Reforms by Netanyahu are threatening the foundations of Israel’s democracy
“Bibis, King of Israel,” Netanyahu told the Israeli Parliament after his lands-return-to-Janesia election
Netanyahu consolidated the right-wing vote by campaigning against the ruling coalition that deposed him, which included an Arab political party for the first time in Israel’s history. He called to return “national pride” in a Jewish state and impose tougher law enforcement against Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
It’s a blow to Israel’s anti-Netanyahu bloc of parties, led by centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid, which unseated Netanyahu last year after he spent more than a decade in power and currently faces trial for alleged corruption.
“We are on the cusp of a very big victory,” Netanyahu — known by his nickname Bibi — told supporters after exit polls were released. “Bibi, King of Israel,” they cheered.
Two ultra-Orthodox parties have a long list of demands and the new prime minister is beholden to them. He is a minority within his own government because the rightwingers and ultras have as many or more seats as he did.
“My hopes were that the Jews would win and Judaism would lose, but we won in the end,” said Netanyahu voter Haim Asher. It doesn’t matters who is the prime minister. We want a Jewish identity in the country.”
Far- right leaders danced with supporters at campaign headquarters after exit polls were published. “Death to terrorists,” activists chanted during a speech by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right politician hostile to Palestinians. Netanyahu has promised to appoint him as a Cabinet minister.
“I woke up into a nightmare. It was hard for Asmaa Alkadi, a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel who works for a group that promotes Arab-Jewish equality, to wake up. After her get-out-the-vote effort in Arab communities, she says she is considering quitting the group, disillusioned by the election results.
Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President: A Commentary on the The End of Greatness: Why Israel is a Democracy and a Jewish State
The self-inflicted damage would be breathtaking. The proposed reforms would weaken the judicial system to the point of making it harder for Netanyahu to get a fair trial because of his ongoing corruption trial.
“It’s a government that’s expected to have an unprecedented agenda that will, if implemented, contribute to an erosion of Israeli democracy,” Plesner says.
Those who care about the country, a technological and military power far beyond what its close to 10 million population suggests, should understand how dire this moment is. Israel is currently a democracy and a viable economy and Jewish state in the future.
The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President was written by a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Miller worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more about it on CNN.
Possibly, Bill Murray could have been hired as a technical adviser to the Central Elections Committee if he had not been on Saturday Night Live. It was thought that Israel would get another hung election, the fifth in just four years, based on pre-election polling.
The election for Netanyahu was very important. Had he not secured a majority he would have had to face the consequences of a guilty verdict or a plea bargain, which could have driven him away from politics.
The left and center-left in Israel once dominated by the iconic Labor Party, the driving political force for the first three decades of independence, has been reduced to a shadow of its former self with just a handful of seats in the Knesset.
Gvir, at 46, is just starting his rise in Israeli politics, and he now has a partner-rival in Netanyahu. If Netanyahu tries to forge a partnership with the centrist party of Giddish, it should be no surprise since he is trying to stop Gvir and save the nation.
This kind of government might not last, that’s what one might think. But there may be more that binds this coalition together than divides it. The two Orthodox parties were unable to control the legislature and are trying to get support for their religious schools and institutions.
The main issue is a proposed “override clause” enabling the Knesset, which because of Israel’s electoral system is an extension of the executive, to veto court decisions. Also planned is legislation enabling the government to appoint the judiciary directly and politicize the civil service.
If there is a serious confrontation with the Palestinians in the West Bank or Jerusalem, relations with Israel’s Arab citizens will likely suffer as there will be fewer resources for their community.
There will be some constraints on the government’s behavior. Netanyahu doesn’t want a confrontation with Hamas or Hezbollah. The recent concluded maritime boundary agreement with Lebanon is among the things that he’ll want to preserve.
But even without being tethered to the extremist Gvir, Netanyahu’s relations with Biden would have been difficult as their views on settlements, treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and building in Jerusalem would have clashed.
America’s leaders should say that these moves are troubling. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to the liberal advocacy group J Street on December 4, in which he stated that the United States would not deal with individual Israelis. Since the new government hasn’t been formed, the State Department doesn’t have a defined position, but the administration is already discussing how to manage meetings with the most extreme members of the new cabinet.
Editor’s Note: Dan Perry was The Associated Press’ top editor in the Middle East, based in Cairo between 2012 and 2018, and before that he led the AP in Europe and Africa from London. He is an author and the chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
(Netanyahu has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence and labeled the court proceedings against him a “witch hunt.” Notably, he insisted throughout the 2022 campaign that no hasty and extreme assault on the judicial system, nor any machinations to end his trial, would take place.)
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In a country without a real constitution (instead, a series of “basic laws” that are easy to enact and alter) and with a unicameral parliament, this could easily mean the end of civil rights and minority guarantees. If a government were to not implement dangerous abuses of power without judicial review, then it would solely be because they chose not to do so.
Netanyahu’s allies believe the Israeli people have spoken. But the ruling coalition won just a thin majority (64 seats out of 120) in the Knesset, resting largely on the fact that two opposition parties — which unwisely splintered — barely missed the 3.25% threshold for getting into parliament.
Polls show only about a quarter of people want the reforms implemented. Hundreds of thousands have joined the demonstrations. Opponents include not only top judicial figures but also almost all the ex-heads of the security establishment — the military, the Mossad intelligence agency, the Shin Bet domestic security service and the police. 400 officials signed a letter warning of damage for generations.
The court system has been considered the main protectors of 3 million West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians who have not been able to vote for 55 years because of Israel’s rule. Given this, plus separate but related plans to increase Jewish settlement activity and hand most dealings with the Palestinians to the country’s top nationalists, the military warns a third Palestinian uprising is imminent.
Leading figures in the technology sector, which contributes a sixth of Israel’s economy, a quarter of income tax revenue, and half of exports, are some of the doomsayers. Hundreds of major multinationals have research centers in Israel, many of which are Fortune 500 companies. These companies — from Meta and Google to Intel and Apple — are a top driver of the economy.
The former head of the Bank of Israel warned that the country was in danger of losing everything as S&P said the legislative reforms would negatively affect Israel’s credit rating. Money has already begun flowing out of the country amid fears a collapse of rule of law would undermine contractual law and property rights.
Over 75 years of Israeli statehood, the Supreme Court has only interfered with law 22 times, mostly involving civil rights. There were three cases where security issues were involved.
Netanyahu’s propaganda also claims Supreme Court judges currently “self-select themselves.” But judges are appointed by Israel’s President, from shortlists drawn up by three members of the nine-member Judicial Selection Committee, which includes three of the Court’s justices alongside four politicians and two members of the Bar Association. The government would appoint all of them under the proposed system.
Opponents of the plan speak of fleeing the country en masse should it succeed. The collective threat to Israel from its remaining Arab enemies and security establishment is clear considering the outrage over their disenfranchisement by the West Bank Palestinians.
Bennett is a responsible person, but he is a nationalist. Anyone interested in the long-term stability of a nuclear power would be wise to speak up.
This is a unique moment in history, fascinating and horrifying, when an important country in an unstable region is at risk of undoing itself.