Israel constitutional crisis: of goats and golden calves

Once again there were massive demonstrations in my hometown — and around the country.

Now Bibi’s son Yair Netanyahu — or Yahir Meturlalhu [freely: an arrogant nutcase he is] as I call him — is claiming the demonstrators are using “brownshirt tactics”. I will not even dignify this with a response other than that he’s clearly as delusional as his mother.

I did see, at an earlier demonstration, your typical small shopkeeper who’s a 1st- or 2nd-generation immigrant from a Muslim country [*] yell at us “Only Bibi!” or even “Only Bibi and Ben-Gvir”. Or yelling “Israel-haters carrying the Israeli flag” [I’d blame the effects of quasi-legal cannabis, except that potheads tend to be mellower]. Decades-long Jerusalem Post columnnist Amotz- Asa-El, whose column is titled “Middle Israel”, and who in 2019 published a book called Mitz`ad ha-Ivelet ha-Yehudi [the Jewish March of Folly, the title a nod to popular historian Barbara Tuchman’s famous work] calls them “monarchists” (a comparison that holds some water) and “worshipers of the Golden Calf”. Let me offer an alternative definition for the latter: the G-d of Israel was all essence and deeds without physical form, while the Golden Calf was the exact converse: beautiful form devoid of deeds and content. Those who prate about the institutions of a democracy, while hollowing it out in favor of an unelected supranational oligarchy [e.g., the European Union] or a neo-feudal class of billionaires and near-billionaire crony capitalists fanning the flames of woke neo-racism and neo-sexism the better to cement their rule…. while simultaneously hand-wringing about our threatened democracy — they seem to be the modern-day Golden Calf worshippers to me.

Neil Rogachevsky, responding to an earlier article by Evelyn Gordon that is well worth reading too, sees the court reform clash as a symptom of a deeper problem (or meta-problem?): the outsize political leverage of small sectorial minority parties in our fractious proportional representation system.

But perhaps the most interesting read on the subject was this interview with Prof. Moshe Koppel, head of the Kohelet Policy Forum which was the chief intellectual engine behind the reform proposals. Soft-spoken and reasoned, he’s the polar opposite as a person of the MKs pushing the judicial blitz in the Knesset. I cannot do the interview justice by selective quoting, so I suggest you read it in its entirety, but a few standout points for me (my paraphrases):

  • Reform is long overdue, but not every particular of the proposals now before the Knesset
  • In particular, he considers the “override law” a terrible idea “with 61 or any other number of MKs”, that should be scrapped in its entirety. The courts should never become subservient to the government.
  • He understands that “putting in some goats” is an accepted negotiating tactic in Israel (a reference to a famous traditional Jewish story[**]), but thinks the coalition exaggerate and did not play this game wisely
  • One point he insists on is that any Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of a law must be with a full bench of all 15 judges, so the Chief Justice cannot “game” the outcome by assigning specific judges to the case. However, the demand that only a unanimous “no” vote can override is one of those “goats”: he says whether it should be 10 or 12 votes is negotiable, but that the full bench votes is not.
  • He says that now the process has started, completely abandoning it will lead to a hardening of positions on both sides, convincing “the second Israel” that the system is hopelessly rigged against them. At the same time, ramming everything through with too much force will make “the first Israel” feel alienated.
  • He sees Yair Lapid (or Yahir Vapid, as I call him) as not really interested in a compromise, since his real goal is bringing down the government and returning as prime minister. A number of friends to the left of Lapid have told me the same.

Work calls, more later perhaps…

[*] out of intellectual laziness, many people in and outside Israel refer to all non-Ashkenazi Jews as “Sephardim”, even those whose ancestors were never even near Spain [Sepharad], such as the ancient Edot ha-Mizrach [communities of the East] from Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. True Sephardim that I know, but who grew up in European countries, sociologically resemble Ashkenazim more than the EH”M; on the other hand, Moroccan Jews who do have substantial Sephardi ancestry sociologically more closely resemble other Jewish communities who lived under Muslim rule. Hence I personally favor the term Yehudei Artzot ha-Islam [Jews from Muslim lands] as distinct from Yehudei artzot ha-Natzrut [Jews from [historically] Christian lands].


In context, “putting in a goat” as a negotiating tactic means deliberately putting in an intolerable demand that you don’t expect to be accepted — just to make the other side feel good about “getting rid of the goat” (le-hotzi et ha-ez) and be more forthcoming on other items.

Image from “The Day A Goat Got Into My Apartment”

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