Before last week, Yuli Edelstein would have been remembered as an Israeli statesman, a Soviet Prisoner of Zion and an Israeli hero.
But then, he decided to undermine the rule of law in Israel and knowingly harm Israel’s democratic character. As five Supreme Court justices wrote on Monday: “The continued refusal to allow a vote in the Knesset plenum to elect a new speaker undermine the foundations of the democratic process.”
Edelstein would argue that his refusal to allow a vote to choose his successor was essentially an attempt to stall for time so a national unity government could be established, something that most Israelis would like to see. He would also say that his decision to quit the post on Wednesday – a resignation that only goes into effect after 48 hours – was a way to try and avoid defying the court’s ruling.
But that is sugarcoating what really happened. Edelstein knowingly defied the Supreme Court and did what the Likud has claimed it would do for years – work to undermine the separation of powers in Israel and the court’s independence.
For those who carefully track the slow erosion of Israel’s democracy in recent years, this should come as no surprise. The current justice minister, Amir Ohana, said after taking up his post in June that not all of the Supreme Court’s rulings need to be obeyed. Basically that is like the chief of police saying that not all murderers need to be arrested.
Sadly, Edelstein proved him right on Wednesday. What he did joins other initiatives being promoted by the Likud to pass laws that would enable the Knesset to bypass the Supreme Court.
This is not to say there isn’t legitimate criticism of the Supreme Court. There is. For many years, the court has weighed in on issues that should have been beyond its purview and jurisdiction. The way justices are selected – behind closed doors with no public oversight – is wrong and needs to be rectified.
But as President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday night: “Even if someone is of the opinion that the court is wrong in its conduct, whatever the disagreement between us, we must always ensure that the rules of democracy, without which we are destroyed, are upheld.”
Rivlin could not be more right and Edelstein more wrong. Israel is in the midst of an unprecedented national health crisis alongside the rest of the world. Our political leaders need to behave responsibly and understand that while the battle against the coronavirus continues, their job is to ensure our democracy remains intact. This is the time to reinforce our democracy and to safeguard it.Edelstein failed that on Wednesday. Let’s hope this is the last time.