Defending Israeli Democracy

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US Embassy cables leaked by Wikileaks in September exposed the ugly truth that self-described champions of Israeli democracy would like us to forget about the actual goals of Israel’s self-described human rights organizations.


In a meeting with then US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv in January 2010, B’Tselem director Jessica Montell explained what her group wished to achieve by colluding with the UN’s Goldstone Commission’s inquiry into Israel’s handling of Operation Cast Lead. According to the embassy report, Montell said, “Her aim…was to make Israel weigh world opinion and consider whether it could ‘afford another operation like this.'” 


In other words, in colluding with the UN’s anti-Israel commission, whose mandate from the UN Human Rights Council was to explain how Israel broke international law by acting to defend its citizens from Hamas’s illegal, indiscriminate missile assault, B’Tselem’s goal was to undermine Israel’s ability to defend itself. B’Tselem wished to use the UN commission to foment an international witch-hunt against the Jewish state that would exact a prohibitive price for defending the country. Israel’s democratically elected government would react to the international onslaught by ignoring the needs of the Israeli public and opting not to defend the country again.



Obviously, if Israel ceases to defend itself, in light of its enemies’ dedication to its destruction, it will cease to exist. And in a meeting with US Embassy officers in February 2010, Hedva Radovanitz, the New Israel Fund’s then-associate director in Israel said that would be just fine by her. According to a leaked embassy cable report of the meeting, Radovanitz said “she believed that in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.”


THE LIKES of Radovanitz and Montell are acutely aware that most Israelis do not share their extremist goals or their radical visions for Israel’s future.


Radovanitz acknowledged that public support for the radical left, which the NIF supports to the tune of $18 million per year, has no serious domestic constituency.


As the cable put it, she described the “disappearance of the political left wing” in Israel and the lack of domestic constituency for the NGOs.


She noted that “when she headed ACRI’s [the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s] Tel Aviv office, ACRI had 5,000 members, while today it has less than 800, and it was only able to muster about 5,000 people to its December [2009] human rights march by relying on the active staff of the 120 NGOs that participated.”


As for Montell, in a meeting with the US Embassy’s political officer in February 2010, she “estimated that [B’Tselem’s] 9 million NIS ($2.4 million) budget is 95 percent funded from abroad, mostly from European countries.”


The reality that these Wikileaks-leaked documents expose is precisely the reality which the Knesset this week launched a renewed effort to contend with by submitting three separate bills for consideration. Two of the Knesset bills address the issue of foreign funding to NGOs. One bill would limit the amount of funding Israeli political NGOs can receive from foreign governments and international organizations like the EU and the UN to NIS 20,000 per year. A competing bill would deny tax exemptions – that is, government subsidies – for such contributions and apply a 45% tax to all such foreign contributions.


While the laws would apply to all NGOs, obviously they would be particularly problematic for the NGOs run by Israeli radicals like Montell and Radovanitz that have no domestic Israeli constituency and rely on foreign governments to support their anti-Israel efforts.


THE THIRD bill addresses the main source of the political power of these foreign-funded NGOs – Israel’s radicalized Supreme Court.


For the past 20 years or so, as the radical left has discredited itself as a political force in Israel, it has increasingly used the Supreme Court to achieve its aims. The Court is dominated by far leftists who legislate laws from the bench that would never pass in the Knesset.


Petitioning the Supreme Court, EU-funded groups like B’tselem, Peace Now and Adalah have been able to place court-imposed constraints on IDF operations.


They have been able to block or hamper the implementation of security measures that enjoy broad public support like the construction of the security fence.


They are able to block political leaders from devising and carrying out policies they believe serve the country’s interests such as preventing illegal PLO activities in Jerusalem and building Jewish communities on Jewish- owned land in the Galilee.


The Supreme Court’s radical legislative agenda is not limited to political and security issues. It has also overturned Knesset laws to liberalize the media and privatize sectors of the economy like the prison system. It has acted on the basis of constitutional claims that have little grounding in actual law, and that it applies inconsistently in accordance with its judges’ ideological leanings.


The public has taken notice of the Court’s increasingly undemocratic activities. According to a recent Maagar Mohot poll, the Supreme Court, once the most trusted institution in Israel, is now seen by 54% of the public as politically biased and, by a 75% to 11% margin, slanted left. Sixty-three percent of the public believes that the personal political views of the judges influence their legal decisions to some degree.


The Supreme Court’s radical agenda is facilitated by Israel’s undemocratic method of selecting its members.


Court members are appointed by the Judicial Appointments Committee. For all practical purposes, the committee is controlled by the Supreme Court itself and so the justices effectively select themselves. Fifty-six percent of the public wants this selection method changed.


The bill submitted by Likud MKs Yariv Levin and Zev Elkin would subject all Supreme Court nominees to public hearings conducted by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution and Justice Committee. These hearings would provide legislators and the public with full disclosure on the views, activities and associations of prospective justices. Doing so would constitute a tiny step toward bringing court appointments procedures more in line with those in effect in most other western democracies.


While the bills dealing with foreign funding of NGOs and the bill concerning Supreme Court appointments are ostensibly unrelated, in fact they are directly linked.


Speaking to the media, the heads of various NGOs claim that the bills addressing their foreign funding are “unconstitutional” and therefore of little concern.


They know that they can depend on their ideological brethren in the Supreme Court to protect them from the public and its representatives in the Knesset. Just as the Court has not hesitated to block legitimate governmental policies and reforms in the past in the interest of the justices’ radical ideological convictions, so the NGO representatives believe, the Court will protect them from the Knesset’s actions this time around as well.


This me
ans that the only way to protect Israeli democracy from subversive, foreign funded groups who seek to undermine the foundations of the state is to reform the Supreme Court that enables their activities.


All the bills that were submitted this week are serious attempts to tackle a serious threat to Israel democracy.


And they are not the first of their kind. Over the past several years, Israel’s legislators have introduced several bills aimed at achieving the same goals. And each of these bills in turn has been attacked by the leftist Israeli media as “anti-democratic.”


The media are repeating their standard practice today. Rather than foster debate about the substance of these bills and the problems they seek to address, the media are colluding with the heads of the NGOs and their foreign governmental donors to demonize the bills’ sponsors and to threaten Israel with “diplomatic consequences” if the Knesset moves ahead with the initiatives.


All of this is bad enough. But what makes the situation even worse is the behavior of self-declared champions of democracy among senior Likud politicians. In the name of democracy, Ministers Bennie Begin, Michael Eitan, and Dan Meridor all oppose these measures, which are all focused on protecting and strengthening Israeli democracy.


Meridor can always be depended on to take the position of the left against his party’s voters. But Begin and Eitan have distinguished themselves as independent thinkers. Eitan has taken a tough and independent line on governmental corruption. Begin has not hesitated to oppose the leftist media and bureaucracy in issues related to terrorism.


Yet here, these men habitually embrace the specious and frankly indefensible arguments of the radical left that represents no one but itself and its foreign funders.


It was the opposition of the likes of Begin, Meridor, Eitan and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin that gave the radical left the necessary political cover to torpedo previous parliamentary initiatives to protect Israel’s democratic institutions from their foreign-funded onslaughts.


And the Supreme Court’s success to date in averting any serious parliamentary or governmental attempts to check its anti-democratic actions owes in large part to these Likud leaders’ championship of its judicial usurpation of legislative and governmental power.


It is hard to know what is driving these men to act as they do. But it is high time that they exercise some independent judgment and rethink their support for the radical left’s foreign funded, judicially enabled assault on Israeli democracy.


Originally published in the Jerusalem Post. 
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