Can the US interfere with Israel’s judicial reform?

MIDDLE ISRAEL: The inverted biographies of Antony Blinken and Orit Struck add up to a Jewish tragedy

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference about the judicial reform following warnings from many economic experts. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference about the judicial reform following warnings from many economic experts.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Having heard the American response to the government’s war on the judiciary, National Missions Minister Orit Struck gave her Jewish inversion, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a piece of her mind. 

Speaking with Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, Blinken’s message was understated but very clear: “Building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they’re embraced, and that they endure.” Understanding full well what he meant, Struck retorted: 

“I understand you decided to give our prime minister a lesson in democracy,” she tweeted before shifting from sarcasm to condescension. “Well, democracy is first of all the state’s duty to decide its way according to its own citizens’ vote, so that each of them gets equal weight, with no foreign interference.”

It’s a fascinating dialogue of the deaf, and its beauty – like its tragedy – lies in this odd couple’s common background as scions of Hungarian Jewry and descendants of two notable Jewish writers: Yiddish author Meir Blinken (1879-1915), who was Blinken’s great-grandfather, and poet Malka Nesher (1907-1959), who was Struck’s grandmother. 

 Construction at the entrance of Jerusalem (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Construction at the entrance of Jerusalem (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

The two ministers’ common denominator is most striking when it comes to the Holocaust’s commemoration, which the poetry of Struck’s grandmother helped inspire, and the writing of Blinken’s stepfather, Sam Pisar (1929-2015), helped pioneer, after escaping the Nazi death march in Poland.  

Struck and Blinken, much in common yet very different

Born two years apart and raised in the homes of secular lawyers, Blinken and Struck would have found much common language had they met in their teens, when he attended the Dalton School on New York’s Upper East Side, and she went to Jerusalem’s equally snobby Leyad Ha’universita High School. 

The two would also have felt close due to their Zionist homes. Struck’s father, Yehuda Cohen, fought with the IDF in four wars beginning in 1948, when he was 17. Blinken’s grandfather Maurice Blinken was a leader of American Jewry’s struggle to open British Palestine for Jewish immigration. 

Instead, the paths of Antony and Orit would soon part – dramatically. 

ANTONY GRADUATED Harvard and later Columbia Law School. After several years of legal practice, he proceeded to work in government, first with the National Security Council, then with the State Department, and later in the White House. In between, at age 40, he married Evan Ryan, a descendant of Irish Catholics who now is the White House cabinet secretary. 

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, Orit discovered religion. While Antony edited The Harvard Crimson, she switched from pants to skirts, did national service in a hospital and a school, married a yeshiva boy when she was barely 20, and entered a teachers’ college from which she dropped out as she began bearing her 11 kids while agitating against 1982’s retreat from Sinai. 

And so, when Antony was writing contracts between Manhattan’s skyscrapers, Orit moved to Hebron’s angry streets. There, in the West Bank’s volcanic pit, she became the local settlers’ press representative while enduring both intifadas, including incidents in which two of her boys were wounded by Palestinian gunfire and a third by stabbing. 

Now the well-tailored Antony and the head-covered Orit emerged as a paradigm of the Jewish people’s atomization: one cosmopolitan, the other self-ghettoized; one engineering peace, the other braving war; one post-religious, the other newly Orthodox; one who meets the gentile in bed, as the mother of his two kids, the other for whom gentiles are the strangers at the other end of the battlefield; Antony from Jewish Venus, Orit from Jewish Mars.

While both biographies are impressive by any yardstick, this adversary readily concedes that Struck’s is the more admirable, as it is laden with conviction and sacrifice and also with innocence. Alas, this doesn’t mean she is equipped to understand foreign affairs. She isn’t. 

Now, as their originally close biographies meet again, Orit emerges as a victim of the narrow-minded ultra-nationalism to which she condemned herself. That’s why Antony’s diplomatic challenge is undecipherable to her, much the way the Jewish-gentile harmony that he personifies is unthinkable where she lives. 

SUPERPOWERS AND their satellites, like any hierarchical relationship’s partners, can annoy each other. When postwar Britain needed American loans to avoid bankruptcy, the very idea that their former British colony would dictate conditions to London unsettled many Brits. That’s how the slogan “Leave us a loan” came into being. 

The Brits and Americans still emerged from that episode as the world’s closest allies because they share everything allies can possibly share: ideals, culture, history and strategic interests.  

Things were different in the Eastern Bloc, where Moscow’s claim that it is its satellites’ benefactor, and that they all share the same ideals, was a blatant lie that resulted in repeated revolts. 

Now, our far-right’s rhetoric treats Washington the way the rebels of Budapest and Prague treated Moscow. That’s morally appalling and politically mad. Washington invested in the Jewish state enormously, both financially and diplomatically, and it is its duty to the American people to verify that their investment meets its aims, which includes its ally’s embrace of America’s ideals. 

“My advice to Blinken is to mind his own country’s business.”

Ariel Kallner

“My advice to Blinken is to mind his own country’s business,” said an even more brazen colleague of Struck’s, Likud lawmaker Ariel Kallner, as if Blinken represented a banana republic. Well, Israel sure is America’s business, and verifying that Washington’s allies uphold its ideals – including the separation of powers – is part of what Blinken’s job is about. 

Like Israel, America also has convictions, and during a century of fighting for the rest of the free world, it too sacrificed, no less than Struck sacrificed for her ideals, in fact a lot more. That is why Uncle Sam has not only the right but also the duty to tell her that the locomotive she and her colleagues are riding with all of us on board is heading into an abyss. 

The writer, a Hartman Institute fellow, is the author of the bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s political leadership.