A divided Israel needs a Lincoln moment to heal - opinion

Having lived in Israel on and off for a number of years, I’ve come to love the country like family. Things I appreciate. Things I don’t. And boy, does this moment feel like a test!

 Abraham Lincoln (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Abraham Lincoln
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)

In March of 1861, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Inaugural Address, raising the idea of the “better angels of our nature.” It was the eve of Civil War, and we know how that went. So, in memory of Lincoln, let us consider finding such better angels – in Israel. 

Sitting many miles away from Israel is the lap of luxury these days. It’s not that things are easy in America. My political involvement has been in outing antisemitism, by co-founding Alums for Campus Fairness which, among other things, supports balance on university campuses regarding Israel. Yes, in America we have our BDS problem. Rage on the Right. Rage on the Left. But the function of government remains essentially sound. To change a fundamental government function requires ratification of three-quarters of the states in the US and takes a long time. Things do change. Amendments to the Constitution do happen, but not without thorough review.

Having lived in Israel on and off for a number of years, I’ve come to love the country like family. Things I appreciate. Things I don’t. And boy, does this moment feel like a test!

An outside view of Israel's judicial crisis

Like many, I have dear friends on the Right and on the Left of this legal/legislative moment. My friends on the Right point out that the Israeli Supreme Court has more power than any other country’s in the world, possessing an outsized capacity to limit legislation and frame it. Plus, it has a say on appointments from within. A problem. Understood. My friends on the Left see neutering of the Supreme Court as enabling a dangerously authoritarian style of government. This is to be granted as well.

Israel does not possess multiple legislative bodies that each check each other. The country lacks the equivalent of states’ rights, an active congress, a powerful senate or an independent executive. Accepted. What it does have is a coalition headed by a prime minister – and a single supreme court. That’s really it. 

 David Ben-Gurion (credit: GPO)
David Ben-Gurion (credit: GPO)

What troubles me is a simple question. To my mind, no one has answered it in a direct way. 

In Israel, how is it possible that the structure of government itself can be changed with a simple majority? Just like that! You elect a government, put together a coalition, and you can change the very nature of government. Yes, indeed.

The truth is that Minister Yariv Levin is within his legal rights to limit the power of the Supreme Court. Israel has no constitution. There’s no judicious method to change how government functions. David Ben-Gurion promised a constitution but failed to follow through.

So we have a clever, realpolitik experience here – with the Right seizing a loophole in the law that allows for a meaningful change of government without a mandatory and institutionally supported, careful, sober review.

The Right calls the protesters “anarchists.” That is because they have the law on their side. The Left, in turn, labels the Right as “fascists.” What they correctly see is a legally immoral power grab. Think better angels. Think it hard.

From my distant perspective, judicial reform has some value. My discomfort is that this moment of realpolitik is legal but unwholesome. A brilliant but unwise political move that undermines the body politic. Not OK. Hubris. And as much as my friends on the Right paint the Left as flagrantly protecting their privilege, I see such positioning as half-truths and false flags. And the race baiting of these arguments is exceedingly dangerous. The Right simply wants to win. That’s why they used this loophole in the first place.

Those on the Left showed myopic judgment in the last election. Where were the warnings? Why did Labor not merge with Meretz to attract more Knesset seats? Petty politics? Is anybody stepping down in shame? Were folks in the current coalition like Levin, Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, Netanyahu, and others simply setting an ambush? Seems so. As an outsider, I’m curious. Why wasn’t legal reform seen as a risk – to be yelled from the mountaintops? Was the hatred of Netanyahu so great? A man being carried away by a flood. Sadly, like the rest of his nation.

So I’d like to bring my friends together. Left, Right and Center. Just stop. Close down the government. Make the writing of a constitution the issue at hand. Transparency. No ambush. No haves and have nots. Let’s have a good argument and a better country. 

We have some better angels among us. I just know it.  ■

Mark Banschick, MD, is a graduate of the Tel Aviv University School of Medicine. He’s also a co-founder of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), an organization championing a marketplace of ideas on college campuses regarding Israel and the Jewish people. This article is a personal opinion piece and not meant to represent ACF.