When outgoing Supreme Court president Miriam Naor realized the state ceremony announced by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev for September 27 in Gush Etzion, to celebrate 50 years since “the liberation of Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights,” was a political event she informed the organizers that no court representatives would attend, despite the customary practice in state events. Naor had emphasized that her decision did not in any way reflect the positions of the individual justices on the controversial issue, but was merely a reflection of the court’s commitment to political neutrality.
The reaction of some of the more extreme right-wing ministers was quick to come. Naor was accused of providing the anti-Israel boycott movement with a “tailwind” (Regev) and of “unstitching” the statism (mamlachtiyut) of an official ceremony decided upon by the government, to which she had attached the “mistaken appearance” (mar’it ayin) of a politically colored event (Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked).
Regev’s claim is ludicrous. Naor did not call for the boycotting of Israel or of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights, but was protesting an event that was given an ideology-loaded title being declared an official state event. She would have undoubtedly said nothing had the government decided to hold a non-official ceremony, and had one of the Supreme Court justices decided to participate in such a ceremony in a private capacity (for example Justice Noam Solberg, who lives in Gush Etzion).
However, what is more serious than the accusation hurled by our anti-culture minister was what Shaked said.
In fact, it was the government that gave the ceremony its political, non-statist coloring, not only through its title but also due to the invited speakers (and especially who was not invited), the content of the ceremony and the nature of the statements issued by organizers and by the main speaker at the event – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – prior to it.
Given that mamlachtiyut involves a modicum of national consensus, the ceremony was anything but statist.
While many Israelis agree that Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula were liberated during the Six Day War, there are also many who describe what happened as Israel having occupied the West Bank, the Golan Heights, etc. Some would use the term “conquered.”
To the present day there is no consensus among Jewish Israelis as to whether the liberated/occupied/conquered territories should be fully annexed to Israel (as Education Minister Naftali Bennett called for in his video clip screened during the ceremony), partially annexed or used as a powerful negotiating card in future peace negotiations.
In fact since June 1967 Israel annexed Jerusalem, and many Palestinian villages around Jerusalem were “swallowed” by it (but not digested) immediately after the war. Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights in 1981, and Israel has applied a medley of direct and indirect control based on Israeli martial law, contorted elements of Israeli civil law, Jordanian law and the Oslo Accords in the West Bank.
On the issue of which sections of said territories should be included in the sovereign State of Israel, there is almost complete consensus (among Jews) that Jerusalem should remain united under Israeli sovereignty (though there are differences of opinion as to what the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem should be), there is pretty widespread consensus that Gush Etzion, the Latrun area and the Jordan Rift Valley should form part of Israel (the Allon Plan), and there is a certain measure of agreement that in a permanent settlement with the Palestinians “the settlement blocs” in Judea and Samaria should be kept by Israel, with or without a territorial exchange (i.e. handing over certain Israeli territories to the Palestinians in exchange for the blocs).
The positions expressed by those who spoke at the ceremony in Gush Etzion were way out of any national consensus.
We have already mentioned what Bennett said in his video clip. During a toast that Netanyahu attended with the leaders of the Yesha Council just before the ceremony he assured those present that he had managed to convince the Americans that the expression “settlement blocs” does not exist, thus chucking out one of the few remaining bases for a semblances of consensus in Israel regarding the future of the territories.
During his speech later on he stated that there would be no more removals of settlements, adding in an offhand manner – “neither Jewish nor Arab” – without adding the adjective “legal” before “settlements” (Netanyahu should be reminded of this statement the next time the courts have to deal with the destruction of “illegal” Beduin settlements in Israel, the Jordan Valley and Area C of the West Bank).
So what did we finally get? A superfluous, disuniting state ceremony that cost the taxpayer NIS 10 million, that was boycotted by the president, Reuven Rivlin, the Supreme Court, all but one of the opposition MKs (Haim Yellin of Yesh Atid) and by most of the foreign ambassadors including that of the US, many of whom explained that they would not attend because the whole Jewish settlement project is illegal under international law. The event was not attended by several government ministers and many coalition MKs, on various excuses, but primarily because there isn’t even a consensus on this issue within the current coalition.
The ceremony itself, which I watched on Channel 20 (the only TV channel to broadcast it) was rather pathetic, with many empty seats, an unsuccessful attempt by some of the performers to get the unresponsive audience to join in the singing, old-fashioned staging and effects, and a pale and coughing prime minister, delivering a poorly written speech, full of clichés and factual inaccuracies. The leader of the opposition had not been invited to speak, and was among those boycotting the event.
What will the long-term effects of the ceremony be? It will certainly be used by those who seek to weaken the Supreme Court to further delegitimize it, even though Naor’s conduct was impeccable. In my opinion it should be used by the opposition parties in their next election campaign to try to convince the public that the current government, with its current leadership and make-up, must be replaced by one that will not bear the names of “mamlachtiyut” and “national unity” in vain.