Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Israeli Parliament Discusses Three Laws for
the Sole Purpose of Bluffing Itself
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, March 15, 2014
SOMETHING VERY important
happened this week in the most unlikely of places: the Knesset (Israeli
On the agenda were three laws, one worse than the
One was about “governance”. Its main provision raises the
“electoral threshold” – i.e. the minimum an election list needs to enter the
Knesset – from 2% to 3.25%. The obvious intention is to expel the three
lists which derive their votes from the Arab sector, and which hover around
The second was about “sharing the load equally”. Its
declared aim is to compel thousands of orthodox youth to serve in the army,
from which they are now exempted. In practice, the new law exempts them for
another four years. Israelis call this “Israbluff”.
The third is about peace, or the lack of. It says that any
agreement that would give up territory which is at present controlled by
Israel would need affirmation by a referendum. Until now, referendums have
been unknown in Israel. This law would apply to all territorial changes, no
matter how minor.
What is the connection between these three bills?
None whatsoever, except that they are printed on paper. However, each of
them is disliked by at least one of the six factions that support the
government, which could make its adoption impossible.
In order to have them all passed, the government
coalition has imposed on its members a draconian measure: they have to vote
for all three of them together, one after the other.
has never happened before. It is another symptom of the creeping right-wing
crudity that is the hallmark of this Knesset.
IN SELF-DEFENCE, the
opposition parties have done something that is also unprecedented in Israel:
they have declared a boycott of the Knesset plenum. Not a single opposition
member attended the plenum during the debate on these bills and the vote on
them. They set up an “alternative plenum”, where they held a lively
The opposition consists of diverse elements, which do not
There are the left-wing Zionist parties: the
Labor party and Meretz.
There are the two orthodox religious
factions: the Torah Jewish faction (consisting of two separate parties) and
the Oriental orthodox party, Shas.
And there are
the three “Arab” parties: the nationalist Balad party, the moderate Islamic
party and the Communist party, which has also a small Jewish component.
All these diverse political groupings have come together to express their
outrage about the dictatorial measures of the Right. Their unprecedented
boycott of the Knesset votes underlines the seriousness of the parliamentary
crisis, though it did not prevent the laws being adopted.
excitement about the crisis hid, however, a much more serious aspect, one
that may have a fundamental impact on the future of Israel.
THREE Israeli TV networks devoted only a few minutes to what was happening
in the Knesset plenum, and concentrated on the much more interesting
happenings in the counter-plenum.
They showed, for example, the Shas
leader, Ariyeh Deri, rubbing heads with a prominent Labor deputy. It was
more than a brotherly gesture. It was a political statement.
the first day of the State of Israel, for 29 consecutive years, the country
was governed by the Labor party, in close cooperation with the religious
Jewish parties. (Before that, this same coalition had “ruled” the Jewish
community in Palestine since 1933.)
The historic turn-about of 1977,
which brought the Likud to power, happened when the religious parties turned
their back on the Labor party and joined the new right-wing coalition of
Menachem Begin. This was more than a political maneuver. It was a tectonic
shift that changed the landscape of Israel.
Since then, the
right-wing-religious coalition has ruled Israel (with short intermissions).
It seemed unshakable, and condemned Israel to a dark future of apartheid,
occupation and settlements.
It also seemed natural. Jewish religion
asserts that God personally promised the whole of the Holy Land to the
Israelites. Religious schools teach a wholly judeo-centered outlook,
ignoring the rights of others. The products of this education seem to be the
natural allies of the Likud’s the-Whole-of-Eretz-Israel ideology.
The events of this week show that it ain’t necessarily so. The orthodox
anti-Zionists can shake hands with secular Zionists and – incredibly – also
It brought into focus the basic rift between the
orthodox, whose Judaism is the old-time religion of the shtetl, and the
Zionist “nationalist-religious”, whose Judaism is a tribal mix of blood and
earth. For the orthodox, Judaism is not the enemy of peace. On the contrary,
Shalom and the good treatment of foreigners are commanded by God.
If this three-cornered secular-orthodox-Arab idyll holds, it may be the
forerunner of a new political turn-about, the end of the era that started in
IN ORDER to understand what is happening, one has to
understand the importance of Understanding. Understanding others.
The orthodox community is a separate section of Israel, much like the Arab
section, and perhaps even more so. They are different from mainstream
Israelis in almost everything – cultural outlook, historical orientation,
language (many speak Yiddish), clothing, even body language. They are rather
like the Amish in the US. – except that they constitute about 15% of the
The present crisis is not caused by their dislike of the
army and the entire Zionist ideology. It goes much deeper. Their main aim is
survival in an increasingly hostile world. They need to keep absolute
control of their sons and daughters from birth to death, not allowing them
to come into contact with the non-orthodox at any stage of their life.
Therefore they cannot be allowed to attend ordinary schools, join the army,
work at ordinary working places, live in secular neighborhoods. They cannot
eat in non-orthodox company, nor – God forbid!!! – meet secular members of
the opposite sex. Total isolation is their recipe for survival.
Israeli right-wingers, with their fixed and self-centered outlook, are quite
unable to understand this, much as they are unable to understand the mind of
the Arab citizens. What the hell! Why should an Israeli Jewish mother spend
sleepless nights worrying about her soldier son, while these shirkers enjoy
For an orthodox boy, of course, it is as unthinkable to stop
studying the Talmud as it is for an Arab boy to shoot at his Palestinian
The army chiefs, by the way, do not want to have
either. They shudder at the thought of training and arming Arab youth,
except for a few Bedouin and Druze mercenaries. They shudder at the thought
of absorbing thousands of orthodox, who would need separate camps, so as not
to come in contact, including eye-contact, with girls. Not to mention their
need for synagogues, ritual baths, special kosher food and their own rabbis,
who could countermand any order by an ordinary officer.
army officer will say so openly. The old Zionist vision forbids it. Our army
is a Citizen’s Army, everybody serves in it without discrimination, equality
in the defense of the homeland is sacred.
Because of this,
convoluted legal tricks of self-deceit have been in place for decades. Now
the country has to face them.
To my mind, we should face reality:
the orthodox (and the Arab citizens) are special minorities, who need a
special status. The present actual situation should be legalized, without
tricks and ploys. The orthodox (and the Arabs) should be officially
exempted. Perhaps our army should follow western examples and turn
altogether into a professional, volunteer army.
BUT THIS is a side
point. The main question is this:
Can the old alliance between the
left-wing and the orthodox be renewed?
Can there be a fundamental
change in the distribution of political forces?
Can the coalition of
the Right and the “nationalist-religious” messianic camp, including its
fascist fringes, become a political minority again?
counter-coalition of the Left and the orthodox (yes, with the Arab citizens)
come to power?
It is not impossible, yet you have to be an optimist
to believe so.
However, you have to be an optimist to believe in