Savir's Corner: Wanted- An Israeli democratic party

A new Israeli democratic party, with such clear policy positions and a united Center-Left front, can become a home for the many progressive forces in the country, including from the moderate Right, in order to sustain our all-important democracy.

Netanyahu, Barak, Liberman press conference 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu, Barak, Liberman press conference 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Last week, many Israelis could hardly believe their eyes at the victory party of the new Likud Knesset list, with the fanfare, pomp and chants of Beitar crowds – and the big leader (and brother) encircled by the new heroes of the governing party: Mr. Moshe “Racism” Feiglin, Madam Tzipi “Settlements” Hotovely, Mr. Yariv “Anti-High Court” Levin and Mr. Ze’ev “All of the Above” Elkin – and in the background were pictures of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin.
At the forefront, there was no Bennie Begin, who was ousted together with Dan Meridor for excessive liberalism and moderation. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a rousing speech about a renewed, reborn Israel, claiming that this new list represents the new Israel. If it does, and in some ways indeed it represents important strata of our citizenry, then Israel’s democracy is in deep trouble, actually in real danger.
Democracy was from the very outset – indeed, from our Declaration of Independence – a moral, social and political pillar of our existence as an independent, thriving Jewish state. Democracy primarily means total equality for all, including minorities as well as gender equality. It means that basic freedoms are upheld – freedom of speech, of faith, of belief. It means equal opportunity for all with regard to education, health services and employment.
It means a separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Most importantly, it means a strong, independent judicial system. It means being part of the family of nations, and part of the West, as non-democratic states are not tolerated.
It means preserving our Jewish character, as we cannot, as a Jewish democracy, oppress another people. It means being the object of hope and pride for the Diaspora.
The new Likud-Beytenu list, and its even more rightwing allies, stand against all of these values and beliefs.
The Likud list is a reflection not only of the Israeli public moving to the right, but of a deteriorating reality, brought about by a gradual historical process, amplified by the outgoing government and the nonexistent opposition.
Like all socio-cultural processes, it is expressed by a change in language and common concept. It has become politically correct to acquire big wealth; we “run for the million” and have no empathy for the needy in the periphery.
This is reflected by Netanyahu, a staunch believer in ultra-capitalism, who therefore blamed the middle class protest movement as a left-wing conspiracy. This is a prescription for fundamental inequality, not for democracy.
Most young Israelis believe that Israeli Arabs do not deserve equal rights and many believe that their votes count less than Jewish votes – a prescription for racism, not for democracy.
The occupation of four million Palestinians – controlling every part of their daily lives, curtailing their freedom of movement and abusing their dignity – is a prescription for apartheid, not for democracy.
It has in recent years become politically correct to attack the High Court of Justice for judicial activism and for being leftist. This undercuts the very foundation of democracy. The right-wing onslaught on the media is not less dangerous.
The print press is dominated by an ultra-conservative American billionaire, the bosom buddy of Bibi and Mitt Romney, Sheldon Adelson, and the radical settler publisher Shlomo Ben-Zvi. Channel 10 is being threatened with closure, not unrelated to its investigative reports on the prime minister. This is a prescription for Pravda-like press, not for freedom of speech or democracy.
These and other processes have weakened our democratic foundations to the brink of the abyss. We are now in need of a liberal-leaning leadership, with the pedagogic impact of a David Ben-Gurion, to steer us back to our basic democratic values and way of life. And instead we have a governing party that sees in Ariel Sharon a left-wing traitor who withdrew from Gaza, in Bennie Begin an all-too-moderate liberal and in Avigdor Liberman, who seeks to destroy the Palestinian Authority, a pragmatic moderating force.
In the opposition, Shelly Yacimovich is riding the wave of the social protest with great validity and effectiveness, now also with Stav Shaffir and Merav Michaeli in the Labor leadership group, yet is backing Netanyahu at every turn – mute on peace and winking to the center-right.
Rabin or Peres she is not. Yair Lapid, Mr. Consensus, has yet to take a courageous position on any issue. Tzipi Livni, in a political comeback, is the only one who says that peace with the Palestinians is key to remaining a Jewish democracy.
Yet all three contending parties are split, expressing more criticism at each other than at the Likud Beytenu.
Under these circumstances, it is very likely that the new Right will win the elections as they have also successfully found and defined scapegoats for every single deterioration in our situation and for Israel – an Israeli version of McCarthyism.
Just imagine a cabinet with Liberman orchestrating – as foreign minister – the relations with the Obama administration, with Moshe Ya’alon – the great friend of the settlers – in charge of defense and the West Bank, and with senior cabinet posts for Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Tzipi Hotovely, etc, inspired by Moshe Feiglin – the champion of transfer – together with the even more right-wing party of Naftali Bennett and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
What a brotherhood! For any Israeli who believes in the absolute necessity for us to remain a Western Jewish democracy and part of the family of nations, this is a prescription for doomsday. The Right is extreme and endangers basic values with its ideological worldview and policies.
The Left and the Center somehow reflect a continuum of the values of our founding fathers and are adhering to more pragmatic and inclusive policies, but lack the unity, energy and even courage of the Right.
A reorganization of the Center-Left forces is therefore a matter of necessity. This is not merely about creating a more effective and bigger coalition of parties; it is about uniting social democracy with secular liberalism, putting citizen rights and freedoms as well as our very democracy center-stage.
It is, therefore, proposed that, either before or in the immediate aftermath of the election, an Israeli democratic party be founded as opposed to the “Tea Party” unity of the Right. It should be founded by the leading parties of the Center-Left – Labor, The Tzipi Livni Party and Yesh Atid.
It should combine the values and policies of its components – the social justice of Labor, the necessity for a peace compromise leading to a realistic two-state solution of Livni and the defense of our civil rights and legal system of Yesh Atid.
The leadership question in such a case will be all important to these relevant party leaders. Yacimovich is probably the most popular, yet Livni is the best suited, in terms of her political background, to be a valid contender for prime minister. The political platform of an Israeli democratic party is more important and should be clear and unambiguous: • The need for a constitution guaranteeing equality, civil rights, separation of state and religion, basic freedoms, protection of minorities and a strong judicial power to protect constitutional law.
• Reform of the electoral system, moving toward regional and not only proportional representation, with a 5-percent election threshold to lower the number of parties in the quasi-anarchic Knesset and a checks and balance system with greater powers for the legislature.
• Firm anti-racism legislation outlawing the verbal expression or inciting of racism. Racism and Judaism should not be allowed to go hand-in-hand and people like Feiglin and Itamar Ben-Gvir should be outlawed.
• Social justice together with economic growth, which can only come with a cut in the defense budget. This would create empathy; support the periphery, the young middle class and the Israeli Arabs; and lead to a free market with a competitive private sector, both internally and internationally, and a thriving hi-tech industry.
• Peace with the (non-UN member) State of Palestine on the basis of the visions of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both staunch allies of Israel.
Peace is key to our security, as wars in the ballistic and terrorism age have become virtually unwinnable (see the Gaza campaign). Peace is also key to a more egalitarian society as well as to social justice, as war tends to ruin and bankrupt economies.
• Israel as part of the family of nations. No country today, not even the United States, can act in isolation in the globalized world. Foreign policy and diplomacy is about international coalition-building, first and foremost for us together with our number one strategic ally, the United States, during a second Obama term. The world, as proven by the November 29 UN vote, wants a twostate solution and we should be partners to a collective effort in favor of Palestinian and regional peace, as well as preventing Iran from becoming nuclear. Our relationship with the United States is also dependent on a commonality of democratic and liberal values.
A new Israeli democratic party, with such clear policy positions and a united Center-Left front, can become a home for the many progressive forces in the country, including from the moderate Right, in order to sustain our all-important democracy.The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.