And There Was No Referendum in Israel

Turning reality on its head, on presenting his new government to the Israeli Knesset, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) endangered the State of Israel.

Ariel Natan Pasko

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Turning reality on its head, on presenting his new government to the Israeli Knesset recently, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) endangered the State of Israel. Taking a page out of Joseph Goebbels's propaganda lessons, he continued to propagate the "big lie" that Kadima's election "victory" gave him the authority to carry out wide-ranging expulsions of more Jewish "settlers". He promised again not to hold a referendum on the issue.

Olmert, speaking via satellite to an Anti-Defamation League convention recently, said, "I wanted the elections to be a referendum on the plan I presented." He added that Kadima has such a mandate, and that he intends to use it effectively in order to implement his "Convergence Plan" and "create a new reality in the Middle East."

No matter what Olmert says, no matter what they tell you, no matter how much they lie, know that the elections were not a referendum for expelling more Jews from their homes. I can't understand why Benjamin Netanyahu, Nadia Matar ("Women in Green") and others on the Right (before the recent elections) also described it as a referendum on the withdrawal-expulsion issue.

Referenda simply are not carried out this way - without clear policy guidelines, without specifics (who exactly is going to get expelled, from where, and how much or how little compensation are they going to get).

For starters, let's look at Olmert's statement about the election being a referendum (don't misunderstand, I categorically deny that any particular generation of Jews has the right to give away parts of the G-d's Promised Land).

Kadima won only 29 out of 120 seats, or 24% of the vote. All the other parties that favor territorial compromise (Likud, Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and UTJ, Meretz, Labor, the Arab parties) do so only within a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority. They claim to be against a unilateralist policy such as Ehud "following in Sharon's footsteps" Olmert is promoting. Not only do many in the above-mentioned parties not believe that it's possible to achieve such a "negotiated final solution" with the Hamas-proto-Nazi PA, but many within Olmert's own Kadima party don't either. Even the "true believer" Shimon Peres has said as much.

Olmert's "referendum" was a complete flop. He lost it. Olmert's "referendum" was roundly defeated by 76% of the voting public.

When Ariel Sharon began promoting his Gaza Expulsion Plan, euphemistically called "Disengagement", opponents called for a referendum. Ministers in his government (including Olmert) spoke out against holding one. Then-Minister of National Infrastructure Yosef Paritzky claimed it contravened the democratic principles of the country. The justice minister at the time, Yosef Lapid, expressed his opposition to the referendum idea: "Such a move is not part of our democratic process." Both politicians had a point; modern Israel has never held a referendum.

A little history about the call for referenda in Israel. Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin - then a Knesset member - in the early 1950s opposed the deal that then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion worked out with West Germany to accept reparations after the Holocaust. Begin suggested a national referendum to allow the people to decide whether to accept them or not, but Ben-Gurion refused. In February 1958, Menachem Begin again suggested using referenda to decide various issues in the young Israeli democracy. Ben-Gurion's ruling party, Mapai, responded by calling the proposal "Bonapartist, fascist and totalitarian."

Certainly, referenda are neither fascist nor totalitarian. Referenda are used in many democratic states around the world to allow the citizens to directly decide important issues. For example, referenda have been used by European countries to decide whether to join the European Union, or once in, to adopt the European Monetary System and replace their national currency with the euro. Many states in the US use referenda for a whole host of issues, and the constitutional process of adopting a new state constitution itself can include a referendum of the voters.

But Olmert's "referendum" is more reminiscent of the "electoral process" of former totalitarian regimes (vote yes or no) such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq or the Former Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev. Olmert's claim that the election was a referendum on his Unilateral Expulsion Plan, now being called "Convergence", bolstered by Netanyahu's and Matar's politically immature pre-election statements, just goes to show how many Israelis live in La-La Land.

But truthfully, Israel has in fact held a referendum already on this issue.

In the Torah, after describing the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai comes the portion of Mishpatim - Laws (Exodus 21:1-24:18). In it, Moses conveys a long list of further rules and regulations (G-d's commandments) for the Children of Israel to live by, including torts and damages, criminal law, marital law and ritual law, the proscription of idolatry and the proper observance of Jewish holidays. Then, G-d promises military victory in the upcoming war, when He brings the Jewish People into the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

"Do not make a treaty with these nations...." (Exodus 23:32) "Do not allow them to reside in your land...." (Exodus 23:33) And it continues, "Moses wrote down all G-d's words," (Exodus 24:4) and then, "he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. They replied, 'Everything G-d declared, na'aseh v'nishma (we will do and obey).'" (Exodus 24:7)

There you have it, the description of the covenantal process between G-d and the Jewish People, with the Jews adopting the Torah as their constitution by national referendum.

So, it's not true that Israel has "never" held a referendum. When the Jews voted to accept the Torah-constitution for their nation and implemented the "promise to inherit the land" in the times of Joshua, they set down rules for the nation "for all time".

Everyone in the world knows that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish People. Christianity and Islam are built on Judaism, and both recognize this fact. The nations of the world, through the League of Nations and later the United Nations, gave its stamp of approval also.

Those who say "Israeli settlements" are a violation of "international law" or of the Geneva Convention simply don't know what they're talking about. The League of Nations' Palestine Mandate recognized the right of Jews to "close settlement on the land," and no later UN resolution has ever abrogated those rights. Even the 1947 Partition Plan into Arab and Jewish states assumed that Jews would continue to live in the Arab state, as Arabs would in the Jewish state. Hence, by Divine right, historical right and internationally recognized law, Jews may justly settle, build homes and towns, and live in all parts of their homeland, Israel, including in the areas liberated in 1967.

The use of referenda to generally resolve issues in Israel is perfectly democratic. It builds social solidarity and wide consensus, contrary to the views of the "people's representatives". But on the issue of territorial compromise and expulsion of Jews from their homes (such as happened in Gaza and northern Samaria, and as is now planned to be done in more of Judea and Samaria), something that gets to the heart of Israel's national existence, even democracy has its limits.

How many Americans would honor the outcome of a referendum in the US to return the "Occupied Territories" to Native American Indians, along with the concomitant expulsion of millions of black, white, Asian, and Hispanic "settlers"?

In any event, there is no legitimacy to such a referendum in Israel. The Jewish nation voted on it long ago, at Mt. Sinai.

(c) 2006/5766 Pasko