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The Old Likud Idealists Against The Thugs Of The New Israeli Right

You may not agree with Benny Begin and Reuven Rivlin on settlements or with Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan on other aspects of the negotiations with the Palestinians. But they are honest men and, in their manner, true liberals.

Liberals in the sense that they want Israel to remain a real civil society not only in form but in substance. Not only for the Jews but also for the Arabs who live in the country. They are the aristocrats of the old Likud, which descends from the old Herut part, which descends from the Irgun or Etzel (a pre-state military force in competition with the Haganah and Palmach), which descends from the Revisionist movement of a much neglected Zionist thinker Ze’v Jabotinsky. Rivlin’s family came to Palestine, I believe, several centuries back. Perhaps that is why he can imagine a Zionist one-state solution which I cannot. But he is a fierce civil libertarian. (Moreover, he is a direct descendant of the Vilna Gaon, a distinction he shares with Cass Sunstein. This is a rare distinction, especially with regard to the genes of the intellect.)

Anyway, this distinguishes them from others among their coalition partners, especially thuggish Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel, our home") party, the base of which is Russian immigrants, and Eli Yishai, the shady, very shady leader of the ultra-orthodox and ultra-corrupt Shas party, made up mostly of Jews from what we use to call the "Orient." These Jews are not anywhere as pious as their leadership. But they follow them in elections, nonetheless. (I wrote obsessively about Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the "spiritual leader" of these Jews, a while back. Please read this post.)

These two fighting line-ups have been provoked by what Isabel Kershner of the New York Times terms "a contentious draft amendment to the country’s citizenship law that calls for non-Jews seeking to become citizens to pledge loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state." My friend Isaac Herzog, a Labor member of parliament and minister of welfare and social services, said what needed to be said: that the provision was one of a series of steps in recent years that "borders on fascism." You can read more details in Ha’aretz, the Jerusalem Post and Ynet.

There is a barely adequate explanation in Kershner’s Times piece of why Arabs would be obliged to be hostile to a loyalty oath and why Jews would not. This is to facilitate the citizenship of the ultra-orthodox who believe Zionism is a sin since its state was not sanctioned by the Lord Almighty. Frankly, I’d rather have another Arab citizen of Israel than another benighted pious Jew who keeps his children from learning English and math, science and real history.

Anyway, there is only one way to judge the fidelity of a citizen to his or her state and that is whether he or she obeys its laws. I’d bet that Israel gets more practical loyalty from its ordinary Arab citizens than from its sanctimonious Pharisees among the Jews. There are almost no soldiers from either group. These Jews do not fight for their country. They are not patriots.

Many Israelis, both Arabs and Jews, said they felt the amendment was discriminatory not least because as currently written, it would apply only to non-Jews who want to become naturalized citizens. Those are mainly Arabs from abroad who marry Arab citizens of Israel, and who are likely to reject the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.
The amendment would not apply to Jews or those of Jewish descent, who immigrate to Israel under the country’s Law of Return. This would allow the exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jewish immigrants, many of whom are non-Zionist and would oppose pledging allegiance to a Jewish state.

I know Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak quite well. I cannot believe they are actually for any of these politically motivated and hateful contraptions. They are trapped in their own salutary efforts to get the cabinet to support a two month extension of the building freeze so that talks may be carried on with the Palestinians. I am certain that Bibi and Ehud want to craft an agreement with their adversaries. I am almost certain that the Palestinians either do not desire this or are not in any position to enforce one. It seems to me, in fact, that if any accord, however insubstantial, were to be agreed on, there would be a Palestinian rising against that Palestinian leadership recognized by the West, that is Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the president and prime minister of the Palestine National Authority.

Notice how President Obama has ensnarled the always precarious peace process with his fixation on one house here, ten houses there in this and that Jewish settlement.