7/31/15 It Got Worse

by Marc Schulman

The news here in the last few days has been devastating. This morning Israel woke up to the news that Jewish terrorists had fire bombed a Palestinian House, burning to death a baby and seriously inuring others in the family. These events came after last nights stabbing attack
by an ultra-Orthodox Jew of people participating in Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem. The stabbings were allegedly perpetrated by the same person who attacked the Gay Pride Parade 10 years ago. Sadly, the accused had been released from jail just three weeks ago after serving nearly 10 years in jail.

These followed the events of Tuesday and Wednesday at the settlement of Beit El, where soldiers were assaulted by settlers when they came to dismantle two buildings, operating under the direct orders of the Supreme Court. In addition, in reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision, one of the members of the Knesset from HaBayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home) Party stated that the Supreme Court should be dismantled. Others have asserted that the “Leftist Court” needs to be replaced. All of these developments took place in the same week that the police released the identity of those who set the fire in the Church of Loaves and Fishes near the Sea of Galilee. Those assailants were young religious extremists who declared their hatred of Christianity.

These abominable events, and other similar episodes, continue to put a chill through many Israelis. One young officer in the IDF I know said to me this afternoon- are we sure this state is worth fighting for? The sheer hideous nature of today’s events forced leading member of the government to speak out forcibly against what has occurred. Prime Minister Netanyahu has called the burning “an act of terrorism”. Education Minister Naftali Bennet the head of the right wing Bayit Hayehudi party- after last night announcing an increase in funding for LGT youth groups, today called on his supporters to engage in serious “soul searching” to understand how we reached this point.

The questions that all of us are asking is how have these kids been educated? How different are our own Jewish ultra-Orthodox extremists from some of the extremists in the Muslim world? We used to be able to say that at least our extremists do not resort to violence. It is impossible to make that claim now. The idea that Jews would burn a down a Church, physically attack Israeli soldiers, burn down a house with its Palestinian residents asleep inside, or stab marchers in a parade is hard for the average Israeli to fathom.

Some are saying that this is not enough. One of the leader of the opposition MK Stav Shaffir has called for specific and direct actions to be taken to fight these events including the firing of the all the teacher who have incited hatred, the cutting off of all funding that goes to groups that support hatred that leads to these kind of violence and a great deal more including the immediate removal of illegal settlements whose very existence she states undermines the very rule of law

To many in Israel the concerns go deeper. There is a fear that the very fundamental of democracy are under siege, by politicians who seem to have missed what American students would call “Civics 101”. Everyone agrees that the call to destroy the Supreme Court was out of line – even Member of Knesset Moti Yogev (who uttered the contentious comment against the Courts) took his words back, claiming he was “just speaking metaphorically.” However, many are concerned that the power of the Court itself is under attack, simply for protecting civil rights. In a recent conversation with former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, she shared with me the fact that the potential weakening of the Supreme Court was her greatest concern. Justice Dorner feared that Basic Laws, those laws accepted by consensus as part and parcel of Israel’s legal system, might be overturned.

One of imperfections of the Israeli system is that fact that it does not have a Constitution and maintains a series of Basic Laws instead. The Basic Laws are considered more binding than regular laws – and require 61 votes, as opposed to a simple majority to pass. (There are 120 members in the Israeli Knesset). The threshold to pass,change or repeal a basic law is not high. Every government coalition has a majority of at least 61 supporters According to Dorner, until now, there has been a Gentleman’s Agreement not to touch any of the Basic Laws. She is concerned, sadly, that that respect might be fading.

Earlier this week, in the last moments of its first session, the current Knesset passed a number of last minute laws.

For someone like me, who has written about the U.S. Constitutional Convention, passage of what is called “the Norwegian Law”, (allowing a minister to resign from the Knesset, and be replaced by another candidate and then return if they stop being a minister) was most disconcerting. Without going into whether this is a “good” or “bad” law (I do not know enough about it to pass such judgement), the fact that what is considered a “Basic Law” was passed in a matter of three days, with the second and the third readings in the Knesset taking place overnight, seems patently absurd. Here, the Israeli political system was changed without any serious debate, public discussion or consultations. This change is both breathtaking and frightening.

Last night President Rivlin stated, “We must have no illusions, intolerance will lead us to disaster. We can not accept these types of crimes.” This morning we got ever closer to precipice- it will take a major change in direction to bring us back.