Do the right thing, Yuli Edelstein

This country needs an active Knesset. It needs oversight and the democratic wheels need to continue spinning.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaks in a Knesset press conference after Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon issued a controversial on Prime Minister Netanyahu's immunity request, January 12, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaks in a Knesset press conference after Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon issued a controversial on Prime Minister Netanyahu's immunity request, January 12, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein suspended Knesset activities last week in an effort to prevent the new parliament from voting on his replacement.
His decisions have been protested and questioned by civil rights groups as well as the Supreme Court and add to a sense that the current state of emergency is being exploited to erode democratic norms in the State of Israel.
Israel has been through numerous emergencies in the past, from the War of Independence, through the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the Second Intifada in the 2000s.
What distinguishes us from other countries in the Middle East is that our democracy has always been non-negotiable. Israel may have reduced civil liberties at times but the trend has always been to adhere to our democracy and not let states of emergency rule over the people. We fight the emergency while we maintain our democratic character. We don’t let one take over the other.
For this to happen, it is important during times of crises that the Knesset continue to operate. Countries are judged not by what they do in time of peace but how they adhere to their principles and standards during difficulty. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the battle against the novel coronavirus as war. If that is true, then the Knesset is needed now more than ever.
Unfortunately, a year of endless elections has led the ruling party to often feel that it can govern without a Knesset and that endless elections can replace the need for a robust opposition and accountability to the people. There is no reason that the virus should keep the Knesset from functioning. We are among the most hi-tech nations in the world. How can our government boast of being a leader in technology and cyber and not be able to figure out how to have remote parliamentary meetings? We can bring citizens home on unprecedented flights from Australia and Peru, but can’t get a Knesset speaker to the podium?
Edelstein has sought to keep the Knesset from meeting and voting on a new speaker. This is not what he should want to be remembered for. Until now, he would have been remembered as a good speaker, a statesman and an oleh with extraordinary Zionist life story. The high-point of Zionism is to be a free people in our land under a democratic Jewish state where the people elect their leaders. He knows that which is why he should do the right thing on Wednesday and let the Knesset hold a vote for a new speaker.
In addition to Edelstein, the prime minister is also moving close to eroding basic aspects of this country’s democracy under the guise of fighting a pandemic. The pandemic can be fought without Netanyahu at the helm. At every opportunity he has sought to hijack the narrative to make it seem that he alone can deal with the crisis. This is meant to create an impression that his trial and the indictments against him are a coup meant to prevent him from saving lives.
This country needs an active Knesset. It needs oversight and the democratic wheels need to continue spinning. A pandemic does require tough decisions but it does not mean that we need to sacrifice the state’s basic character. Unfortunately, short-term political shenanigans are preventing basic work from being done. Likud accuses Blue and White of trampling traditions. But the greatest tradition of the Knesset is to have it function even during difficult times and arguments. Never should it be shut down.
Now is the time for the vision of the founders of the state to be realized. Even if we face the kind of crisis Netanyahu has described – the potential for 1 million infections and more than 10,000 dead – the Knesset must be active. We need all hands on deck to keep the boat afloat in this ocean of uncertainty that has suddenly washed over the world. Do the right thing, Edelstein. Stop blocking the Knesset.