After passage this week of an anti-boycott law that limits free speech and has severely damaged Israel's democratic standing, conservative lawmakers are now seeking to obliterate the separation of powers.
The moves are prompting Israel's most influential thinkers, on both the left and right, to do the unthinkable: use the word fascism.
Dimi Reider, a progressive journalist, explains the new move by Likud members:
This is what an attempt at a fascist coup looks like – Likud MKs enraged by court petitions against the boycott bill are now pushing for legislation granting the Knesset a veto over Supreme Court appointments. Such a law would destroy the separation of powers in Israel.
(NOTE: for an explanation of how this is different than U.S. legislative checks, see "Author's Note 3" at the bottom of this diary.)
As much of the Arab world continues to convulse from democratic upheavals, Israel stunningly is moving, due to its reactionary, right-wing leaders, in the opposite direction, and the actions have dire consequences not only for America's relationship with one of its strongest allies, but for the region itself.
Some of Israel's most influential writers, as a result, are screaming from the rooftops about what is happening...
Ben Caspit, one of Israel's most influential and centrist thinkers, a columnist for Ma'ariv, writes this regarding Israel's anti-boycott law:
This is a blatant and a resounding shutting of people’s mouths. This is a thought police. There is no choice but to use this word. Fascism at its worst is raging.
And he's not the only one. Here is Alon Idan from Haaretz:
The widely held view that the slew of anti-democratic laws legislated by the 18th Knesset is a slippery slope to Fascism in the future is disingenuous. The Boycott Law is Fascism: it is a categorically anti-democratic law whose goal is to annul any possibility of legitimate protest.
There's no slope to slide down here; we're not talking about symbols, or process. We are instead witnessing purposeful, palpable manifestations of Fascism. This is the reality itself - not something which will happen in the future; and it leaves no crevice for a voice of opposition to make itself heard in what was once called the only democracy in the Middle East.
The calls of fascism in Israel are growing louder and louder, and as a result, Israel's most conservative leaders are reacting by introducing legislation that goes even further than a clamping down on free speech. The proposed bill would obliterate the separation of powers structure currently in place, giving a small group of Knesset members power over the Supreme Court in that it could veto appointments by the currently-functioning JAC committee. It is thus an attempt to wrest power, over time, from the only body capable of striking down the draconian laws now being passed in Israel.
It is, in short, a further move toward fascism – and those aren't my words, they are the words being used by many of Israel's leading commentators.
And while this latest law will probably not pass, the implications of such laws even gaining enough momentum to be sponsored by mainstream Likud politicians are profound. For at a time when the United States and President Obama are investing much capital in furthering peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and at a time when the White House's frustration with the Israeli government and lack of trust grows, these moves could only weaken Israel's standing with its most important ally.
The implications for Israeli society, of course, are profound as well, for sure. But on the international stage, at a time when the Palestinians are moving toward seeking statehood through the United Nations, a move Israelis fear will create a diplomatic tsunami against them, its lawmakers are passing laws that further alienate the Western world.
Yesterday, the United States had unusually harsh words couched in a non-condemning statement. This from Haaretz:
When asked to comment on the anti-boycott law, the U.S. State Department said the law was an "Israeli internal matter" but also hinted its criticism by pointing out the right to peaceful protest in democratic countries.
"Freedom of expression, including freedom to peacefully organize and protest, is a basic right under democracy," a State Department official said.
At a time when the Arab Spring continues to bloom (to varying degrees), Israel is reacting by moving in the opposite direction.
And only the Supreme Court, which is now under attack, can reverse the course.
Author's Note 1: Here is further explication of the bill from Didi Reider:
[the bill] would grant the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee the power to veto Supreme Court candidates for justices and for presidency.
In other words, the highly political parliamentary committee – currently chaired by Yisrael Beitenu – will be able to overrule the integrated Judicial Appointments Committee; the JAC has nine members, including the Justice Minister plus one other minister; two delegates from the Israeli Bar; two MKs, traditionally one from the coalition and one from the opposition; the Supreme Court President and two other justices. The JAC has long been a dam between the increasingly anti-judicial parliament and the embattled Supreme Court/High Court of Justice; it now appears that the Likud has decided to stop trying reform the committee and to simply go over its head.
In other words, this is an attempt to allow a small legislative body to override the integrated JAC set up as a bi-partisan protectorate of the judiciary.
Minister Dan Meridor and Education Minister Gideon Saar have already come out blasting the bill as "dangerous" and "anti-democratic."
Author's Note 2:
DK commenter Weasel points out additional, problematic legislative moves recently that demonstrate why Israeli commentators are really alarmed by the direction lawmakers are taking their country. From Weasel:
Yisrael Beiteinu advances anti-leftist bill
The Yisrael Beiteinu faction is planning to arrange a Knesset vote on a proposal to set up a commission of inquiry against leftist groups less than a day after the 'boycott bill' passed a Knesset vote.
The use of governmental power to smash "leftist" organizations (which is also the purpose of the "Boycott Law") is a classic symptom of fascism.
Weasel also points out the recently-passed "Nakba Law," which curtails free speech by outlawing commemoration by Palestinians of The Nakba.
Author's Note 3: Some seem to be confused as to why this proposed law would be problematic, suggesting (correctly) that the U.S. has legislative checks, particularly the Senate Judiciary Committee.
However, the structure in Israel, and the way in which powers are separated, is different. To make as best a parallel as I can to the U.S. system, this law is akin to giving a group of lawmakers the ability to veto the Senate Judiciary Committee's recommendations, if the SJC was composed of both lawmakers and Supreme Court justices.
This is much different, for it would give a small cadre of lawmakers the ability to hand-pick (and veto) justice appointments, regardless of what the established body recommends.
Author's Note 4: Regarding push-back on my use of the word "fascism," I am re-posting a comment I made to DK commentor bink's thoughtful critique:
As a Jew invested in Israel's success and as one with a deep family history of loss connected to the Holocaust, I do not use the word fascism lightly, for in this context, one cannot use the word without the obvious echoes to the truly brutal and fascist regimes.
It is for this reason that it is both important and striking that Israelis themselves are recognizing what is occurring within their country to have fascist reverberations, for writers such as Caspi (quoted in the diary) understand painfully how serious it is to use the word, given its embedded meanings and reverberations.
Trust me, I don't use the word lightly. But I do believe, in this context, it's not hyperbole. Israel is in no way a fascist country, but the laws being passed and proposed are, in my view, fascist in nature.