Anyone still puzzled by the outcome of the Nov. 1 Knesset elections should listen to professor Asa Kasher’s interview on Sunday with Kan radio. A fierce opponent of the new government in Jerusalem, the Israel Prize laureate, author of the Israel Defense Forces’ Code of Conduct, inadvertently did more to explain the victory of the right than most of its own champions.
Though not a jurist, the esteemed philosopher and linguist was invited by the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation to discuss (i.e. bash) Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plan, unveiled last week, to reform the judicial system.
Clipping the wings of the overly interventionist, politically biased Supreme Court—to restore the power vested in the legislature—was among the campaign vows that drew voters. Nevertheless, oppositionists have been decrying it as the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy. The opposite is the case, of course. Yet that’s of little concern to the naysayers engaged in literal and figurative demonstrations against their loss at the ballot box.
Kasher, famous for crafting the IDF’s “purity of arms” credo—and criticized in the past for backing the targeted assassination of terrorists—is a particularly noteworthy protester. It’s not that his false claims are more original than those of his colleagues in academia, like-minded members of the media or politicians in the “anybody but Bibi” camp who failed to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners. On the contrary, they’ve all been invoking the same platitudes.
But Kasher used his microphone to rattle off the tired talking points in a way that reveals just how dim a view he and his cohorts have of Israel.
“We were born into a state that wanted to be democratic; for decades, we were a democratic country,” he said. “And now they want to turn us into a different sort of a country, which will cease being democratic.”
He went on, “It will continue to call itself democratic, in the way that communist regimes called themselves ‘popular’ democracies [without possessing] an iota of democracy. So, here, too, we’re going to continue using that expression, because our culture is one of lies and pretense [in which people say] whatever they want with no relation to facts.”
Again, he stressed, “We won’t be a democracy. We’ll be something else—the kind [of entity] that there’s no moral justification to honor.”
Unlike before, he continued, “what we’re seeing now … is that politicians will have unlimited, unfettered power to make any decisions they want. That’s not democracy.”
He described citizens of “genuine democracies” as those who enjoy the freedom to express their opinions; go wherever they please; study at universities; seek employment that suits them and select the romantic partners or spouses whom they fancy.
According to Kasher, Israel’s “predatory” parliamentary majority of “bullies” could cancel such freedoms with a wave of the hand. It’s for this reason, he insisted, that the Supreme Court is so crucial.
“It’s not there to tell us what to do, but rather to tell the authorities not to interfere with us doing what we want to do.”
Asked whether he meant what he wrote in a piece shortly after the elections—that the Jewish people has undergone two mutations, one haredi and the other nationalist—he answered unabashedly in the affirmative, albeit with a qualification.
“The word ‘mutation’ is misunderstood due to the coronavirus-pandemic period,” he averred. “A mutation isn’t [a reference to] bacteria and viruses. It’s a significant change transferred from generation to generation.”
He acknowledged that he feels no affiliation with the Jewish mutants in question.
“I’m not with them. The dictatorial regime of nationalism … is intolerable. The haredi parasitism, which wasn’t in evidence during any previous period in Israel, and certainly not abroad, is intolerable. … It will bring about the collapse of the country. And the ultra-nationalists, with what they’re doing in the territories, will bring about the country’s moral collapse,” he said.
Returning to the “D”-word, he slandered Levin’s portrayal of a system sorely in need of repair as “mendacious,” because “in the democratic reality, there is no such division of powers. … The Knesset has the power to legislate and the government to govern. But the court has to have the last word—to tell the Knesset and government, ‘You crossed the lines of democracy.’”
Gently reminded that the public opted for this government and the policies it promised to implement, he stated, “I say to the public, ‘Pardon me, you determine who your representatives in the parliament are; you don’t determine what democracy is [just as] you don’t determine what constitutes proper medicine or successful science. … Your role in a democracy is to elect your representatives in the parliament, which elects the government. You don’t have a mandate to tell us what democracy is.”
Even the liberal interviewer sounded uncomfortable with that bit. Her ill ease didn’t put a dent in his train of thought, however. Instead, it guided the conversation to a disparagement of the Israeli populace as a whole—excepting the elitist minority that deems itself better equipped intellectually to rule the roost from on high.
“If we were actually to ask the people, in a ballot, what they think about freedom of speech for Arabs, freedom of movement for LGBTQs and especially freedom for women to live as they please, we’d get a terrible picture,” he argued. “[This is why] we don’t ask the people what civil rights are. We ask them only to select the representatives who have to reach collective decisions for them.”
Never mind that the public actually did cast its ballot, a mere two and a half months ago, in a—yes, truly democratic—election. In his eyes, the rest of the bloc to which he belongs must “take to the streets” to counteract the undesirable result.
“I’m not saying that they should break the law while doing that; I’m telling them to abide by the law in the meantime. … [T]hink of Russia, Poland and Hungary, during their communist regimes. Does a citizen have to obey a totalitarian law?”
Kasher’s epithets and accusations—among them “mutations of the Jewish people,” “dictatorial nationalism,” “haredi parasitism” and “moral collapse”—would make a BDS activist salivate. They also meet the criteria of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition” of antisemitism, adopted by dozens of countries, including Israel.
The IHRA specifies that one manifestation of what the late historian Robert Wistrich called the “longest hatred” is the “applying [of] double standards” to the Jewish state “by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Kasher won’t be called out as an antisemite. Discrediting his attitude will have to suffice. And at least it’s on display for illustrative purposes.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”