“For years now, Israel has seemed to me like a man sleepwalking toward a cliff. Now we’ve fallen from it.”
So proclaimed author Hillel Halkin in a hysterical requiem for Israel published last week in The Jewish Review of Books.
Halkin’s metaphorical cliff is the right-religious bloc’s electoral victory on Nov. 1, 2022 and the formation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sixth government two weeks ago. Halkin explained to his concerned readers that it isn’t that Israel stopped being a democracy on Nov. 1. Far worse. On that day, Israel lost its soul.
And Halkin identifies the culprit: Judaism.
In language redolent with antisemitic tropes, Halkin blamed “Judaism” for destroying “Zionism,” which he argued, oddly, “sought to cure us” of Judaism’s “fantasies and delusions … only to become infected with them itself.”
“Zionism wanted to make us a normal people,” he wrote. Alas, “It failed and grew warped in the process.”
American Jewish readers may have been shocked that the long-time Israeli darling of the neoconservative clique is now a hate-mongering leftist. But for Israeli readers, there was nothing original about Halkin’s essay. Since Nov. 1, the leftist-dominated Hebrew media has been consumed by the left’s collective nervous breakdown. Far more extreme messages than Halkin’s are shoved down the public’s throats 24-7. The charge is being led by politicians, retired generals and judges, and other members of Israel’s unelected, leftist establishment. The progressive U.S. foundation the New Israel Fund is reportedly funding and organizing the campaign.
Immediately after the Likud-led right-religious bloc won a comfortable parliamentary majority of 64, then-caretaker Prime Minister and current opposition leader Yair Lapid began speaking in terms of a civil war. While still prime minister, Lapid called for people to take to the streets to demonstrate against the Netanyahu government that still hadn’t been formed. He even participated in a demonstration against the incoming government while serving as prime minister.
Other senior members of Lapid’s left-Arab coalition jumped on his bandwagon without hesitation. In the two-and-a-half months since Nov. 1, and with ever-increasing velocity and implied violence since the government was sworn in two weeks ago, Lapid and his colleagues have breathlessly warned of civil war, called for a civil insurrection and proclaimed the end of Israeli democracy and the onset of fascism.
Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, the patron saint of the left, gave interviews Friday morning to all three left-dominated television stations (he refused to speak to Channel 14, the only television station aligned with the right-religious bloc). His interviews were broadcast simultaneously Saturday night. Barak likened Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposals for judicial reform to a tank onslaught and a revolution. He said he’d be willing to take a bullet to stop the charge. He called for his followers to man the barricades. Democracy, he warned, was in danger.
While Barak’s call to arms was being broadcast, thousands of leftists congregated in Tel Aviv to oppose the week-old Netanyahu government. They held placards portraying Levin as a Nazi and calling the Netanyahu government “the Sixth Reich.” Calls for civil war were heard. PLO flags were waved.
The rally was followed by a new wave of calls by senior politicians from Lapid on down that were, at best, flirtations with violence. MK Michal Shir, from Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, called for the “streets to be set on fire.” Former Meretz deputy minister and former IDF Deputy Chief of General Staff Yair Golan called for a civil insurrection. Former IDF Chief of General Staff and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called for policemen to disobey orders. Yaalon’s successor at both jobs, Stateliness Party leader Benny Gantz, said that if there is a civil war, it will be Netanyahu’s fault. Tuesday, the heads of almost all opposition parties agreed to participate in a follow-up New Israel Fund-organized demonstration this Saturday night.
The current godfathers of the rebellion are the two Baraks—Aharon Barak and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Writing in Yediot Ahronot Thursday, Ehud Barak declared, “The struggle has begun. This is not a false alarm. Emergency mobilization orders. Clear and immediate danger to the rapidly approaching collapse of Israeli democracy. When a million citizens take to the streets, this evil government will fall.”
Two questions arise from all of this. First, what is fueling the hysteria and incitement? And second, how must the government handle the situation?
The likes of Halkin, the Baraks and their compatriots insist that this is about “democracy.” Levin’s proposed reforms will place checks and balances on the currently unchecked powers of Israel’s Supreme Court and subordinate the attorney general to the government he serves. The left insists that if Levin’s reforms are passed, minority rights in Israel will disappear.
The problem with this argument is that the court doesn’t protect minority rights per se. It protects the rights of minorities associated with the left. Indeed, it confers extralegal rights on them. Since Aharon Barak enacted his judicial revolution in the early 1990s and seized the powers of the government to set policy and of the Knesset to legislate laws, the Supreme Court has protected Palestinian terrorists from the IDF. It protects Arab Israelis from efforts to enforce Israel’s planning and zoning laws. It protects illegal migrants from Africa from immigration laws. And so on and so forth.
On the other hand, minorities aligned with the right-religious bloc—working-class residents of neighborhoods victimized by illegal migrant crime, Israeli residents of communities in Judea and Samaria and mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and throughout the country, ultra-Orthodox Israelis and Sephardi and Mizrahi Israelis, receive no decisive support or protection from the Court.
In other words, curtailing the uncurbed power of the Court won’t undermine minority rights. It will limit the Court’s power to selectively adjudicate in favor of the left-Arab bloc and against the right-religious bloc.
The hysteria generated by this prospect stems from two sources—neither of which has anything to do with democracy or with Israel’s soul for that matter. The first source is hatred and prejudice. Halkin’s derisive castigation of Orthodox Israeli Jews is just the current iteration of the left’s longstanding prejudice against everyone who looks and thinks differently. This sort of hatred, against Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, national religious Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews and other traditionally right-wing constituencies, has been the background noise of Israel’s social discourse since before the founding of the state.
More than their increasingly radical, pro-Palestinian positions, it is the left’s unmistakable hatred for the groups that comprise the right-religious bloc that has convinced most Israelis that it is too hateful and contemptuous of them to be trusted with power.
The legal fraternity’s decision to indict Netanyahu ahead of the 2019 elections temporarily convinced enough center-right Israelis to vote for parties on the center-left to plunge Israel into political chaos for three years. But over the past year-and-a-half of the Bennett-Lapid-Gantz-Abbas government, two things happened, which together brought the right-religious bloc their commanding victory on Nov. 1.
First, the charges the legal fraternity brought against Netanyahu have disintegrated in court. Angry castigations of Netanyahu as a corrupt crook brought four inconclusive elections in quick succession from 2019 through 2021. But they rang hollow in the last election.
The second thing that happened is that the year-and-a-half of leftist rule reminded the public why it had placed the left in the political desert. As judged from the policies it enacted, the single unifying characteristic of the Bennett-Lapid-Gantz-Abbas government wasn’t hatred of Netanyahu. It was hatred of the right-religious bloc and their voters. As finance minister, Avigdor Liberman proudly enacted policies that deliberately persecuted ultra-Orthodox Israelis. As transportation minister, Labor Party boss Merav Michaeli deliberately discriminated against Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. Lapid called the opposition “shits” and said their representatives in the Knesset weren’t worthy of the law that required him to bring his gas deal with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon before the Knesset for approval. The government’s hand-picked Attorney General Gali Meara Baharav gave Lapid and his colleagues a green light to trample the opposition and ignore every limitation her predecessor placed on the Netanyahu governments.
The second cause of the left’s current hysteria and invitation to political violence is political. After the Likud and the right won their first Knesset election in 1977, the left initiated a plan to transfer governing power away from the Knesset and the government to Israel’s unelected deep state—particularly the Supreme Court and the state legal authorities generally.
Over the succeeding four decades, more and more executive and legislative powers were stripped away from Israel’s elected leaders and transferred to the unelected elites, aligned with and protective of the left to the point where, today, it is hard to view Israel as a democracy. The unelected legal fraternity’s unchecked powers have rendered them omnipotent.
It took many years for politicians to understand what was happening and even longer for the majority of the public to understand that they had been effectively disenfranchised. The growing plurality of Israelis awake to the realities of their political system only became a majority after Netanyahu’s trial opened in 2021. The collapse of the charges against Netanyahu in the Jerusalem District Court on the one hand, and the revelations of profound and systemic prosecutorial and investigative abuses of witnesses and suspects throughout the investigative stages of the legal onslaught against the sitting prime minister on the other hand, were enough to give the right a clear mandate for legal reform.
Today is the first time that the Baraks and their comrades face the real prospect that their post-1977, post-democratic governing apparatus will be dismantled, and actual democracy restored to the country. And they will not take it lying down. Over the past several days the legal fraternity has been flexing its muscles, calling for criminal probes of government ministers, and placing obstacles before ministers in their efforts to appoint senior officials to their ministries. More indictments of Netanyahu’s associates on process charges are in the works. And, of course, there will be more mass protests and calls for violence and insurrection from politicians, retired generals and justices.
The government must be careful as it plots its course. Ministers need to remember that they are now in charge. They can change things and they have no reason to return fire in kind when they are attacked. The Knesset can pass Levin’s judicial reform package and it should do so without delay. Other policies should be implemented with minimal fanfare. The right has waited for a generation to restore the democratic foundations of Israel’s parliamentary system. The seriousness of the threats of violence and civil strife must make our leaders mindful of why their plan to restore democracy is imperative and urgent.
Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.