The proof of the pudding is in the eating

I shall be delighted to be able to admit in a year or so, that the pudding was not as bad as I feared, but I am skeptical.

 MK ITAMAR Ben-Gvir and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai attend a committee meeting in the Knesset, last week.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK ITAMAR Ben-Gvir and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai attend a committee meeting in the Knesset, last week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

I expressed my concern about the new government, that is about to be formed, to one of my right-wing religious friends, and her reaction was that in the final reckoning “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” so we should wait patiently and see what happens.

In principle, I agree with her. Yet this does not mean that at least some of my concerns have a fair chance of proving to be true – especially when some of the persons who are about to be appointed as ministers, deputy ministers, ministers without portfolio (if such will be appointed), and ministers in the ministries of other ministers (a new gruesome mutation), openly express ideological positions and practical agendas that are abhorrent to me.

There is another problem. Because some of these prospective appointees do not trust the promises of the prospective leader of the new government, they have insisted on controversial legislation being passed by the Knesset, before the new government is sworn in – a legislative porridge that appears to many to be inedible. Should one simply keep quiet until the porridge is ready, and the legislation is passed without proper consideration, in a problematic fast-track legislative procedure?

To return to the proverb about the pudding, I would say that one may suspect the quality of the pudding even before tasting it, if it produces a foul smell, one suspects the nature or quality of at least some of its ingredients, or the cook declares that he/she plans to force it down the throats of those who dislike pudding, are allergic to some of its ingredients, or belong to a particular social, religious, and/or ideological group, that has misgivings about puddings.

Let me start off with MK Avi Maoz from Noam, who is about to be appointed a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, who will head the “Authority for the Jewish National Identity,” and will, inter alia, be responsible for the “external engagements of the Ministry of Education” – i.e., education programs provided by external providers.

 NOAM CHAIRMAN Avi Maoz at the Knesset: Great concern.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) NOAM CHAIRMAN Avi Maoz at the Knesset: Great concern. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Last Monday, I received a text message sent on behalf of Maoz. The message said the following (in Hebrew): “Together we shall care for our children! Sheila (my Hebrew name), did you know? Three thousand of the educational programs in our schools were created by radical left-wing organizations! MK Avi Maoz is confronting foreign intervention in the education of our children – and the extreme Left is going berserk. Are you sick and tired of the defamation drive? For support of MK Maoz reply 1.”

And a reminder: Maoz is a racist, who rejects Jewish pluralism, believes woman should not serve in the IDF, should stay home and raise children, wishes to stop gay parades in Jerusalem, etc. This man is about to be put in charge of the Jewish national identity, and of the external programs approved for the non-religious state education system – not the religious system. The 3000 programs he refers to in his SMS as being “foreign” (which apparently means that they reflect ideas rejected by extreme Orthodox Judaism), and promoted by “radical left-wing organizations,” are mostly programs dealing with the principles of liberal democracy, such as pluralism, human and minority rights.

So, am I expected to wait and see what Maoz will actually do once he assumes office, and wait for him to throw his bowl of pudding at my face? “No,” I cry out to our prospective prime minister, “you are no less secular than I am, and you claim to be a liberal of sorts. So why are you appointing this man to this job in your office? In no way does he reflect your vision of the Jewish national identity – or at least I hope this is the case...”

I mentioned above the problem of legislation, toward the formation of the new Government. This is not the first time that basic laws and additional laws having to do with institutions of government are amended towards the establishment of a new government – especially in the last four years. This practice is outrageous, whenever it occurs and whoever is responsible for it, but in the current case it is much more so, because there is no justifiable reason for most of the changes, at least not from the perspective of efficient government.

Amendments to the Basic Law

Three of the amendments are amendments that are personal in nature – i.e., designed to satisfy the whims or needs of three especially greedy candidates for ministerial posts: MKs Arye Deri, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, and all are constitutional amendments, brought as private member’s bills, because the current government objects to the amendments, and the real movers of the bills are currently still in opposition.

The amendment to Basic-Law: the Government, which seeks to enable Deri to enter the new government even though on the basis of the existing law he could still do so if he would simply go to the trouble of asking the chairperson of the Central Elections Committee to state whether the criminal offense over which he signed a plea bargain, involves moral turpitude. Maybe yes, and maybe no. But to change the law in order to enable a serial lawbreaker to enter the government, is an act of moral turpitude on its own count.

A second amendment to the same law seeks to enable Bezalel Smotrich, who is to serve as Minister of Finance in the next government, to serve simultaneously as a full minister in the Ministry of Defense, without being subordinated to the “first” Minister of Defense – MK Yoav Galant – simply because he wants to unilaterally change the status quo in Judea and Samaria, to the benefit of the Jewish settlers in these territories, contrary to international law. Both the prospective prime minister and Israel as a state need this amendment like a hole in the head.

A third amendment is to the police ordinance, which will enable the subordination of the police to the minister of the prospective ministry of national security (currently the Public Security Ministry). It is prospective national security minister Ben-Gvir, who submitted a private members’ bill to this effect, that together with several other changes (such as the subordination of Border Police in Judea and Samaria to him) will increase his power to an unreasonable degree.

Of the three personal amendments, this one is easiest to justify on practical grounds, since in the current situation the police in Israel needs to undergo a revolution, in order to be able to deal effectively with the many manifestations of violence and crime, both in the Arab and the Jewish communities. The problem is that Ben-Gvir, no less that Deri and Smotrich, has an insatiable desire for power, and like Smotrich and Maoz believes in an extreme right-wing ideology, which is rejected by the majority in Israel, including by many Likudniks.

Unfortunately, all three pieces of legislation are almost certain to pass third reading, though a few minor amendments might still be introduced in them. The least one can do is to speak out against the phenomenon in the current context, and warn of the potential harsh long-term consequences.

Will the reality prove to be more moderate than the prediction? I shall be delighted to be able to admit in a year or so, that the pudding was not as bad as I feared, but I am skeptical.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.