'Israel is in a battle with itself over basic values'

Interview: Dan Meridor


When Dan Meridor talks about the importance of politicians saying things that "have to be said", no matter how unpopular those statements might be, there is no reason to doubt his sincerity.

The former lawmaker, who served as Israeli justice minister and deputy prime minister in a long and prestigious political career, exited the Likud list in 2012 amid rows with fellow party members over their attempts to limit the powers of the Supreme Court and crack down on civil-rights NGOs.

"I lost my seat because of my positions on the rule of law," he said.

Speaking ahead of a public Q&A session on "Israel and the Changing Middle East - Threats and Opportunities" at City University in London this week, he argues that Likud and a large section of Israel's body politic have become dominated by people who "do not understand democracy.

"Likud was a unique mix of two great ideas. The liberal idea of the rule of law, human rights, of the importance of the individual; and the national story of the Jews.

"This delicate balance was led by Menachem Begin when he headed Likud. He was a great defender of Supreme Court… This balance has been disturbed in favour of more nationalistic, national-religious ideas.

"This is why I found myself not fitting this party and that is why I do not represent them any more."

According to Mr Meridor, who was born into a family steeped in Likud ideology - his father, Eliyahu, was an activist and MK from the Herut Party, Likud's precursor - his own disaffection with his party embodies a battle over Israel's core values, and one that continues to rage.

He cites the current dispute between Moshe Yaalon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the defence minister's public insistence that soldiers who are accused of shooting dead wounded terrorists should not be spared prosecution as an example of that conflict.

In a similar vein, Mr Meridor defends the recent Yom Hashoah address by IDF Deputy Chief Yair Golan, who warned about Israel taking on some of the characteristics of 1930s German society, only for him to then be accused of interfering in politics and handing a PR coup to Israel's enemies.

"Golan was not going to talk about tanks and F16s. Of course he's going to talk about the lessons of the Shoah. This was not politics. These were our basic values, that we are against racism and for human rights."

"There is a fight over the basic values of our society. Golan did not say anything someone could dispute."

Mr Meridor's attack on today's political mainstream goes further. For him, there are currently "no goals, and therefore no strategy" on solving the conflict with the Palestinians.

"In the long run, we are at risk of creating a bi-national state with unequal rights, which is a very dangerous development."

What, then, is his suggestion?

"We should go to the go to the Security Council with our proposal, which calls on the PLO to negotiate. Borders should be based on 1967 with changes to be agreed, and this should be an end-of-conflict deal. If they don't agree, at least people know where the blame lies."

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