This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on January 26, 2023.
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dan Diker and Talia Sasson, former head of the Special Tasks Division of the State Attorney’s Office and past board president of the New Israel Fund, engaged in a spirited yet respectful discussion at the Jerusalem Post Democracy 2023 Conference on Tuesday.
In a conversation moderated by Post deputy CEO for strategy and innovation Maayan Hoffman, Diker and Sasson talked about how Israel should be discussed in light of current efforts to reform the judicial system and major demonstrations that have been held in opposition to those proposed changes.
“It is extremely important what is said about Israel and, even more important, what Israel says about itself and about its adversaries,” Diker said. “We have seen violent rhetoric in Israel over recent issues, whether it is about judicial reform or the Palestinian issue.
“If Israel delegitimizes itself by using language that its harshest enemies have used against, it will inflame antisemitism abroad and will increase Israel’s isolation in international organizations. Israel should be careful about its rhetoric and be very vigilant about what its enemies are saying about it.”
Sasson responded, noting that since Israel depends on the world, especially the United States and Europe, it must listen carefully to what is being said about it in those countries.
“This is why it is so important for us to be aligned with the Western world, especially when we are talking about democracy in Israel,” she said. “We have to maintain our democracy for us and for the vision of the state of Israel in the world and the international community. Today, everything is outside in the streets, and the problem is not in rhetoric but in the reality.”
Sasson added that when a bipartisan group of US senators visited Israel recently, they announced that they would not meet with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (Otzma Yehudit) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionist Party) because of their extremist views.
“This is the face of the government,” she said. “Homophobic and fascist. This is not how the government of Israel should be seen in the world and how it should be.”
Diker responded, “When we Israelis refer to ourselves as having fascist government ministers, we are treading on very dangerous ground. When we use the language of Israel’s harshest enemies from the Iranian regime – Hezbollah, Hamas and the PA, which have accused Israel of being fascist – we are engaging in self-annihilation. In political warfare that has been foisted on Israel for decades, words are weapons and Israel must not become the ‘weapons supplier’ of its enemies.”
Sasson replied, saying it is more important to stop what she termed the government’s “wicked behavior” than to stop using critical language.
In response to Hoffman asking how the battle for Israel should be conducted in the public sphere, Sasson said, “We will continue to fight for democracy. We won’t rest until we have democracy and our basic values.”
Diker said the question is one of degree.
“Israel is a vibrant democracy,” he said. “The question at hand is what the balance of the democracy should be. It is not as if there will be or won’t be democracy. At the end of the day, it is important to speak loudly and confidently about our rights and our responsibilities as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. Stand up for freedom and stand up for democracy.”