Right-Wing Dead Enders Block Peoples Business — in D.C. and Jerusalem

Beltway Battle Over Judicial Confirmations Echoes in Israel

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By J.J. Goldberg

Published November 22, 2013.
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Nitzan joined the AG’s staff a year ago, after 15 years in the state prosecutor’s office. His specialties were national security cases and government scandals. He oversaw the rape prosecution of then-president Moshe Katsav and defended the state in controversial lawsuits over Shin Bet torture and targeted assassinations.

He’s best known, though, for overseeing law enforcement in Jewish West Bank settlements. He outraged the settler movement with actions like the mass arrests of pro-settler activists obstructing the 2005 Gaza disengagement, as well as the use of administrative detention against suspected West Bank Jewish terrorists. He allegedly ordered the interrogation of several leading rabbis on suspicion of incitement (none were ultimately indicted) for endorsing “The King’s Torah,” the 2009 book justifying the murder of Arabs.

Dozens of rabbis have signed statements denouncing him as an “enemy of Torah.” His home has been targeted by demonstrations and at least one break-in. In 2011 he was assigned a bodyguard after a YouTube video called for his assassination. His nomination for state prosecutor, announced November 19, brought howls of protest. Lawmakers from the settler-led Jewish Home party and the right wing of the Likud are calling him an “extreme leftist” who used his office to pursue a personal vendetta against settlers.

Nitzan is the latest in a long line of justice appointees, including judges and attorneys general, who’ve incurred the wrath of the right, the settler leadership and parts of the Haredi Orthodox community. It’s all part of an ongoing dispute over the legitimacy of Knesset laws and court rulings that rabbis say conflict with Orthodox ritual law. Issues range from dismantling settlements and due process for terrorism suspects to civil rights of Arab Israelis, religious freedoms for non-Orthodox Judaism and drafting of yeshiva students.

After years of defeats by judges who consistently uphold secular law, settler and Haredi leaders have more recently set their sights on changing the professional committees that choose the judges and prosecutors. The Nitzan nomination is just the latest rebuff, and for some conservatives, one of the most galling.

The issues at stake in D.C. appeals court battle aren’t the same, but the underlying conflict — a clash of warring value systems — is nearly identical. The D.C. circuit gave the Obama administration two signal victories, ruling Obamacare constitutional and permitting the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases. On nearly every other front, though, it’s been a determined foe.

In the past two years alone, the court has overturned the Obamacare birth control mandate, struck down EPA rules on toxic air pollution crossing state lines, overruled a new FDA-ordered health warning on cigarette packages and ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to move forward on a controversial nuclear waste disposal site.

It’s blocked several Obama recess appointments that were meant to fill vacancies that were crippling the National Labor Relations Board. It struck down an NLRB requirement that employees’ rights be posted in the workplace.

And, in perhaps most telling act of cultural rebellion, Bush appointee Janice Rogers Brown seized on a minor dispute over regulation of interstate milk sales last year to declare war on the modern regulatory and welfare state. Since the 1930s, she wrote in a stinging opinion — a concurrence that can now be cited in future court rulings — economic liberty has been “disarmed by a democratic process” that’s dominated by “powerful groups” who steal from honest businesspeople in pursuit of “redistribution.” The result of all this unconstitutional regulation and taxation, she wrote, is that “property is at the mercy of the pillagers.”

That’s the sober, cautious, “careful legal reasoning” the Republicans want to protect. The words may differ, but the music is universal. Fundamentalism sounds pretty much the same wherever you go.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com

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