Ben Gvir and the schmear: How extremism in Israel is tarnishing its democracy and reputation



Picture from demonstration of Israeli Social Justice Protests in 2011 in Tel Aviv

Lydia Ettinger, Social Media Manager

While I believe that Israel has the right to exist and defend itself from the terrorist organizations such as Hamas and those who wish to see it perish, I also condemn the past and recent injustices carried out by the Israeli government against its Arab citizens issued by right wing extremists. Because, like any other democratic nation, criticism is essential for progress. 

Unfortunately, the complex and nuanced struggle between Palestine and Israel has been trivialized into western dinner politics by those who want to be on the right side of history, but do not have the awareness to know that that is virtually impossible.  

 If I could go into a 300-page spiel about the worldwide oppression of the Jews and the significance of Israel, I would, but I can’t, so I’ll summarize: The idea of the “Jewish State” was crafted in the late 19th century by Theodore Herzl as a response to Antisemitism creeping in every corner of the globe. According to Herzl, the only way to escape Antisemitism was to create an asylum for Jews. This ideology became especially prominent after the Shoah(Holocaust) because Jewish refugees before, during, and after the war were denied entry into countries that would protect them from Hitler’s genocide and Antisemitism. Modern propaganda that antagonizes all Israelis as “colonists” fully denies the 3000 year struggle of the Jews and should be labeled as Antisemitic. Unfortunately in the past 74 years of Israel’s existence, Palestine has been subjugated to poor leadership which has put them in a precarious situation of being an unrecognized state. Their leadership screwed them out of a land deal in 1948, and in 2022 under Hamas, its right wing terrorist organization, has used their citizens as human shields as means of defense.

Therefore, I must admit that I was disappointed that the progressive Yesh Atid party, led by Yair Lapid, that was elected as an Arab-Israeli coalition, was replaced by the right wing Likud Party, led by Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu in November 2022. In creating a coalition, Netenyahu has appeased ultra religious and extremist right wing members of the Knesset(parliament)to convince them to join his government. His coalition now includes a range of very troubling conservative members, including Ben Gvir, a racist who is now Israel’s national security minister. 

Gvir joined the terrorist Jewish Supremacy Kach movement at 16 and was not permitted to be drafted in mandatory IDF service that all Jews must enter, because of his extremism. Gvir worked to release Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzak Rabin, who said Rabin wanted , “to give our country to the Arabs.” Additionally, he hung a picture of Baruch Goldstein, an American Israeli who murdered 29 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron, 1994. Gvir is also the architect of the xenophobic 2022 ban of flying the Palestinian flag in Israel. 

I am also disappointed to see how in addition to putting questionable politicians in high ranking positions, questionable policies have been proposed that threaten Israel’s democracy.

 Professor Michal Gal, Israeli citizen and world renowned antitrust lawyer, said, “We are scared of losing what we built for many years now which is the incredibly surprising and well-functioning democracy. It’s the only real democracy in the Middle East and for years it had its own checks and balances that, unlike the US, does not have a written constitution.” 

In recent weeks, massive protests have erupted across Israel in response to Netenyahu and his coalition for proposing to limit the power of Israel’s Judicial branch. By issuing an Override Clause and removing its “Reasonableness Standard”, many are worried about the impact they will have on Israeli democracy. 

 Professor Gal explained that in Israel part of their checks and balances includes the concept of reasonableness. In Israel the process called “Bagaat” gives citizens the right to go to the supreme court, which acts as a semi-constitutional or constitutional court, and request that they check the reasonableness of a governmental action.

Professor Gal noted the consequences of removing the “Reasonableness Standard”. She said, “If you harm equality in a way that is unreasonable you might not have a claim. If there is a law that imposes a tax that is completely unreasonable, you won’t have a claim or you will have a weaker claim.”

In regards to the Override Clause, the repercussions could be enormous. In Israel the Judicial Elective committee evaluates who is deemed qualified for a seat on the supreme court. The Override Clause would give unprecedented power to the government by giving them authority to overrule supreme court decisions with a majority of 61-59, the lowest possible majority in the Knesset. This system would model the dysfunctional American system for selecting judges and would politicize Israel’s Judicial branch 

Preserving democracy in Israel is imperative, however, ensuring a holistic democracy should be a priority for the Knesset. Professor Gal said, “Democracy is about government based on the majority, but there is a second part: protecting the minority and creating trust in society. If we forget that part, then the whole social fabric comes apart. And that’s part of the feeling right now in Israel: That the social fabric is falling apart.”