is the literal voice of law. In principle, the Knesset can dispose of the Supreme Court as it pleases. Only force-politics, the threat of civil disorder and violence, has constrained it from doing so.
Demographic changes have exposed this serious if not fatal flaw at the heart of the Israeli political order. Netanyahu survives politically because there is no alternative (apologies, Claire) to him: He and he alone has proved capable of navigating through the rocks and shoals of Israeli politics. He has ridden the wave of those demographic changes, and those who wish him gone should ask themselves who would be likely to replace him on the surfboard. Personally, I doubt that it would be anybody to the political left of Bibi.
Thank you, Claire. That opened my eyes to a lot of your concerns. Sadly, it does seem that kicking the constitutional can down the road has pushed Israel to the verge of collapse. Is there any chance that Bennett, Gantz, Lapid, & Co can peel off enough more centrist Likud members and push a constitutional initiative? Or is Israel stuck with slim majority governments declaring illusory mandates (which happens just as much here in the States, c.f. McCarthy, Pelosi, Schumer, Trump, Obama, Biden et al, but we Americans have a pretty robust system of checks and balances, even if Congress has abdicated its primus inter pares role) without constitutional guardrails? And thank you for the deep dive on Ben Gvir’s Kahanism.
Claire - BRAVA! What a magnificent dissertation on Israeli judicial reform and a truly dispassionate dossier on Itamar Ben Gvir.
You convinced me - he IS a racist. And you convinced me that the reforms ARE illiberal (as well as anti-democratic, in their likely effects).
I cannot believe you found time to research and create such a comprehensive, thorough write-up. You can truly write faster than most people can read!
Thank you for taking the time - and tremendous effort - to respond to our criticisms and questions.
There’s a crucial fact that Claire neglected to mention; Israel held five elections over a four year period. Despite the allegations against him, Netanyahu’s party, Likud, was the top vote recipient in every single one of those elections. Five times in a row, Netanyahu was the choice of Israeli citizens to be their Prime Minister.
In one of those elections, Netanyahu was able to form a coalition that briefly survived and in one of those elections Netanyahu’s opponents banded together to forge a short-lived coalition Government.
After each of his victories, despite the decks stacked against him by an elite-dominated judicial system, Netanyahu reached out to his political opponents in an attempt to forge a stable coalition. Only after he failed over and over again did he form a Government with the two right-wing henchman who he now depends on.
The fact that Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are in the Israeli Government is exclusively the fault of centrist and leftist political parties who refused Netanyahu’s pleas to join a coalition that he led. By extension, it’s the fault of those who voted for those parties, especially the Israelis currently engaged in the recent temper tantrums that we’ve witnessed.
All of the political parties who refused to sit with Netanyahu have stated that they would have happily entered a coalition with Likud as long as Likud selected a different leader.
It’s really quite simple; the political leaders of these parties hate Netanyahu so much that they would rather have Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in the Israeli Cabinet than sit in a Government led by a man that they personally despise, even if that man is the overwhelming choice of Israelis to serve as their Prime Minister.
Israelis who look at Ben-Gvir and Smotrich with disgust have no one but themselves to blame for the fact that these despicable men are Netanyahu’s side-kicks.
Had these Israelis put their country over their own petty prejudices, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich would still be mired in the swamp from which they emerged.