A Diplomatic Approach to Israeli Elections

Right-wing politician Dani Dayan participates in a panel discussion at the Israel Conference on Democracy, Tel Aviv, February 2015. (Amir Levy/FLASh90)

Last week on Purim, I found myself attending a media briefing
at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Any misgivings I might have had about the unusual timing of the meeting were mitigated by the assurance that there would be a reading of the Megillah following the briefing.

Hosted by Ambassador Dani Dayan, the meeting featured Israeli journalist Yair Ettinger, who gave a political overview of the upcoming Israeli elections. But the real guest speaker, in his short introductory remarks before the journalist, turned out to be Ambassador Dayan himself. The ambassador spoke of the “miracle” of Israel’s democracy and, while admitting that as a diplomat he is “not free to say everything that I want to say,” commented on the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to bar Otzma Yehudit’s candidate Michael Ben-Ari from running in the elections.

Steering clear of any political pronouncements on the negotiations that led to the inclusion of Otzma Yehudit in the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the ambassador said, “I was somewhat puzzled when I saw Jewish American progressive leaders celebrating a decision that in this country would have been considered horrendously anti-democratic. Is our system, in which the Supreme Court can bar candidates from running for being a racist, better than the American system in which a Nazi runs for Congress in Illinois?”

Mentioning “double standards,” Ambassador Dayan concluded, “What annoyed me is people in this country, including the Jewish community, celebrating the decision of the Supreme Court, but [they] would never, never propose a constitutional amendment in this country that would allow for the same thing to happen.”

The ambassador’s accurate depiction was challenged in the question and answer period by a progressive writer, who was “disappointed” that the ambassador “chose to give mussar to the American Jewish community.” The writer then ironically asserted, “The people you are criticizing would be thrilled to see America outlaw the Nazi party. It’s the Right who’s protecting free speech. It’s not the [progressive] Jews.”

Well, amen to that. Whether the writer realized that her paradoxical admission that it is the Right that protects free speech contradicts the progressive platform is debatable. What is not debatable is that this assertion is correct and reinforces both the truthfulness of the ambassador’s comments and the hypocrisy of the Left.

The activist Israeli Supreme Court, which overturned a Central Elections Committee decision, barred Ben-Ari from running for being what they termed a “racist.” Yet it permitted the Arab parties, Balad and United Arab List, to run despite their “racist” support of terrorism and opposition to Israel as a Jewish State. This decision should sound alarm bells.

American progressives who would like to see the same power vested to American courts should beware. As the Omars of Congress begin to be fruitful and multiply, amidst the fertile breeding ground of American millennial voters, outlawing Nazi candidates in elections might be followed by outlawing other candidates. Unfortunately, it can no longer be deemed alarmist to imagine that other candidates might someday include Israel supporters or worse, Jews.

In a world where progressive Jews are blind to the dangers of unholy alliances, unaffiliated Jews who favor identification as progressives tend to forget the difficulty of shedding their own skin. But they are slowly learning that accusations of dual loyalties against Jews eventually catch up with them. They are then left pondering the unraveling of their own dual loyalties. Is it still possible to be both Jewish and progressive?

It is interesting to note that the progressive writer criticized the ambassador directly after the journalist Ettinger spoke of the dramatic drop in leftist ideology in Israel. “Leftist” has become a dirty word in the Israeli political lexicon and being branded as such in Israeli campaigns is the kiss of death for any candidate. In fact, Ettinger maintains that left wing does not just refer to Palestinian issues but is a “cultural thing associated with diluted Jewish identity.” And he quoted a recent Israeli poll, which revealed that only 5% of Israelis identify as “left” and 11% as “center left.”

Israelis have learned the hard way that a “diluted” Jewish identity leads to diluted security for the Jewish homeland. Many American Jews sadly lag behind their Israeli brethren in this epiphany. They eagerly shun an authentic Jewish identity for a corrupted version, one which they would like to replant in Israel. These same Jews are demoralized by the openly religious Ben-Ari but are silent over the sacrilegious Bernie.

They are also the same Jews who most likely would not have stayed to hear the Megillah reading at the Consulate. A Chabad emissary opened a klaf and read to a group of around 15-20 Consulate employees, who donned yarmulkes and enthusiastically swung graggers in the air at the reading of Haman’s name.

Had the progressive writer stayed to hear the ambassador read Trump’s tweet supporting Israeli sovereignty over the Golan after the reading, and joyfully claim that “it was in the zechut of reading the Megillah,” she would undoubtedly have called it undiplomatic. To me, it was diplomacy at its best.