Ari Shavit
Haaretz (Opinion)
November 17, 2011 - 1:00am

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to his senses at the last minute. He remembered that he's a Jabotinsky-ist and a democrat, so he blocked the bill that would have subordinated the judicial authority to the elected authority.

But the bill that is designed to interfere harshly in choosing the Supreme Court president was passed. The bill that is designed to harm the funding of human rights organizations was almost passed. Channel 10 is still being pursued.

In the past month, the evil spirit of the evil right has turned the Netanyahu government into an evil and backward government. Contrary to the teachings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Likud has begun behaving like Yisrael Beiteinu. Contrary to the heritage of Menachem Begin, the Knesset has begun passing laws like those of Russia's Duma. Contrary to everything Theodor Herzl believed in, Israel has begun to resemble Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Netanyahu has had very few close friends in his life. One of these couldn't bear what was happening and sent a letter to his childhood pal, the kind of letter he had never sent before.

"I know and remember well the liberal values that you were brought up on, in your house on Haportzim Street and during your youth in the United States," prominent Jerusalem gynecologist Uzi Beller wrote. "I refuse to believe that your opinions and worldviews identify with the destructive steps that are splitting the nation, harming freedom of expression ... threatening our existence as a free country and tremendously damaging our image in the enlightened world.

"Bibi, don't be afraid. Gather around you the sane and liberal Zionist forces from the right and left and go forth to defend the State of Israel's image and character .... Don't let the terrible forces of right-wing religious and messianic fanaticism smash the wonderful Zionist dream .... Don't let them make us - that large part of the population that carries the state on its shoulders - fear the kind of country Israel will be for our children and grandchildren.

"I reiterate, Bibi, don't be concerned. The nation and history will remember you as the person who at the very last moment saved the country from the annihilation of the enlightened Zionist dream, and not, heaven forbid, as the one who allowed the antiliberal forces of darkness to erode Israeli statesmanship ... and turn it into a fanatical and reactionary country that has been struck by paranoid insanity."

Netanyahu would do well to read the letter from his friend Beller closely. At stake is Israeli democracy: protecting the separation of powers, the rule of law, civil rights and freedom of the press. At stake is also the Jewish state's status as a Western democracy. Israel's alliance with the United States and Europe is based on shared values, and harming these values will erode the alliance.

But at stake above all is the feeling of belonging of Israel's enlightened elite. This elite has been defeated in the battle for peace and against the settlements. It has lost control of the country and lost its public hegemony. All it has left is a free Israeli society and Israel's identity as a democratic country. A frontal attack on freedom and democracy will lead to a situation where that elite will simply not be here. It will hand over the keys to the Putinists, the Shas party and the settlers, and leave them to enjoy one another's company.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Likud MKs Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin enjoy mocking the elite in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood. But without the elite of Rehavia, Ramat Aviv and Ra'anana, Israel would have no existence. Without left-wing scientists, left-wing intellectuals and left-wing high-tech entrepreneurs, Israel would be a backward country, weak and pathetic. It would not be able to rule over Judea and Samaria, it would not be able to defend itself against Iran, and it would not survive in the storms of the Middle East.

So the time has come for Netanyahu to listen to Uzi Beller, as well as to his party colleagues Reuven Rivlin, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor. The time has come for him to return to the values of Herzl, Jabotinsky and Begin. Go back to Rehavia, Bibi. Rehavia may be a place for bleeding hearts, but Rehavia is enlightenment and strength. In your better days, Rehavia is also you.


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