The Chillul Hashem Government
The Lowdown on the Crisis in Israel
It’s been a while since I did a political post, and while some people don’t like them, many in the US appreciate hearing my perspective. If you don’t want to read this post, feel free to skip it! But before I get to the horrible politics, here’s an announcement.
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And now, for the politics.
There are two main issues in the headlines. One is the judicial reforms that Bibi’s government is seeking to push through. The second is the court disqualifying Aryeh Deri from serving as minister.
Judicial reform is required. Beginning in the 1990s under Aharon Barak, Israel’s Supreme Court asserted itself an authority which would be unthinkable in the USA. The court claimed a moral and legal right to judge pretty much everything, on the basis of a very narrow and largely Ashkenazi-Western-Tel Aviv-Secular view of things. And it was a self-perpetuating system, with little way for democratic vote to change the make-up of judges. It needs a reform.
However, the new government’s reform is far too extreme in the other direction. It requires an absolute consensus of justices to veto a government ruling, but only a 51% majority of MKs to overrule the Supreme Court. This basically removes all checks and balances on the government, of the kind that are so valuable in the US. It replaces a democracy that has protections for minorities and protection from “the tyranny of the masses” - an extremely precious thing that is very difficult to create - with populism and majority rule. It is incredibly dangerous and harmful, both to Israel’s image and Israel’s reality.
Then there’s the Deri Disgrace. Several years after serving a prison sentence for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, the police said that Deri should be indicted for doing those things all over again. He was eventually “only” charged with several counts of major tax fraud. Deri reached a plea deal in which he had his prison sentence suspended by paying a fine and resigning from politics. But subsequently Deri claimed that he had only agreed to resign from the previous Knesset, and then he ran for the current Knesset and received the Ministries of Health and Interior! While there is a Basic Law preventing someone with a jail sentence from serving as a minister, Bibi’s coalition passed legislation to ensure that this would not apply to someone who “only” has a suspended sentence.
All this was outrageous. The plea deal explicitly stated that quitting the Knesset was required for two reasons - first, it counted as a punishment for Deri’s crimes because it meant that his beloved career in politics was over, and second, it would also mean that there would no longer be a risk of him being corrupt with public funds. The plea deal was fundamentally predicated on Deri leaving politics permanently.
When all this was pointed out by the Movement for Quality Government, the Supreme Court ruled 10-1 that Deri reneging on the plea deal and becoming a minister was unacceptable (the sole dissenting voice did not disagree but was of the view that it should go to a different court to assess moral turpitude instead). They disqualified his ministerial appointments on two grounds. First was that it was “unreasonable” in the extreme that a repeated criminal who steals from the state should become a minister. While one can argue whether this is a legitimate decision for the Court to take (rather than the electorate), it is certainly morally true, especially from a Torah perspective; the fact that all the religious parties have no objection or shame about it is appalling.
But the justices also invoked a second and much more powerful legal reason as to why Deri is not allowed to be a minister: the legal principle of “estoppel.” Estoppel means that you cannot benefit from one legal position which runs counter to a legal position that you took in a different case, because that utterly corrupts the notion of justice. Deri avoided going to prison in exchange for retiring from politics, but then he became a minister on the grounds that he never actually went to prison (which would have disqualified him). You can’t have it both ways! Becoming a minister when his plea deal was fundamentally based on him retiring permanently from politics made a joke out of the justice system.
The Supreme Court’s decision was clearly legally and morally correct. Yet the religious establishment - including Shas, UTJ, and Religious Zionism - all backed “Rabbi” Deri. They claimed that the Court was being “anti-democratic” in overturning the will of all the people who had voted for a government with Deri. But in fact, surveys showed that the majority of the country did not feel that Deri should be able to be a minister (disappointingly, this was not true for the religious community). Furthermore, what difference do the opinions of the masses make, if someone’s actions are clearly morally and legally wrong?
It was a disgrace and chillul Hashem of the first order to see the entire religious political establishment line up in full support of a repeated and unabashed criminal. (And Deri’s role in enabling the Meron tragedy makes his financial crimes look minor by comparison.) But perhaps it wasn’t surprising that they felt no shame; the leader of the Likud is a serial adulterer who is under investigation for corruption, the previous head of UTJ resigned rather than face jail for serious corruption, the current head of UTJ is an extorter, and the leader of Otzma Yehudit has multiple criminal convictions.
We read in Yeshayah and Yirmiyah about how the first State of Israel was destroyed as a punishment for our religious leaders being corrupt, abusing their power in order to take financial advantage, and engaging in falsehood for personal gain. Religious Jewry needs to get its moral act together.
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