Upheaval! Knesset neo-fascists taking a beating

Latest blow: Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein tells Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu he won’t defend anti-NGO bills in Supreme Court.

In all the (well-placed) wailing over the totalitarian legislation being pushed in the Knesset by the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, the good guys don’t seem to have noticed that all their wailing has had a tremendous effect. I’m almost afraid to say it, but the Left, together with its centrist and old “Jabotinskyan” Likud allies, seems to have turned the tide against the neo-fascists.

The latest and possibly most decisive evidence was reported today: Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein wrote Netanyahu a letter saying that if the Knesset legislation aimed at stifling left-wing NGOs becomes law, he won’t defend the bills against challenges in the Supreme Court because they’re indefensible from top to bottom.

“They deal a harsh blow to a long list of constitutional rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to equality,” Weinstein wrote. “Instead of enabling open discussion in an efficient ‘marketplace of ideas,’ they try to suppress speech. They put Israel on a par with the handful of countries that have taken similar steps, and I doubt the State of Israel should be jealous of these regimes and act like them.”

Not a lot of air in that statement. I don’t see where MKs Ophir Akunis, Fania Kirschenbaum, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Danny Danon and their henchmen can go now in their campaign, which seeks to shut off foreign government funding to B’Tselem, Adalah, Breaking the Silence and all the other Israeli NGOs that expose abuses of Palestinians.

Before this, Netanyahu was obliged to freeze the two bills Weinstein referred to. (Akunis and Kirschenbaum have come up with a new bill that’s worded differently, but which is is just as harmful to all those freedoms Weinstein mentioned as the original proposed laws.) Netanyahu also pulled back the worst of all this wrecking-ball legislation – Levin’s bill that would give the Knesset ultimate power to appoint Supreme Court justices, God help us.

Between the anti-Supreme Court bills, the anti-NGO bills and the anti-media bill, together with the spectacle of women being forced to ride in the back of Israeli buses and facing walk-outs by Orthodox Jews when they dare to sing, there’s a vivid sense that Israel’s democracy is being shredded. And the backlash has been fierce – from Israeli civil society, media, academe, Knesset opposition, the “Likud princes” (Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin and cabinet ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin) and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish. It  spread overseas to the foreign media, U.S. and European ambassadors to Israel, American Jewish bigwigs Abraham Foxman, Jeffrey Goldberg and Martin Peretz, and finally to Hillary Clinton.

This is not good for the Jews. These days, it seems to me, the neo-fascists are putting on their shit-eating grins. They have caused Netanyahu a big headache. Their dark art in the Knesset has turned into a scandal, and my guess is that they won’t bring it out again soon.

The great putsch is faltering in the face of opposition, to the opponents’ surprise. What lessons can be drawn? That there are limits to what a country that purports to be democratic, that values its ties to the West, can do.

But it seems to me that the backlash wouldn’t have been remotely so powerful and urgent if it hadn’t been the local equivalent of “white folks” whose rights were under attack. The victims of all this legislation are seen to be liberal, or at least moderate, Israeli Jews. If the primary targets had been Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, there would have been opposition, but not this mounting outrage. There is a limit to what you can do to Israelis, but not to Arabs – even when they’re Israelis, too. For evidence, remember that while there was protest against the bill requiring new citizens to pledge their loyalty to a Jewish state, and to the barring of Nakba memorials in schools and other state-supported institutions, both those bills were passed into law.

On the other hand, though, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are the indirect beneficiaries of the current backlash. The reason why the Levins, Akunises and Danons want to get rid of liberal Supreme Court judges and human rights activists is, of course, because they stick up for the Arabs. Just about all the neo-fascists who are pushing this legislation are secular – they don’t care about the “culture war,” the Orthodox vs. the non-Orthodox, they care about the real war, the Jews vs. the Arabs, and they’re out to get not only the Arabs, but the Jews who help them.

And they’re getting their asses kicked fairly well. So this is good for the Arabs, too, which, as far as I’m concerned, is good for the Jews. Smile, comrades; it seems like we’re actually winning one.