Monday, Jun 10, 2024

Judicial Reform Bill Passes in the Knesset. Now What?

By Yaakov Kornreich and Avi Yishai

Biden Supporting the Revolt Against the Israeli Government

 

 

Despite the repeated denials by President Joe Biden and his administration spokesmen and officials, it is clear that they have played a key role in organizing and supporting the open revolt against the duly elected Israeli government of Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu that has disrupted Israeli society and prompted 10,000 reserve soldiers, including over 400 pilots, to refuse to report for voluntary duty, undermining the effectiveness of the Israeli military, and putting the country’s national security at risk. The opposition’s excuse for instigating the revolt, which was organized with substantial help from the Biden administration and several left-leaning European governments, was its objection, in the name of protecting Israeli democracy, to the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform proposal.

But the true aim of the opposition protests is the overthrow of the right-wing government coalition which resulted from last November’s Knesset election. The clear conservative victory, due in part to the incompetence of the left-wing’s political leadership, broke a string of indecisive 50-50 elections which created years of governmental stalemate between Israel’s right-wing and left-wing political factions. It gave Netanyahu’s all-right-wing coalition a stable 64-56 Knesset majority, and a clear mandate to implement the pro-religious, pro-settlement policies upon which it ran during the election campaign.

Implementing those policies will require, as a first step, reigning in the liberal-dominated and largely self-appointed Israeli Supreme Court. It has consistently used its unbridled legal authority to veto conservative legislation passed by the Knesset and impose extreme liberal views on the country based upon its own nebulous concept of what are “reasonable” government policies. The end of the Israeli Supreme Court’s de facto liberal veto over all government policies explains why the extended dispute over the government’s proposed legislation to reform the judiciary was so emotional.

ANATOMY OF NETANYAHU’S KNESSET VICTORY

That debate finally came to a head on Monday when the coalition succeeded in passing, by a series of 64-56 party-line Knesset votes, the portion of the reform proposal that would end the court’s indiscriminate use of the “reasonableness” standard to strike down legislation passed by the Knesset. There were desperate 11th-hour efforts, originally sponsored by Israel’s liberal President Yitzchok Herzog, to reach a compromise agreement between the coalition and the opposition to end the disruptive protests. These talks continued, even while the Knesset was in the midst of voting Monday to approve the government’s proposal to end the ability of the Supreme Court to impose its own “reasonableness” standard on all government actions, including Knesset legislation and cabinet appointments.

The last-minute negotiations collapsed after the opposition demanded several changes to the text of the bill which would have meant that it could not pass before the current summer session of the Knesset adjourns on July 30, breaking a promise that Netanyahu had made to his coalition partners. The opposition had also demanded a coalition commitment to delay Knesset consideration of the other segments of the judicial reform proposal for up to 18 months, which Netanyahu dismissed as another stalling tactic of opposition.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Justice Minister Yariv Lavin had remained adamant in support of the “anti-reasonableness” legislation in its original form. They threatened to remove their support, bringing down the government coalition, if it had agreed to any last-minute compromise in the legislation language that would have left the Israeli Supreme Court’s arbitrary dictatorial powers intact.

Monday’s passage of the proposal by the Knesset on its second and third readings took place after almost 30 hours of continuous floor debate that began on Sunday morning. To express their continued opposition to the legislation, all 54 members of the Knesset opposition boycotted the vote on the third and final reading of the bill, enabling it to pass by a margin of 64-0.

The text of the legislation, which is now law, prohibits Israeli courts from scrutinizing the “reasonableness” of cabinet and ministerial decisions, including the making of appointments, and exercising their choice on whether or not to use their legal authority.

One possible immediate consequence of the Knesset vote is the reinstatement of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as Netanyahu’s Interior Minister. The Israeli Supreme Court had struck down Deri’s earlier appointment on the grounds of “reasonableness” because he had previously been convicted of tax offenses.

Immediately after the final vote, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the chairman of the Religious Zionist party, welcomed the bill’s passage but expressed regret that the opposition undermined the effort to achieve a consensus on the issue. He said, “We left no stone unturned until the last minute but the opposition unfortunately opposed” compromise.

A HISTORIC FIRST STEP TOWARD MAJOR CHANGES

But Likud’s Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who wrote the legislation, expressed no reservations when he congratulated the coalition on its legislative victory from the Knesset rostrum, by declaring, “We have taken the first step in a historic process to correct the judicial system.”

Levin, who first introduced the judicial reform bill in January, said that the newly passed legislation, which becomes part of Israel’s Basic Law, would help “restore the powers that were taken from the government and the Knesset over many years.”

But on a much more conciliatory note, Levin urged the leaders of the Israeli opposition to utilize an upcoming Knesset recess to reach a compromise with the coalition on the rest of his proposed judicial overhaul. “Let us use the recess to come to understandings,” he urged. “It may not be in everyone’s political interest, but it’s certainly in the national interest.”

Otzna Yehudit’s Ben-Gvir told reporters in the wake of the Knesset vote, “From today, Israel will be a little more democratic, a little more Jewish, and we will be able to do more in our offices. With Hashem’s help, this will be just the beginning.”

Israel’s Movement for Quality Government, a non-governmental organization which, according to some Israeli media reports, has been quietly coordinating the opposition protest movement with the help of the Biden administration, announced that it has asked the Israeli Supreme Court to strike down the new law, ignoring the court’s own obvious conflict of interest in this case.

Yesh Atid chairman and opposition leader Yair Lapid announced that his party would also ask the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the judicial reform bill and called on members of the Israeli military, who have threatened to abandon their duties, to wait until the court hands down its ruling, saying, “This is not the end of the battle. It is just the beginning.”

The immediate reaction of the Histadrut, Israel’s largest labor union, to the Knesset vote was to issue a threat to call a nationwide general strike, as thousands of protesters continued to block Yerushalayim’s main streets. According to the New York Times, organizers of the opposition protests insisted that the demonstrations against judicial reform will continue. They vowed to “fight till the end,” as “Israel goes through the darkest period since its establishment.”

Netanyahu and his cabinet members have expressed concern that Israeli police and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara have been too tolerant of demonstrators who have committed disruptive acts of civil disobedience over the past six months, such as blocking major roadways, as well as harassing and heckling members of the government outside their homes and wherever else they go.

In the end, Netanyahu and his coalition hung together despite immense pressure from the liberal-dominated Israeli news media, huge demonstrations, including a four-day protest march from Tel Aviv to a massive sit-in held on the grounds of the Knesset in Yerushalayim. Various opposition groups co-operated to block major highways and bring many aspects of daily life in Israel to a halt. Meanwhile, senior Biden administration officials issued increasingly belligerent threats, echoed by their proxies in the liberal news media, to “re-assess” (read: terminate) the longstanding “special relationship” between the United States and Israel under its current right-wing government.

BIDEN CALLS THE KNESSET’S VOTE ‘UNFORTUNATE’

Shortly after the Knesset passed the judicial reform bill, the Biden White House issued a statement through a National Security Council spokesperson declaring that “It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority. We believe that for major democratic changes, you need to work for consensus. We urge Israeli leaders to work toward a consensus-based approach through political dialogue.”

The statement ignored the fact that since taking office, President Biden has not followed that advice. Instead, he has repeatedly sought to pass major pieces of domestic legislation and institute major federal government policy changes using “the slimmest possible majority” of Democrats, over vehement and united Republican opposition, in the evenly divided House and Senate.

A follow-up statement issued by Biden’s press secretary later Monday repeated the same criticism while trying to portray the president as “a lifelong friend of Israel.” It also said, “We understand that talks are ongoing and likely to continue over the coming weeks and months to forge a broader compromise even with the Knesset in recess. The United States will continue to support the efforts of President Herzog and other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue.”

The second White House statement issued in Biden’s name is notable primarily because it deliberately avoids mentioning Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu by name, falsely suggesting that he is not among those “other Israeli leaders” seeking to build a broader consensus on judicial reform.

In fact, in his televised address to the Israeli people a few hours after the Knesset approved the judicial reform measure, Netanyahu stressed the efforts his coalition made to “reach agreements with the opposition. . . because of the importance of the issue…

“We agreed to stop the legislation and stopped it for three months. We agreed to significant changes. [However] no compromise of ours was ever accepted, not even one.

“Even today in the Knesset’s plenary session, in the middle of voting, up until the last minute, we tried to reach agreements, but the other side refused.”

At the very beginning of his speech, Netanyahu argued that passing the judicial reform measure was “a necessary democratic step” because it represents the will of the voters who elected his coalition last November. The prime minister also said that, rather than being “the end of democracy” in Israel, as the opposition has claimed, “it is the essence of democracy.”

WILL NEGOTIATIONS ON A JUDICIAL REFORM COMPROMISE CONTINUE?

While Netanyahu pledged to continue his efforts to reach a compromise with the opposition on the rest of the judicial reform package during the Knesset’s summer recess, Lapid foreclosed that possibility by announcing that “the opposition will not be a partner in talks that are just an empty show.”

Nevertheless, Netanyahu emphasized that “We all agree that Israel must remain a strong democracy, that it will continue to protect everyone’s individual rights, that it will not become a halachic state,” that the courts must remain independent of political party control, and that Israel’s reserve soldiers must continue their vital service to the nation regardless of any political controversies.

Again, emphasizing the importance of national unity, the prime minister declared, “We have one country, one house, one people. On the eve of Tisha B’Av, we must safeguard these above all else.”

The day before the Knesset voted on the reasonableness measure, President Biden made a last-ditch effort to block it. He publicly urged Netanyahu to postpone the Knesset vote on the judicial reforms a second time to give President Herzog another chance to build a broader political consensus on the long overdue reforms required to reign in the dictatorial powers that have been wielded by the liberal-dominated Israeli judicial system.

“From the perspective of Israel’s friends in the United States, it looks like the current judicial reform proposal is becoming more divisive, not less,” Biden said in a statement to the Axios news site.

“Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this — the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus,” Biden said.

In an earlier statement to The New York Times, Biden said, “This is obviously an area about which Israelis have strong views, including in an enduring protest movement that is demonstrating the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy, which must remain the core of our bilateral relationship.

“Finding consensus on controversial areas of policy means taking the time you need,” he continued. “For significant changes, that’s essential. So my recommendation to Israeli leaders is not to rush. I believe the best outcome is to continue to seek the broadest possible consensus here.”

Biden issued that statement the day after Netanyahu told him in a phone call that he would have to bring the first portion of the judicial reform legislation to a Knesset vote without first reaching a consensus with the opposition, as he had earlier promised. But Netanyahu also promised that he would continue his efforts to reach such a compromise before submitting the rest of the legislation for Knesset votes later this year.

It was also during that phone call that Biden finally issued his invitation to Netanyahu to meet with him, after having forced him to wait for seven months. But Biden did not specify a specific time and place for his meeting with Netanyahu, which led to speculation that it would not carry the same high-level status as Herzog’s meeting with Biden last week in the Oval Office.

BIDEN HONORED HERZOG TO EMBARRASS NETANYAHU

According to a Wall Street Journal editorial, by rolling out the red carpet for Israel’s president, while at the same time publicly humiliating Israel’s prime minister, the Biden administration was sending a message to the Israeli people that, “the U.S. is with you but not your government. It’s the kind of thing we tell Cubans and Iranians, or at least we used to. That the White House adopts the same approach with an allied democracy is a sign of the times in the Democratic Party.

“[Two weeks ago] the White House issued a statement urging Israel ‘to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly’ for judicial-reform protesters — as if Israel has done something else. New York Democrat Congressman Jerry Nadler calls Israel’s reform proposals ‘anti-democratic’ and a threat to judicial independence.” The fact that the initiatives supported by Nadler and other liberals who support packing the U.S. Supreme Court with like-minded liberal justices, and forcing the conservative justices to recuse themselves when faced with an apparent conflict of interest are remarkably similar to the judicial reforms that Netanyahu is proposing never seems to have occurred to the Democrats.

In his previous public statements on the current Israeli government, Biden had expressed his discomfort with the right wing and pro-settler positions of some of Netanyahu’s more controversial coalition partners, but assigned the task of publicly calling for a delay in Knesset votes on judicial reforms to administration underlings, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides.

However, Biden’s decision to honor Israeli President Herzog by issuing a rare invitation to visit him in the White House and address a joint session of Congress, while at the same time publicly snubbing Netanyahu by withholding such an invitation, which is usually routine for a newly installed Israeli prime minister, made the White House animosity towards the right-wing Israeli government and its leader crystal clear.

NIKKI HALEY AND MALCOLM HOENLEIN BLAST BIDEN AND THE DEMOCRATS

Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, who was highly regarded for her outspoken support for Israel when she was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the Trump administration, told the annual conference of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) meeting in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, that Biden has treating Prime Minister Netanyahu just as shabbily as President Obama used to do.

Haley called out congressional Democrat leaders for failing to discipline their House members who boycotted President Herzog’s speech last week and called Israel a racist state. “Antisemitism is hate. Antisemitism needs to be treated exactly like racism. It used to be that Republicans and Democrats were both pro-Israel. It used to be that Republicans and Democrats both defied racism. But you’re not seeing that anymore,” Haley said.

She added that the Democrats “always treat antisemitism differently than racism. They shouldn’t. It’s just as evil, and they need to start calling it out.”

The former South Carolina governor, who is a declared candidate for the GOP 2025 presidential candidate, said that instead of constantly preaching at Israeli leaders and talking down to them, as if “they should listen to us,” Biden and other American officials “need to start treating them like the ally they are,” and stay out of internal Israeli political disputes, such as the judicial reform controversy.

Speaking at the same CUFI conference, Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime leader of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, sharply criticized the Biden administration for adopting the flawed Nexus definition of antisemitism that was rejected by the widely respected mainstream group known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), because it fails to include unfair criticism of Israel. Hoenlein said that because the Biden administration accepted the watered-down Nexus definition of antisemitism, Muslim hate groups such as CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) now feel that they are free to continue to promote anti-Zionism without fear of being labeled as antisemitic.

Hoenlein also blasted the recent decision by the Biden administration to reinstate a ban on U.S. funding for research at Israeli academic institutions in the West Bank which the Trump administration had overturned in 2020.

IS BIDEN REALLY ISRAEL’S FRIEND?

Despite his often-repeated claims that he has been a lifelong supporter of Israel, ever since his earliest days as a U.S. senator from Delaware, Biden has consistently criticized Israel’s leaders for their policies towards the Palestinians and challenged Israel’s right to build Jewish communities on the West Bank and in East Yerushalayim, said the longtime leader of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

In 1982, Biden clashed over Israel’s settlement policy with Prime Minister Menachem Begin during a closed meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden’s prickly personal history with Netanyahu dates back to May of 2010, during his visit to Israel as Barack Obama’s vice president to announce the resumption of U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Biden publicly clashed during that visit with then-Prime Minister Netanyahu over an awkwardly timed municipal government announcement of construction plans for a new religious Jewish community in East Yerushalayim, now known as Ramat Shlomo, which precipitated an embarrassing public breach in U.S.-Israeli relations.

During his years as vice president, Biden served as the Obama administration’s chief emissary to mend its fences with the leaders of the organized American Jewish community whenever its policies clashed with Israel’s interests. But even after the last set of U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was deliberately sabotaged by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in 2014, Biden and the Obama administration remained committed to the failed two-state solution and continued to fund the Palestinian Authority, despite its ongoing support for the most notorious convicted Palestinian terrorists and their families.

When Biden became president in 2021, he ignored the considerable progress that Israel and the Trump administration had made toward achieving regionwide peace through the Abraham Accords. The Biden administration promptly resumed U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority that Trump had canceled, and renewed calls for the revival of negotiations for a two-state solution that most of the people living in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority no longer wanted. But it is Israel, rather than the Palestinians, which has borne the brunt of the Biden administration’s one-sided criticisms condemning its West Bank settlement policies.

BIDEN’S ISRAEL POLICY VALIDATES DEMOCRAT ANTISEMITISM

Because of their bitter past history, Biden was quick to endorse the Israeli opposition’s call condemning Netanyahu’s judicial reform proposals that were part of his government’s coalition agreement. By publicly portraying the proposed reforms as a threat to Israeli democracy, Biden and other administration spokesmen implicitly validated the rabidly antisemitic criticisms of Israeli by progressive congressional Democrats led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Jamaal Bowman.

Most recently, the chair of the House progressive caucus, Washington State Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, provoked outrage from friends of Israel in both parties by publicly condemning Israel as a “racist state” just days before Israeli President Herzog’s high-profile visit to the United States.

The refusal of the Biden White House to specifically condemn Jayapal’s remarks, combined with its blatant efforts to interfere with the internal workings of Israeli democracy by siding with the opponents of judicial reform, sent a clear message. It conveyed Biden’s underlying hostility, lying just beneath a thin veneer of friendship, whenever Israel has been governed by strong right-wing leaders, such as Netanyahu, who do not support the two-state solution or the Iran nuclear deal, and who strongly believe in the inherent right of Jews to make their homes and live in peace and security throughout Yerushalayim and the West Bank.

In fact, the Knesset’s Monday vote on judicial reforms had already been delayed by four months to permit the futile initial effort by Herzog to fashion such a compromise proposal through negotiations between the coalition government and the opposition, conducted under his auspices. Thanks in part to early opposition by the Biden administration, as well as warnings from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that the threatened boycott of reserve Israeli military officers and air force pilots in protest against the reform legislation would endanger Israel’s security, Netanyahu agreed to put the original legislation on hold and cancel a scheduled vote on it before the end of the Knesset’s winter session in March. The prime minister also rescinded his initial move to fire Gallant after the Defense Minister first spoke out in favor of delaying the vote.

MORE DELAYS WON’T HELP IF COMPROMISE IS IMPOSSIBLE

However, soon after the Herzog-sponsored negotiations began, it became apparent that the opposition parties could not agree to any reasonable compromise on the judicial reform due to its violent opposition on general principles, unrelated to the Supreme Court, to Netanyahu as prime minister. When the opposition suspended its participation in the Herzog-sponsored negotiations in June, it became clear to Netanyahu that they were only using the judicial reform issue as a pretext for their efforts to overturn the results of last November’s Knesset election, and hoping that their ongoing weekly public protests would ultimately bring down his duly-elected government.

Gallant sought to play the same role during the Knesset’s marathon session this week by trying to negotiate a last-minute compromise with the opposition. But after Netanyahu learned of Gallant’s effort from a Channel 12 news report, he called the defense minister on the phone and angrily told him to stop. “You think your proposal can be beneficial but it does great harm. Stop acting like you’re the prime minister. I’m handling the incident, stop interfering,” Netanyahu told Gallant.

Netanyahu’s Likud party also rejected offers made last week from opposition party leaders Benny Gantz of the National Unity party and Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, to re-enter talks on reaching a compromise on judiciary reform and holding off on any Knesset vote until a consensus is reached.

NETANYAHU IDENTIFIES THE REAL THREAT TO ISRAELI DEMOCRACY

The next day, in a televised address to the nation, Netanyahu said that the main danger to Israel’s democracy came from the threat by so many reserve soldiers to stop volunteering for military duty if the first judicial reform bill became law.

“In a democracy, the military is subordinate to the army. . . When military elements attempt to dictate government policy via threats, that is illegitimate in any democracy. And if they succeed… that is the end of democracy,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu also said that while “we all want a Jewish and democratic state, we all want a strong Israeli army and we all understand that we only have one country,” there are “natural” disputes in “every democracy.”

In an effort to explain the controversy over judicial reform, Netanyahu said, “Many believe the balance of powers between authorities has been upended and… that this balance must be restored, so that the democratic choice of the people will be expressed by the government chosen by the people, and will express the will of the people. Others are legitimately concerned about the ramifications… while others simply want to overthrow the democratically elected government, without any connection to the reform.”

Netanyahu expressed his confidence that “Israel will remain a democratic country, [and] will continue to be a liberal country. It won’t become a halachic state and will protect individual rights for all. But when I say everyone, these rights really must be equal for everyone,” he added, leaving nobody, including demonstrators, above the law “who can block roads, set fires, block trains, block ambulances, and endanger lives.”

In response to Netanyahu’s speech, Yesh Atid opposition party chairman Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of “tearing the country apart instead of uniting it,” and called his coalition, “the most extremist government in the country’s history. . . They are responsible for what is happening today in the economy, for the rift in our social fabric, and especially for the damage to security, [by] causing the army to fall apart from within. The responsibility is on them.”

THE NEXT STAGE OF JUDICIAL REFORM

Supporters of the coalition’s judicial reform bill, including the leaders of the Likud and other conservative and pro-settlement political parties, as well as Shas and UTJ, which represent the interests of Israel’s chareidi communities, say that it is improper for unelected Supreme Court judges to impose their personal secular-liberal beliefs on discretionary or public policy matters by overruling Knesset-passed legislation as well as government administrative decisions.

Netanyahu says that the next segment of the judicial reform to be submitted for a Knesset vote after it returns from its upcoming summer recess will give Israel’s duly elected political leaders more influence over the selection of future Supreme Court judges. That process is currently under the control of Israel’s liberal-dominated professional legal community. The prime minister has also announced that he has unilaterally eliminated the portion of the original judicial reform legislation which would have created a Knesset mechanism for overriding Supreme Court decisions invalidating Knesset-passed legislation, despite objections to the move from his Shas and UTJ coalition partners.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C. mainstream Democrats in the House have carefully tried to distance themselves from the deliberately harsh antisemitic statements by Congresswoman Jayapal that were obviously intended to mar the atmosphere surrounding the scheduled visit by Israeli President Herzog and raise new questions about the depth of the Biden administration’s ongoing commitment to maintain the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel.

DEMOCRAT PROGRESSIVE LEADER DOUBLES DOWN ON ANTI-SEMITISM

In Jayapal’s speech to an audience of like-minded progressives at the Netroots Nation conference in Chicago, she said, “As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state, that the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it does not even feel possible.”

When her statement set off the intense criticism expected from the embarrassed fellow Democrats who still support Israel, Jayapal was ready with a meaningless word salad reply, worthy of Vice President Kamala Harris, and designed to serve as a deliberately vague substitute for a clear and sincere apology. Jayapal declared that “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist.” She then immediately added, “I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies,” contradicting her previous non-apology.

In November 1975, the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379, which equated Zionism to racism. The resolution was formally repealed in 1991, thanks in large part to the efforts of New York Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but the damage was done. The “Zionism is racism” slander was popularized by the Soviet Union, which based its claims on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the notorious antisemitic forgery first published in Russia in 1903 which seeks to blame all of the ills of modern society on a Jewish political conspiracy and is still widely circulated around the world by the enemies of Israel and all Jewish people.

In holding Israel to be at fault for the failure of U.S. efforts to achieve a two-state solution, Prayapal ignored the fact that Palestinian Authority leaders rejected every peace plan that the U.S. and Israel offered, beginning with the generous proposal that then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton offered to Yasser Arafat at the failed 2000 summit at Camp David. Going back even further, it was the Arab states which flatly rejected the original 1947 U.N. partition proposal that would have resulted in the peaceful creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Instead, the Arab armies immediately attacked and tried to destroy the newborn Jewish state.

ISRAEL TREATS ARABS BETTER THAN ARAB STATES DO

In condemning Israel for failing to provide Palestinians with self-determination and autonomy, Jayapal ignores the fact that the Israeli government has been propping up the notoriously corrupt and inefficient Palestinian Authority with tax receipts and security coordination for the past 30 years. Israel also has numerous laws in place to ensure equality for all its citizens, including the 21% who are Arabs. As a result, Israeli Arabs have their own political parties with seats in the Knesset, in the Israeli government cabinet, and on its Supreme Court. Israeli Arabs enjoy more legally guaranteed personal rights than in any other state in the Middle East.

In fact, Israel is the least racist state in the region. It is a welcoming refuge for persecuted Jews of diverse ethnic backgrounds, many of whom fled institutionalized persecution in their host nations around the world. They include the descendants of about 600,000 Mizrachim Jewish refugees who fled in the years after Israel was created from Middle Eastern and North African countries, as well as nearly 200,000 black Ethiopian Jews and 400,000 black Yemenite Jews who now call Israel their home.

But despite Jayapal’s repeating these classic antisemitic canards and false criticisms of Israel, she is being defended by J Street, the major liberal lobby group in Washington on Israel that was President Obama’s favorite substitute for AIPAC and the Presidents Conference as the representative for the political opinions of the American Jewish community on Israel.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS CHALLENGE DEMOCRATS ON SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL

Prayapal’s outrageous comments prompted House Republicans, led by Texas Republican August Pfluger, to pass a resolution flatly refuting Prayapal’s accusation by a margin of 412-9 plus one abstention. Pfluger called upon Democrats “to stand up against bullying” and “those that would denounce or use words that are hateful in their rhetoric, that undermine the very essence of the nation of Israel.”

Texas Republican Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, argued for the necessity to combat “small-minded” opinions about Israel and ensure that Congress continues “rejecting false accusations and repulsive anti-Israel statements.”

GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy went further, challenging House Democrat leaders to punish the progressive members of their caucus for speaking out against Israel. “Do they think Israel is an evil state?” McCarthy asked rhetorically. “If they believe differently, they should take action against their own,” he told reporters, “To prove that no, they’re not antisemitic.” But McCarthy noted sadly, House Democrat Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and his colleagues have “defended these individuals time and again. The only time action has ever been taken is when we had to take the action.”

The nine progressive House Democrats who refused to condemn Prayapal’s outrageous condemnation of Israel included Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), both of New York; Cori Bush of Missouri; Andre Carson of Indiana; Summer Lee of Pennsylvania; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; and Delia Ramirez of Illinois. Betty McCollum of Minnesota was the lone House member who voted present and refused to take a position.

MIXED REACTIONS FROM OTHER DEMOCRATS

The other 195 House Democrats felt obliged to join every single Republican member of the House in voting in support of Israel’s legitimacy. They included Prayapal herself, who realized that she would only further embarrass and infuriate Democrat party leaders by voting against the Republican resolution, but she made up for it by refusing to attend Herzog’s address to the joint session of Congress due to an unspecified “scheduling conflict.”

However, some of those 195 Democrats, such as Brad Schneider of Illinois, voted for the Republican resolution but also expressed his concerns about “members of the [Israeli] government who certainly express racist views.”

But to his credit, Congressman Schneider also said that it’s “unfortunate” that some House Democrats will be boycotting the speech by the Israeli president to a joint session of Congress, and counterproductive as well, because, “President Herzog is the one trying to find the common ground and bridge the differences to advance Israeli democracy. He’s the one who is talking about pursuing peace and finding a pathway to preserve the possibility that when there is a partner among the Palestinians, there can be a two-state solution. If there’s anyone that the folks who are most critical of Israel should come listen to, it should be President Isaac Herzog. They’re cutting their own nose off to spite their face.”

However, a group of 43 House Democrats, led by Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Dan Goldman of New York, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts released a letter that forcefully defended Israel as “the only vibrant, progressive, and inclusive democracy in the region.” In addition to calling Jayapal’s racism accusation “unacceptable,” they declared that, “Israel is the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people, and efforts to delegitimize and demonize it are not only dangerous and antisemitic, but they also undermine America’s national security.”

While reiterating their commitment to a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians establishing “two states that exist side-by-side in peace, prosperity, and mutual security,” the 43 Democrats also wrote that, “Any efforts to rewrite history and question the Jewish State’s right to exist, or our historic bipartisan relationship, will never succeed in Congress. . . We will never allow anti-Zionist voices that embolden antisemitism to undermine and disrupt the strongly bipartisan consensus supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship that has existed for decades.”

TLAIB ALONE SPEAKS UP FOR PRAYAPAL IN THE HOUSE

Tlaib was the only progressive Democrat to speak up on the House floor in support of Prayapal’s accusations. “Israel is an apartheid state,” she declared, and then cited similar accusations from United Nations officials, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem that accuse Israel of racism in its treatment of Palestinians.

“I am the only Palestinian-American serving in Congress and I have family members all throughout the West Bank,” Tlaib said. “But we’re here again, reaffirming Congress’ support for apartheid. Policing the words of women of color who dare to speak up about truths, about oppression, is just not what we should be doing here in Congress.”

“The [Israeli] government is deeply problematic in the way that they are proceeding in the structure of oppression,” Tlaib continued. “This is about speaking up against violence. Congress must stop funding apartheid.”

Tlaib’s progressive Democrat House colleague, Ilhan Omar, did issue a statement declaring that “I’m voting against this [pro-Israel] resolution. It was designed by MAGA Republicans to target and shame a colleague, Pramila Jayapal, for comments for which she apologized and clarified.”

It was the latest of a series of objectionable statements about Jews by Omar for which she has been widely condemned. In 2019, she was forced to apologize for issuing an antisemitic tweet accusing Jewish supporters of Israel of using bribery by declaring “It’s all about the Benjamins [$100 dollar bills],” as well as a much earlier comment in which she claimed that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” and issued a Muslim prayer for the people to be awakened to “help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

Meanwhile, the leader of the progressive “Squad” of Democrats in the House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), not only refused to vote for the Republican resolution condemning the accusation that Israel is a racist state, she demonstrated her support by physically throwing her arms around Prayapal and giving her a big hug on the House floor.

NEW YORK TIMES REPEATS THE LIBERAL MEDIA MYTH ABOUT ISRAEL

Liberal U.S. news media outlets, such as the New York Times, also sought to minimize the significance of the antisemitic comments about Israel which have been issued with increasing regularity by prominent progressive Democrats such as Jayapal, Omar, Tlaib, and Bowman.

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg dismissed Jayapal’s Israeli racism accusation as a “rhetorical misstep,” and suggested that the strong backlash it generated only proves that “no matter how far Israel veers from liberal democratic norms, when it comes to American politics, it’s still protected by a thick lattice of taboos.” If only that were really true.

In fact, a fellow New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, who wrote in 2011 that ovations for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Congress had been “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” wrote again just two weeks ago that Netanyahu’s right-wing government was “engaged in unprecedented radical behavior” that is now threatening to undermine the longstanding U.S.-Israel alliance.

Meanwhile, the Netanyahu coalition’s push to pass its judicial reform plan has ignited a long-simmering dispute between Israel’s secular and religious communities over the Jewish nature of the so-called Jewish state, and an ethnic dispute between the descendants of the early, largely European Ashkenazic Labor Zionists pioneers who helped to turn Palestine into modern Israel and the Mizrachim, the descendant of the Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle Eastern countries who are still treated by many members of Israel’s Ashkenazic liberal elite as second-class citizens.

Another problem is that Israel’s notoriously corrupt, party boss-dominated parliamentary form of government no longer seems capable of responding appropriately to the country’s complex internal social, religious, cultural, and political divisions, and sharply conflicting visions of Israel’s self-image and goals as a Jewish and democratic state, including fundamental disagreements about what those concepts actually mean.

At the same time, the political realities are changing as the number of chareidi Jews, Mizrachim, and West Bank settlers increase much faster than the secular liberal Ashkenazi elite. Their panicky protests against the right-wing government’s judicial reform proposal are partially fueled by the growing realization that the long-term demographic trends are against them, and they are fast losing the ability to win future Knesset elections.

NETANYAHU’S RIGHT-WING BREAKTHROUGH

For decades, these rival factions maintained a balance of power: Right-wing parties have led Israel’s governments for most of the past four decades, but they always needed to form a coalition with the smaller parties from the center or left which required them to compromise on their conservative goals.

But now Netanyahu has, for the first time, succeeded in fashioning a stable, entirely right-wing government coalition composed of conservative nationalists, religious Zionists settlers, and chareidi Jews who do not share a common agenda, but who are nevertheless compatible and share a common opponent, the current descendants of the original secular Ashkenazi liberal elite who have long dominated Israeli society and politics.

When the members of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc of parties won enough seats in November’s Knesset election to govern alone, the secular liberal elites realized that their long-term, de facto control over the country, symbolized by the makeup and power of the Supreme Court, was being seriously threatened, and decided that desperate, anti-democratic measures to bring down the right-wing government were justified.

A FIGHT TO THE FINISH OVER THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL

As Middle East historian and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren has observed, at its core, the current dispute between Netanyahu’s coalition and the opposition is not really over the future of Israeli democracy or imposing limitations on the powers of the Supreme Court, or even the ability of American leaders to influence Israeli government policies. It is just the first round of an internal fight to the finish among the most powerful factions of Israeli society, ranging from the traditional Israeli political right-left divide to the clashing goals, cultures, and fundamental beliefs of its religious vs. secular and Ashkenazi vs. Mizrachi communities.

The bloc is now using that power to advance profound changes unilaterally to Israel’s judicial system, frightening opponents who see it as a project to change the character of the country fundamentally.

 

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