The great strength of Yom Kippur lies in its ability to unite, even if only momentarily, two of the greatest rivals in Israeli society. On the eve of the holy day, we sat opposite Simcha Rothman, Chairman of the Constitution Committee and one of the leaders of the legal reform legislation, and one of the founders of Brothers in Arms, Ron Scharf, who led many protests this year, including blocking roads outside Rothman's home.
Exclusive confrontation between the founder of Brothers in Arms and Simcha Rotman // Yoni Rikner
Bridging them was an impossible task. The walls in the room shook when the confrontation erupted. "Pit," "superficial," "liar," "rude," "power-drunk," "anarchist," and "I'm kidding you" were some of the teases that were hurled throughout their conversation. Still, under the influence of the approaching Yom Kippur, the heated encounter actually ended with an exchange of mutual words of appreciation and a handshake.
Want unlimited power
The charged meeting between them, initiated by Israel Hayom this week in the Constitutional Committee room, didn't need much to get heated. The tones came up immediately at the beginning of their conversation, when they were both asked to describe what the other person meant to him.
"Joy in my eyes is the instigator of the regime coup. A power-drunk man who, for unlimited power, is willing to plunge the country I love into total chaos, burn it down and tear the people apart," Ron Scharf, a lieutenant colonel (res.) who served in Sayeret Matkal, began.
"Ron represents to me a profound contempt for the people of Israel – its choice, its desires, its perceptions – and he is trying to act forcefully and in violation of the law in order to impose its positions on the people," Rothman replied. "The struggle is not about reform, but about whether the majority of the Israeli people are accepted as legitimate."
Ron, what are you fighting for? What scares you about Rothman?
Scharf: "Your reform is dead. If you listen to Netanyahu's lies in English and Hebrew, then it doesn't exist anymore. But joy, you proved in the High Court hearing that this is not about reform. You are challenging the basic values of the State of Israel according to the Declaration of Independence, which are Jewish and democratic.
Rothman: "If it wasn't for your protest, it would have been harder for me to get 64 fingers for reasonableness, but gratifying," Photo: Jonathan Zindel
"The reform is not intended to benefit the court, it is intended to change the court in order to allow you and your friends unlimited power to advance your policy – the ultra-Orthodox evasion law, Smotrich the decisive plan, you aspire to a halakhic state. You want to release Amiram Ben Uliel and recruit him."
Rothman: "I'm glad you're reading from the reporter, because then I may be convinced that whoever wrote this to you believes what he wrote."
Scharf: "I wrote it. I learned from Biden to come neat with points in writing. You want to create a court that will allow you to do things that no liberal person will agree to, and the price you pay along the way is a rift in the people that most of the public fears."
Rothman: "I will try to make my statements backed up by facts. It's not clear to me where the talk about recruiting Ben Uliel comes from. Knowledge is power, but ignorance is also power. I feel that your ignorance is power."
Scharf: "I knew that after four minutes insults would begin. You're a personal beginner straight away."
Rothman: "You don't have a conversation with me, you live with a message sheet, and anything someone says you immediately connect with me – that's how you can't have a conversation."
Scharf: "So let's go to the merits of the matter."
Rothman: "The purpose of the reform is not to benefit the court. We never hid it, the goal is to benefit the people."
Scharf: "If the government tries to cancel any criticism of itself – because it knows, for example, that it does not have a majority of the people for the decisive plan – then where is the judicial review here?"
Rothman: "I don't have to obey the High Court of Justice, I obey the law. If the High Court rules according to the law, great."
Rothman: "On the whole issue of human rights, we didn't touch even a little on judicial review, not even a little."
Scharf: "What about an override clause?"
Rothman: "The Override Clause deals with the question of who decides when human rights violations are legitimate and when not – it should be in the hands of the people. Even in an override clause that was proposed that was not promoted, we limited it so that if the Knesset overcomes the court, then the law becomes permanent only after another election. You ask who is visiting us? People. Is that power intoxication?"
Scharf: "You are misleading the public. You wanted, and failed, to pass measures that eventually gave unlimited power to the government.
"In Israel's fragile democracy, the one who protects the small citizen is the court.
"The gay man who has a problem with the government, who will he turn to? To Pindros? The woman who will be passed from behind on the bus, who will she turn to? The Arab resident who will have his land taken away, who will he turn to? You? The people cannot decide for all minorities.
"I am afraid that you will disconnect from the people, that you will have unlimited power, and in the end the elections will be canceled. We heard proposals to take over the Central Elections Committee."
Rothman: "If they harm the integrity of the elections, I will fight it with all my might."
The difference between an anarchist and a liberal
The differences of opinion between the two – a Religious Zionist MK on the one hand, and a reservist who announced a cessation of volunteering due to the former's actions on the other – are a good representation of the current situation in the country.
At the height of the controversy. Scharf and Rotman Photos: Oren Ben Hakon, Photo: Oren Ben Hakon
"Are you aware that the country is burning? You are burning down the country," Scharf accused Rothman of direct responsibility for the widening rift within the nation.
Rothman: "I'm not burning the country, it's burning because of you. How many people have you called not to serve in the army? How many people have you blocked your home for? How many social activists have you threatened? Didn't you attack the CEO of the Kohelet Forum?"
Scharf: "You're lying. I'm not a public servant on a committee that you can attack me like that. You're not threatening me. Relax. We did not call not to serve in the army. It's everyone's personal decision. I stopped volunteering only in June, after you passed the first law. We did not attack the CEO of the Kohelet Forum, but made a performance. What is the government doing for the public? You are in power, but you have harmed the economy and the army. You haven't done anything in governance."
Rothman: "When did you start Brothers in Arms? You didn't give the government 100 minutes of grace. Did you set it up because of the dollar rate? Because of governance? Enough with the. You're lying to me."
Scharf: "I founded Brothers in Arms the day after a press conference held by Levin, who stupidly and intoxicated announced the salami system and a plan to turn Israel into a dictatorship. Were you in the army? What did you do? Did you risk your life?"
Rothman: "I was a religious NCO. I risked my life during my military service, but not from my role as a religious NCO."
Scharf: "Joy in my eyes is a power-drunk man", Photo: Oren Ben Hakon
Scharf: "The army is built on unity among the people. The government is violating the contract, undermining the foundation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and I don't trust you to maintain that. Why should I let you keep the cream?"
Rothman: "Forgetful. Here's the truth, you don't trust me. A lot of things you said are not true, here's a true thing. You don't trust me, not because you don't trust any government, because then you're an anarchist."
Scharf: "I'm not an anarchist, I'm a liberal – unlike you."
Rothman: "You won't give me grades whether I'm a liberal or not. In my estimation, I'm more liberal than you, and you don't know about liberalism what I've forgotten."
Scharf: "You can't be a liberal. Are you in favor of LGBT rights so they can start a family?"
Rothman: "I am in favor of LGBT rights so that the state does not interfere in what a person does privately. Adoption of children exists today. Are you in favor of religious rights, which would allow separate prayer in Dizengoff Square? Not. So you're not a liberal."
Scharf: "Let them pray in separation where possible, and when it does not violate the rights of others. I don't impose my opinion. Why expropriate Dizengoff Square from others it harms?"
Rothman: "Ron represents a profound contempt for the people of Israel,"
Rothman: "You expropriate Kaplan every Saturday night."
Scharf: "I get permission from the police, I don't confiscate anything."
Rothman: "Then the religious will get permission from the police. Are you aware that the Tel Aviv municipality refused?"
Scharf: "I'm not the Tel Aviv municipality, but you're evading - are you in favor of full rights for LGBT people?"
Rothman: "I'm not evading, do you know what the problem is? Any answer that isn't on your messaging page isn't good for you. Your worldview is completely flat."
Scharf: "I knew you'd go back to personal. I'm much smarter than you and deeper than you."
Who will obey the High Court of Justice and when
In order to return to a substantive debate, in light of the noisy enthusiasm, we tried at this stage to focus the discussion on the concerns of opponents of the reform and their lack of trust in Rothman and his coalition partners.
Since legislative leaders believe that a court cannot intervene in Basic Laws, in the absence of a constitution or a legislative Basic Law, a government can in fact promote any law without criticism as long as it calls it a Basic Law. So how does Rothman interpret this?
Two of the biggest rivals in Israeli society: MK Simcha Rothman, one of the leaders of the legal reform, and Ron Scharf, one of the founders of Brothers in Arms,
"People often ask how much trust you have in the Knesset – I don't have confidence in the Knesset," Rothman explained. "My trust is in the party I elected, not in the Knesset as an institution. I also don't have confidence in the court because they act politically.
"The democratic system offers those who fear the power of a government the possibility of replacing it. Therefore, there are balances within the Knesset, and during my time in the opposition I managed to prevent many things."
Scharf: "What is actually happening is that because of the coalition system, you extremists are also taking over the Likud. Most of the Likud opposes the coup. Yariv Levin is the most hated person in the Likud, we did polls."
רוטמן: "הפסדתם בבחירות, אתם לא סומכים על השלטון ופה אני לחלוטין מזדהה איתך. כשהצד שלי מפסיד בבחירות, אני חרד למצב המדינה. זה קרה לנו באוסלו, חששנו. מחינו והפגנו בגלל הטרללת הזאת, אבל בשום שלב לא אמרנו: אין אמון בממשלה, אז אנחנו הולכים הביתה.
"אתם פוגעים במעמדה של ישראל בעולם, מוציאים את דיבת הארץ בתוכניות אמריקניות, פוגעים בכלכלה ובצה"ל.
"אתה בכלל אמרת שהרפורמה מתה, אז אני לא מאמין למילה אחת שלך. אתה לא שונא אותי, אתה אולי שונא את הציבור האדיר שבחר בי ואתה מנסה לקחת ממנו את הניצחון בבחירות ולפוצץ את המדינה כי הפסדתם בבחירות".
שרף: "אני שמרתי על התנחלויות תחת ממשלות ימין ושמאל. אני מכבד ממשלה מימין ומשמאל, אבל מעולם לא היה פה שינוי שיטת משטר. בפעולותיי אני מגן על ישראל, ואני אהיה הראשון שיחזור לשרת אם תגנזו את החוקים ותזרקו את הרפורמה לפח הזבל".
רוטמן: "אז המחויבות שלך היא על תנאי".
את הקרע היה קשה לאחות: הם התווכחו, עקצו, הקניטו וצעקו זה על זה. רוטמן ושרף,
Scharf: "Will you obey the High Court ruling?"
Rothman: "I don't have to obey the High Court of Justice, I obey the law. If the High Court rules according to the law, great, but if the High Court does not obey the law? What happens if the Supreme Court doesn't obey the law?"
Scharf: "There will be anarchy."
Rothman: I agree with you.
Scharf: "What law does the High Court not abide by?"
Rothman: "Basic Law: Judgment (Reasonableness)."
Scharf: "It's nonsense. You can do the Sewage Basic Law tomorrow in '61, you're creating anarchy."
Rothman: "You just said you stopped serving because we passed a law, so don't you dare talk to me about anarchy. You're an anarchist."
Scharf: "You're not even willing to say you'll obey the High Court. Why would a criminal obey the court if you're not willing to say you'll obey? Shame and disgrace. Shame on you."
Rothman: "By the way, if there wasn't your protest, it would have been much harder for me to get 64 fingers for reasonableness.
In between, they also tried to find a chance for compromise, to understand the other and to aspire to the days when there would be true unity here. Rotman and Scharf, Photo: Oren Ben Hakon
Scharf: "The protest is blocking the coup. Without the protest, you would be wallowing in your unlimited power."
Rothman: "What balances the Knesset is the elections. The government is balanced by the Knesset as well as the court. But what limits the court?"
Scharf: "The Law."
Rothman: "Fine, now the question arises: What happens when the High Court of Justice decides that the law does not require it?"
Scharf: "I don't see such a situation."
Rothman: "But that's what you asked me. If the High Court of Justice does not comply with Basic Law: Judiciary, which is the only mechanism that limits it, then it is like the dilemma you raised about what will happen if the Knesset cancels the elections. And I answer: It's anarchy."
Scharf: "So in your view, if the Supreme Court rules out the reasonableness, it's anarchy?"
Rothman: "Of course, a court that says 'a law does not restrict me' is a definition of anarchy, just like a Knesset that says elections do not limit it."
Scharf: "You're not willing to say you'll obey the court, because you're an outlaw."
"It's demagoguery." The confrontation between Scharf and Rotman, photo: Oren Ben Hakon
As Rothman began to answer, Scharf began to laugh.
"I see you're laughing," the MK remarked, to which Scharf replied: "I'm laughing at you."
Rothman: "If you're kidding me, then you can't continue the conversation."
Scharf: "The masks have been removed, you're not going to obey the law. You can make a Basic Law that will cancel the elections or violate minority rights."
Rothman: "You're violent, even if you didn't hit anyone. You are not a democrat, because you say that only parties you trust are allowed to make Basic Laws.
"You ask me theoretical questions about the annulment of elections and about human rights, but what happens if, in theory, the Supreme Court rules to stone LGBT people? Will you obey him?"
Rothman: "I know I won't obey, I don't know about you."
Scharf: "It's demagoguery."
Guarding the State of Israel
Last week, Ron Scharf's Brothers in Arms friends flew to New York to voice their protest in the city during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the UN General Assembly.
To demonstrate in the United States and wash all the dirty laundry of the State of Israel in front of all the eyes of the world is a wise move? Isn't it crossing a border to spark an international conversation about pilots being sent on missions that could harm children?
Scharf: "The one who chose the international arena is Netanyahu, who lies in all languages and goes on to give interviews only in the United States. In a democracy you can demonstrate wherever you want. The country is in existential danger because of Rothman, Levin and Netanyahu, and we are protecting it from them."
The intensity of protest and refusal can be like a pendulum. You are creating a situation in which in the future a public will come, decides, say, that evacuating settlements is a breach of an unwritten contract between it and the state, and will continue your line.
You don't have to obey the High Court of Justice. Supreme Court hearing, photo: Jonathan Zindel/Flash90
Scharf: "It tears me apart too. This is the rift in the nation, and most of the people are anxious about this rift. I trust the people and the public that this will happen only in such cases. I have no other answer."
There is agreement on this: a compromise must be made
Despite the discordant tones and blunt statements, Rothman and Scharf managed to find a small glimmer of optimism.
How do we continue to live together when the gaps between us are so extreme? I offer them a parallel world, in which at the push of a button anyone who disagrees with their opinion will disappear. Both refuse.
"We need a compromise," Scharf states, "a compromise with broad agreements. Why did you oppose the president's plan?"
Rothman: "How can we reach agreements with those who want a dictatorship? If I thought you really wanted a dictatorship, I wouldn't be ready for agreement and I would press the button that Ettinger asked about. The only reason I don't click is that I don't think you are. You are willing to compromise only on what you agree. How can there be a compromise if you don't believe me?"
Scharf: "We need a compromise. We will make guarantees, there is no choice. I'm not saying you won't get anything, but not at my expense."
Just before Yom Kippur, can you find something in the other person that you appreciate?
Scharf: "I appreciate that you went into public service to give your time for the public. I don't agree with a word you say, but it's a positive thing. I understand the feelings of a certain public that the court does not allow it to advance policy."
Rothman: "There are a lot of people who don't care about the country, so I really appreciate the care of Ron and other people who come out to protest for it."
They signed with a handshake. For now, just for the cameras, but maybe in the future it will be heartfelt.
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