Democracy out of commission: 8 things to know for March 7
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Democracy out of commission: 8 things to know for March 7

The Central Election Committee is condemned for banning parties, or not banning enough; and in the US, Democrats split over Omar and Israel, or not

An MK speaking to almost nobody during a Knesset filibuster, on December 27, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Panton/Knesset spokesperson)
An MK speaking to almost nobody during a Knesset filibuster, on December 27, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Panton/Knesset spokesperson)

1. Get out the rote: The watchman of Israel’s thriving democracy, the Central Elections Committee, flexed its muscles Wednesday, giving some candidates the go ahead and marking others as treif.

  • Unlike 2015, when there seemed to be a balance between right and left, this time there seems to be a marked right-wing slant, with the panel okaying the far-right Otzma Yehudit to run but banning the Balad-Raam joint Arab list and Ofer Kasif, a Jewish member of the other major Arab-Israeli party, Hadash-Ta’al.
  • “Ruling for the right,” reads a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, describing the stormy debate ahead of the decision as a “taste of the upcoming Knesset, and not necessarily an encouraging one.”
  • It wasn’t totally to the right, with potential Likud backbencher Pinhas Idan also being disqualified on a technicality.
  • None of this likely matters anyway, with the Supreme Court having the final say once everybody gets their appeals in. In 2015, the court undid both major decisions by the panel, giving Otzma Yehudit’s Baruch Marzel (who was running at the time with a different party) and Balad’s Hanin Zoabi the go-ahead to run despite the committee having ruled them out of bounds. Neither of them is running this time around.

2. Election meddling: As is tradition, the panel comes under fire no matter what it does, and there’s criticism of the institution as a whole, including on the right, which appears to assume that the Supreme Court will just have its way and reverse everything.

  • “This election has seen the phenomenon of blatant interference by unelected authorities against elected officials, representatives of the public, for whom democracy was created,” writes Shlomo Pyoterovsky, one of Yedioth’s conservative pundits.
  • “Israel doesn’t need a law allowing slates to be disqualified because of who is on them, or the disqualification of individual candidates,” he writes. “The one who should be deciding is the voter. There is some room for technical limitations, but this is overdone as well.”

3. Not everyone thinks the system is totally bunk: Jurist Mordechai Kremnitzer writes in Haaretz that the idea of disqualifying candidates and parties “highlights the tensions between two foundational democratic ideals: The principle of the free exchange of ideas, even those you find infuriating, and the principle of keeping democracy from being used by its enemies as a means to destroy it.”

  • However, he calls the panel’s decision to allow the Kahanist Ben-Ari to run an “embarrassment,” and says the committee, which apart from its chairman is made up of members of political parties, is more concerned with narrow political ideology than democratic ideals.
  • “Thus far the court has saved democracy from itself and not allowed the disqualification of Arab parties, leading Arabs to boycott the election as ‘for Jews only.'”
  • Yedioth’s Ben Dror Yemini offers the most full-throated defense of the process, calling for both Otzma Yehudit’s leader Michael Ben Ari and the anti-Zionist Arab parties to be banned.
  • Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s ignored recommendation against disqualifying Balad “is a work of legal acrobatics. Just like the court, Mandelblit is jumping through hoops to trample the clear law,” he writes.

4. Blurry and white: After weeks of keeping the public in the dark about what it actually stands for, Blue and White has finally released its policy platform. Not everyone is feeling enlightened, though.

  • The platform “confirms the party as an eclectic collection of good people without a real direction. The platform is essentially a 45-page edited, shortened version of the Yesh Atid platform that was published last month in a 206-page volume,” writes Chaim Levinson in Haaretz, noting that it’s most telling for what it left out, such as support for a law to ban for life politicians convicted of moral turpitude, and concrete plans to carry out many of its proposals.
  • While the platform seems to hew close to the right-wing government on security issues, it makes a clear break with it on social issues, supporting initiatives opposed by the ultra-Orthodox: it calls for public transportation on Shabbat and for canceling the “mini-market law” prohibiting certain trade on Saturdays.
  • “Tackling other issues that have irked ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, the platform also vows to pass legislation permitting same-sex civil unions and surrogacy by same-sex couples,” ToI’s Raoul Wootliff notes.
  • Nonetheless, Israel Hayom’s Haim Shine describes it as “leftist dressed up as right-wing,” echoing Likud’s incessant talking point.
  • He also picks up on the slogan of Blue and White being in cahoots with the country’s Arab citizens (making the assumption that that is a problem) regarding its promise to strengthen settlement blocs.
  • “What this means is that thousands of Jews living outside the blocs will need to evacuate. They are just promising that the massive evacuation will be via referendum. No doubt the party’s Arab friends can help it to victory in the deportation referendum,” he writes.

5. Transforming democracy: The platform is so important because the party has been extremely mum, with leader Gantz refusing to give almost any interviews.

  • Channel 12 news gets a little snippet from him at a closed-door speech, telling participants that he wants to snag as many votes as possible from the right, which is no big shocker.
  • Party No. 2 Yair Lapid, on the other hand, is a bit more talkative. On Wednesday night, he spoke to ToI’s David Horovitz at an election-related event, claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would try to pass laws to give himself immunity should be be re-elected.
  • “This would be a complete transformation of the character of Israeli democracy. The idea of all people created equal will be replaced by, well, someone is not equal to you guys, and he is allowed to do things and he will never pay for what he did… This is the quagmire we are sinking into as we speak.”
  • He also responds to criticism of the lack of female candidates at the top of the list, admitting that it was a “mistake.”
  • “We didn’t want to create the party of men… We know how it looks and we are determined to fix it,” he says.

6. Coming to Omar: Israelis couldn’t care less, but across the ocean the firestorm kicked up by Ilhan Omar’s comments on Israel, and now the Democrats’ inability to muster a resolution condemning it, is swirling with intense ferocity.

  • “I’m not sure we need to continue to do this every single time,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says about condemning anti-Semitism, the AP reports.
  • Forward opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon writes about the whataboutism being deployed to defend Omar, paradoxically both denying that she made anti-Semitic comments, and asking why other forms of bigotry aren’t being condemned too.
  • “Resentment against Jews for seeking the protection of a sovereign – and for the rare times that we got it – is just as much a staple of our history as the ugly tropes Omar seems incapable of refraining from using,” she writes. “Are Jews supposed to stay in a progressive movement that resents us for standing up for ourselves? That has leaders who are ‘hurt’ when they see Congress defend us? A movement that is lionizing a woman for the fact that she has offended us?”

7. Democratic split? Maybe not: Noting that this is the second time the party has split over Omar’s remarks, Haaretz’s Amir Tibon writes that Democrats fear the “Corbynization” of the party, referring to splits in UK’s Labour over the far-left leader and the anti-Semitic comments by party members.

  • A Gallup survey found declining rates of support in the US for Israel on the Palestinian issue, though mostly not where one might think.
  • “While support for Israel among Democrats dropped by 6%, Republican support declined by 13%, a staggering figure in light of Republican President Donald Trump’s cultivation of an intensely close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” ToI’s Eric Cortellessa writes.
  • Some of that large drop may be because of the unsustainably high numbers among Republicans found in 2016.
  • Israeli pundit Dan Margalit blames the decline in support overall to Netanyahu beefing with Democrats. “Thanks Netanyahu, a great diplomat in your own eyes,” he tweets bitterly.
  • But former diplomat Tom Malinowski rebuffs the talk of a Democratic split on Israel as overblown/premature, also on Twitter.

8. Polite anti-Semitism: A float featuring grotesque anti-Semitic caricatures from a Belgian carnival parade is being roundly condemned, but the mayor of the town and the makers of the float appear to be befuddled that anybody could be offended by it.

  • “I think the people who are offended are living in the past, of the Holocaust, but this was about the present,” one of the float’s organizers tells JTA’s Cnaan Liphshiz. “There was never any intention to insult anyone. It was a celebration of humor.”
  • The Jewish theme, he says, was “because we weren’t sure we’d be doing a 2020 tour [because of rising costs]. So that would mean we’d be taking a sabbatical, and it went on from there.”
  • The idea is telling, says Joel Rubinfeld, the president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA: “Prices are rising, so who do they blame? The fat, greedy Jew.”
  • Eliot Cohen writes in the Atlantic that the float is a sign of the return of so-called “social anti-Semitism,” a more genteel kind of hatred that seeks to exclude Jews or look down on them but not necessarily massacre them.
  • “Once upon a time, it was a kind of establishment or upper-crust disdain for pushy newcomers, the sons and daughters of immigrants on the make,” he writes. “But social anti-Semitism, in the sense of nonviolent Jew baiting, still exists in the West, even if some posh columnists for prestige publications on the left or right are more likely to drizzle their venom on ‘neoconservatives’ than on ‘hawkish foreign-policy Jews.’”
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