Gadi Taub should celebrate being 'cancelled' - opinion

Taub was informed on Wednesday by the publication, for which he has been writing for more than a decade, that his articles would no longer be welcome.

 Israeli author Gadi Taub speaks at the International Writer's festival in Jerusalem on May 06, 2010. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israeli author Gadi Taub speaks at the International Writer's festival in Jerusalem on May 06, 2010.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Israel’s radical daily Haaretz is calling on the public to “join its struggle for democracy.” The self-described “newspaper for thinking people” has always aimed its content at a certain type of high-brow reader, but it long ago ceased pretending to be a professional broadsheet, opting instead to serve as a proud vehicle for left-wing activism. 

Its current campaign is focused on delegitimizing the new government in Jerusalem, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The slogan of its ad – “Democracy doesn’t end with elections” – is perfect for the endeavor. 

It also reveals the true nature of the Saturday-night demonstrations in the streets of the country’s major cities. Though ostensibly about Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plans to reform the judicial system, they’re actually an expression of disappointment at the loss of the November 1 Knesset elections to the Right.

The best way to obfuscate this inconvenient fact is to pull a twofer: denigrate the victors who won through a democratic process, and accuse them of posing a threat to democracy by virtue of their being in the majority. It’s a neat trick that has some fellow travelers fooled and many others intimidated.

One example of the latter is the Azrieli Group. The real estate company initially nixed the screening of the “Democracy doesn’t end with elections” message on the wall of its Tel Aviv shopping center. It subsequently backtracked due to bullying by Haaretz

 DNA dining area at Tel Aviv's Azrieli Mall (credit: ALEX DEUTSCH) DNA dining area at Tel Aviv's Azrieli Mall (credit: ALEX DEUTSCH)

There’s nothing like suggesting that the mall owners objected to the word “democracy” to make them shudder with fear – likely over the possibility of being boycotted by customers. Judging by the outlet’s firing of weekly columnist Gadi Taub this week, their trepidation is well-founded. 

Taub, a senior lecturer in the School of Public Policy and Department of Communications at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was informed on Wednesday by the publication, for which he has been writing for more than a decade, that his articles would no longer be welcome. According to Haaretz, the viewpoint of the neoconservative commentator – host of the popular podcast “Shomer Saf” (Gatekeeper) – goes against the ideals that the paper is fighting to uphold.

Taub’s dismissal followed the rejection of his latest, and what would turn out to be his last, submission: an op-ed criticizing the courts and calling on Levin to stand his ground in the face of pressure from the vociferous minority. (It now appears in the online Hebrew magazine, Mida.)

“I am forced to write this mail after many years of joint work, and alongside the difficulty of publishing your articles, which were unpleasant to many Haaretz readers [but which I] thought were making an important contribution to freedom of expression and the possibility of being exposed to other and different views,” began the digital missive by his editor, explaining the ouster. 

“Nevertheless,” the letter went on, “two things happened recently that changed the paper’s stance on your pieces. One is the change of government, accompanied by an aggressive and immediate attack on Israeli democracy as we, at Haaretz, perceive it. 

“The desire to weaken the judicial system through extreme, unilateral and unrestrained measures compel us, too, as a media outlet, to defend against what is perceived among us as a coup d’état. 

“In this respect, we find it very difficult to reconcile the dissonance: on the one hand, to be the spearhead against this coup, and simultaneously to publish articles that provide a tailwind to that very coup. In terms of defensive democracy, we believe that now is the time to go on the defensive.”

Perhaps Haaretz deserves credit for admitting that it sees free speech from the Right, like Zionism, as a failed experiment. It can’t be touted as brave, however, since those to whom it caters expect nothing less. In other words, it’s playing to its loyal subscribers and echo-chamber politicians now relegated to the back benches of Israel’s – yes, democratically elected – parliament.

Taub's "pink slip"

THIS BRINGS us to the second half of the proverbial “pink slip” that greeted Taub on Wednesday. It turns out that his daring to disagree with the chattering classes’ hysterical reaction to judicial reform wasn’t the sole cause for the removal of his commentary from the pages of Haaretz.

Another was his reported association with the Mathias Corvinus Collegium educational foundation in Budapest. “As far as we know,” wrote Taub’s editor, “this is an institution that supports and is affiliated with [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán and lauds all the values that we at Haaretz consider dangerous and a threat to democracy. 

“It’s difficult for us to accept the fact that someone who agrees to be a part of such an institution, and all it implies, has a platform in Haaretz, which is conducting an open battle against these exact positions.” 

What these “exact positions” are isn’t specified, though the Hungarian leader is a pro-Israel conservative. And it happens that those decrying Levin’s plans to restore the balance of power between the appointed judiciary and elected legislature have been warning that if the wings of the Supreme Court are clipped at all, Israel will resemble Orbán’s Hungary. 

The joke is that few of the sheep bleating this nonsense are versed in the workings of their own branches of government, let alone Orbán’s. Random surveys at rallies would show that most participants are there for the action and virtue-signaling. Just look at their Facebook entries boasting of attendance, with selfies to prove it. 

The rest of the populace already came out in far greater numbers – on Election Day – and cast ballots for parties that vowed to make judicial reform a priority. Indeed, as Taub pointed out on Wednesday in Tablet magazine: “A majority of Israeli voters made clear that they will no longer put up with the hollowing out of Israel’s democracy by the administrative state; judges, law enforcement officers, legal advisers and the bureaucracy in general will have to stop substituting their own preferences and dictates for those of the Israeli electorate.”

The protest movement against judicial reform, he stressed, “is not an effort to save [Israeli] democracy. Quite the opposite: It is an effort to save the power of the ruling progressive elite from democracy. For anyone willing to look at the details, it should have been abundantly clear that the reform would, in fact, begin to fix the anomaly of the Israeli juristocracy… moving Israel closer to the norm among Western democracies.” 

Hence the disingenuous Haaretz mantra, plastered on billboards and bus stops, that “democracy doesn’t end with elections.” Even the creators of the catchy phrase are aware that it’s a ploy to cloak the darker purpose of denigrating the essence of the Jewish state. 

For evidence, one need only look at the image on the cover of its weekend magazine last Friday: an Israeli flag with the Star of David sinking into the sea. Iran and its Palestinian proxies couldn’t have come up with a better graphic to illustrate their hopes and dreams.

Taub should celebrate his cancellation and continue to remind the majority of Israelis that their “lying eyes” are far more reliable than the false truths of democracy-doomsayers with a less-than-noble agenda.