Antifa is coming to Israel

Opposition to proposed judicial reform is being reduced to senseless calls for “disruption” instead of debate.

Knesset member Yair Golan of the Meretz Party, Feb. 17, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Knesset member Yair Golan of the Meretz Party, Feb. 17, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at: dougaltabef@gmail.com.    

In the summer of 2020 Israelis, along with most of the world, watched with shock and horror as riots erupted across the United States following the death of George Floyd. Masked protesters burned shops, destroyed government buildings and, most chillingly, destroyed manifestations of national memory and history by pulling down statues of “dead white men.”

The sense of anarchy running amok was chilling, as was the unwillingness to confront it. These were scenes of entitlement and a complete disdain for the rule of law.

Fast forward two-and-a-half years, and there are increasing signs that something like that kind of “rules be damned” violence could be coming to Israel.

If it’s up to the likes of former Meretz MK and one-time IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, that is what we are likely to face.

Golan, who infamously likened Israel’s behavior to the Nazis in a Holocaust Remembrance Day address, has thrown down the gauntlet before the reality that there is a new government in Israel.

A month ago, Golan advocated protests in a manner that implicitly contained the threat of violence: “The people should express their protest and if we need to create a significant disruption in lifestyles to explain that things are not going our way, we will do it. There are enough good and dedicated citizens here who want rule of law.”

This is an Orwellian statement. The claim that a “significant disruption in lifestyles” reflects an aspiration for the “rule of law” is classic doublespeak.

Golan has since doubled down on his call for protests by specifying how “lifestyles” should be disrupted: “We need to change the way we think. No more polite demonstrations on motzash [Saturday night], no more runaway posts in the evening, and no more lamentation and crying. Only actions. Only results. Businesses will be shut down, services will be shut down, roads will be blocked and those who pretend to rule through corrupt, hedonistic, extremist and dark people will discover that the people are the sovereign.”

If we are to maintain our civic sanity, we need to understand this mindset, confront it and exercise the kind of care and judgment that the would-be protesters believe only they possess.

The rationale for disruptions—and one would be hard-pressed not to read “disruptions” as “violence”—is that “the people are sovereign.” According to Golan, the sovereignty of the people justifies any and all behavior designed to thwart the plans of the “dark people.”

As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “Who are these people?” If we stipulate that the people are sovereign, then why, when they elected the new government with a clear majority, should that sovereignty be disregarded or worse, dismissed?

Golan’s “sovereignty” is “sovereignty for me but not for thee.” How can someone who has served at the top of Israel’s army and then in the Knesset be so obtuse as to apply the concept of sovereignty only to those who, in his opinion, deserve it—i.e., those who happen to subscribe to his political point of view?

Golan is right to be afraid of the degradation of the people’s sovereignty. But he does not realize that he is advocating precisely that. Importing such self-righteous political narcissism, which marked America’s 2020 riots and still marks much progressive thinking, would be terrible for Israel.

It would be even more terrible for the Israeli left because it would conclusively demonstrate the left’s contempt for the popular sovereignty they claim to advocate.

One need not demand “disruption of lifestyles” to add fuel to the fire of social division. The violent condemnation of all the government’s proposed judicial reforms in itself foments further division.

Why does the idea of judicial reforms, any judicial reforms, cause such hysterical cries that the democratic sky is falling?

The reason is loss of power. Yair Golan understands that since his party could not even cross the electoral threshold in the last election, the only way the left can continue to exercise power is through the Supreme Court and the cadre of unaccountable legal advisors attached to every government ministry.

Ironically, if the hegemony of these forces is disrupted, the sovereignty of the people might be better reflected in less constrained decision-making by their elected representatives. But these are definitely not the people whose sovereignty Golan wants to protect.

The proof that this is all a power play is that no one in the opposition has offered to debate the particulars of the proposed reforms. There has been no reasoned analysis of the proposals, let alone the idea that some of them might actually have merit.

We can see something like this in the United States. The American left’s view of their Supreme Court has undergone a historic change. Once seen as the bastion of all things good when it was under Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1960s and ‘70s, the left now sees the Court as America’s biggest problem. So, they say, the right thing to do is pack the Court—at least when a Democrat is president—and harass the sitting justices in hopes of intimidating them into submission.

Is it too fanciful to suspect that, if Israel’s Supreme Court had the same strict constructionist tendency that its American counterpart exhibits, the left would be storming the barricades to disembowel it?

What Yair Golan and even Supreme Court President Esther Hayut owe the Israeli people is a willingness to engage with the particulars and merits, or lack thereof, of the proposed reforms.

To react with petulant condemnation just because you hate who your enemies are is the stuff of Antifa, nihilists and progressive narcissists. We do not need that in Israel.

Come, let us reason together.

Douglas Altabef is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, and a director of B’yadenu and the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at dougaltabef@gmail.com.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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