Ayelet Shaked And The Rise Of Religious Nationalism In Israel

Der Spiegel has an extraordinary interview with Ayelet Shaked, a member of the HaBayit HaYehudi or “Jewish Home” party in Israel and the minister of justice in the country’s quintipartite coalition government. In recent years the formerly unknown politician has made a name for herself with some alarming pronouncements on Palestinians and Arabs, including Arab-Israeli citizens, which seem to have enhanced her electoral popularity rather than detract from it. While a caustic style of public discourse has made her the political darling of the Israeli right it has also gained her opprobrium abroad, leading some diplomats and the representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to eschew official meetings with her. Perhaps not entirely unrelated to this, at the start of the year Shaked introduced a bill to the Knesset which will undermine the work of NGOs in the “Jewish state” and the Israeli-administered Occupied Territories. She also has hit out at the independence of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, urging the emasculation of the judiciary to assuage the greater needs of “national security” and Hebrew tradition. The latter includes a more prominent role for the Halakha or Jewish religious laws rather than the secular ones inherited from the Mandate era or enacted subsequently. To put her career into Irish political terms, imagine the DUP’s Arlene Foster but on Paisley steroids.

Some interesting snippets from the Der Speigel piece, which are incredibly revealing of a religious-infused ethno-nationalism that is rarely addressed in commentary on Israeli affairs, include the following:

SPIEGEL: A member of parliament belonging to your party demanded a few months ago that the Supreme Court be demolished. You yourself are planning a bill that would enable the Knesset to overrule decisions made by the judges — thereby enabling it to implement laws that have been declared unlawful. It sounds like you want to strip the judiciary of its power.

Shaked: At issue here is a basic law which enables the Supreme Court to quash laws in extreme cases. Up until now, this right of the Supreme Court was not mentioned anywhere, but was just taken. At the same time, we want to enable the Knesset to overrule decisions of the Supreme Court. At the moment, we are discussing the necessary majority — I support a majority of 61.

SPIEGEL: But that would enable the current government to reverse any decision made by the high court. The outcome is already obvious: You are seeking the greater influence of halakha (Jewish law) in lawmaking. But isn’t this a renunciation of the secular state?

Shaked: I expect from our judges that their verdicts are also inspired by Talmudic law — and not only by common law or European justice systems.”

Ayelet Shaked, a member of the HaBayit HaYehudi or “Jewish Home” party, and the minister of justice in Israel

Which raises the obvious point that an Israeli state partially governed or shaped by religious law is little different from its Islamic neighbours.

SPIEGEL: You are also a supporter of the controversial nation-state bill, which would define Israel first and foremost as a Jewish state. Critics fear democratic principles could be subordinated to religious ones in the future.

Shaked: We already have two very strong democratic tools — the two basic laws of personal liberties and human rights. I think we should also provide the judiciary with another tool so that they can rely on the fact that Israel is a Jewish state in verdicts.

…Jewish communities in the diaspora are very important to Israel and we are open to a dialogue with them. It is bitter for us to see the process of assimilation, the mixing of Jewish and non-Jewish.”

Which is uncomfortably close to a type of blood and soil nationalism that many ordinary Israelis would recoil in disgust from.

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2 comments

  1. It’s funny. I never cheer for the British Empire in anything. But sometimes I find myself wishing they had completely crushed the Zionist militias in 1947.

    1. Personally, my sympathy is with Israel. I’m an admirer more than a detractor. Or at least I was. The likes of Ayelet Shaked make that more difficult to justify. I’m not sure what my feelings are now.

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