A handful of Likud and Israel Beiteinu backbenchers enjoy the dubious distinction
of being the authors of a series of antidemocratic bills that have swept the
current Knesset. Public criticism notwithstanding, all signs indicate that these
MKs’ destructive legislative efforts have only been redoubled since the
beginning of the winter session of parliament just three weeks ago, producing at
least two new deeply troubling bills.
An old expression comes to mind
with regard to these lawmakers: “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw
In the two-and-a-half years since their election, lawmakers
including coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, Ophir Akunis, Danny Danon and Yariv
Levin of the Likud, and David Rotem, Faina Kirschenbaum and other MKs from
Yisrael Beiteinu, have applied themselves assiduously to advancing a number of
anti-democratic bills. It is inconceivable that they should have done so without
at the very least the tacit approval of their party leaders, Binyamin Netanyahu
and Avigdor Lieberman.
The most recent example is the bill approved
Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. This bill was drafted
putatively to prevent foreign governments from meddling in domestic Israeli
politics, which in itself appears to be a legitimate goal. However, the bill was
designed in a way that starves only NGOs associated with leftwing causes of
funding, while curiously leaving the foreign funding of rightwing NGOs
Another example is last year’s so-called “Nakba bill,” which
allows the state to withhold funds from groups that do not toe the line of the
Zionist majority in Israel. Sanctimonious arguments were aired to justify this
bill, claiming that its goal was to liberate the state from an untenable
obligation to subsidize supposedly anti-Israel activity of the country’s Arab
“fifth column” and its treacherous Jewish supporters.
Even if viewed in
isolation, that argument indisputably is predicated on accepting the
anti-democratic premise that all Israelis have to endorse certain
government-approved views about Israel’s past, present and future to make them
eligible for state funding.
The spuriousness of the self-defense argument
shines through all the more clearly when viewed in broader context of other
anti-democratic legislation that has been put forward by this Knesset to quash
freedom of speech. In the broader legislative context it is hard to view this
bill anything but a blatant effort to silence the defiant voices of political
dissent on the far Left and mainly from the Arab minority.
example is the new bill that would oblige candidates for the Supreme Court to
undergo a qualifying hearing before a select group of
politicians. Supporters of the bill compare their proposal to
Western-style checks and balances on the court’s power, but this argument is
Currently, the Judges Selection Committee has a
carefully-balanced set of representatives from the coalition and the opposition,
the Israel Bar Association and the judiciary, which keeps the power of each
group in check. The new bill is geared to provide politicians from the governing
coalition with the prerogative to disqualify candidates based on their political
views.Even prominent government figures, such Ehud Barak and Gidon Sa’ar, reject
the comparison to the American system, for example, and contend that the
revision is geared to intimidate the judiciary.
THE ABOVE-cited acts of
legislation, three out of numerous others, pose a real threat to democracy and,
by extension, to all minority groups in Israel.
structured to allow for the opinion of the majority to prevail, but they are
also are designed protect the rights of minority groups against potential
tyranny by the majority. The bills in question were intentionally crafted
to undercut precisely this protection against tyranny.
lawmakers and their myopic leaders, Netanyahu and Lieberman, fail to realize as
they heedlessly exploit their current majority, is that by so doing they are
endangering all Israelis, themselves included, and not only their political
adversaries on the reviled Left and the non-Zionist Arab sector. As they
flex their political muscles and trample underfoot the protection afforded their
opponents, they blithely forget that today’s majority is tomorrow’s minority and
It is true that the Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and their other
coalition partners have a firm majority in the Knesset. As such, it is certainly
within their power to outlaw the funding of NGOs they find politically
distasteful, to allow for funding to be withheld from anyone who dares to
challenge the Zionist narrative.
They currently have the ability to
promote bills that are geared to turn the Supreme Court into a “cowed branch of
the political majority,” as the Likud’s own Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar
pithily described the risk posed by making a Supreme Court appointment
contingent upon “passing” a hearing held by politicians.
Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and their partners have a majority. However, none
of the parties in that coalition can claim to hold the support of a majority of
the population. Each party unto itself is a minority voice in Israel. Moreover,
the collective majority they currently enjoy as a coalition government is
destined eventually to come to an end, as always happens in a democracy. What
will they do when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot?
MKs and their party leaders, intoxicated by the political power afforded them by
their majority in the Knesset, ought to be reminded that their hold on power is
temporary. They seem to have forgotten that the Likud was swept into power in
1977 following 29 years of uninterrupted Mapai hegemony, proving that a
previously unthinkable reversal of political fortunes could come to
Since then, the shifting strokes of the pendulum have become more
frequent. Rabin led the Labor movement back into power in 1992, sending
the Likud into the opposition. Netanyahu turned around and won a majority in the
1996 elections, only to lose it three years later back to Ehud Barak and the
Labor Party. The Likud, which currently is the largest party in the coalition
and the second-largest party in the Knesset, received a mere 12 seats in the
2006 elections. Kadima, which received the largest number of seats in the
current Knesset, is now trailing in the polls now in third and fourth
place.Sic transit gloria mundi
(Thus passes the glory of the world).
That applies to everyone.
Anyone foolish enough to exploit their fleeting
democratic power to undercut the protection provided the weak members of the
current minority ultimately will succeed only in endangering all members of
society, themselves included.
Anti-democratic legislation by definition
jeopardizes the very existence of government by democracy, which, for all its
flaws, is the best system available to all of us. Since at one point or another
in the course of this democratic game we all have to play the role of being the
minority, none of us should throw stones at the glass walls of democracy that
protect those minority rights.The writer is a veteran Israeli writer and