Yesh Atid's Boaz Toporovsky leading political battle against Netanyahu

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: While Toporovsky is not well known by the general public and maintains a low profile, he plays a key role in the Knesset.

 YESH ATID MK Boaz Toporovsky (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
YESH ATID MK Boaz Toporovsky
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

MK Boaz Toporovsky, is not your usual square politician. He has a diamond earring, for starters, and is about as jovial as a politician can be. If you meet him on the street, you may mistake him at first for a slick businessman or a real estate broker.

But while Toporovsky is not well known by the general public and maintains a low profile, he plays a key role in the Knesset. He was the coalition whip in the Bennett-Lapid government after Idit Silman left in April, and now serves as opposition coordinator. He is also chairman of the Yesh Atid Party, the No. 2 position in the party after its leader, Yair Lapid, and is Lapid’s confidant and chief negotiator.

Toporovsky, in short, knows about everything that goes on behind closed doors in the Knesset. He was the focal point of the previous coalition’s attempts to stay alive, and is now the point man and leader of the opposition’s efforts to oppose and eventually overthrow the Netanyahu government.

But he avoids questions about the opposition’s inner politics and insists on speaking about Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial reforms.

Toporovsky’s fundamental argument is this: The judicial reform is illegal, and therefore not only is it not binding, you are prohibited from obeying it. No government, Toporovsky says, has the right to undermine Israel’s democratic character.

 YESH ATID MK Boaz Toporovsky (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) YESH ATID MK Boaz Toporovsky (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

“There are things that cannot be canceled and that we need to fight for: the right to privacy, freedom of the press, freedom of demonstration, true democracy, and every person’s ability to live however they want, as long as they don’t harm anyone else.

“This is something that was unfathomable for all of history. Now that we formed a state that tens of thousands of people died for, and after six million Jews died in the Holocaust – and we aspire to be a light unto the nations – first and foremost, a citizen of Israel should be free.

“And now people are saying [that] everything will be bent to the will of the majority. This makes sense to a lot of people. But democracy is not just majority decisions – it is sometimes, and perhaps mainly, safeguarding the minorities and their rights. If the majority decides to kill off the minority, we need someone to defend it,” he says.

The 42-year-old Toporovsky has led his fair share of public protests. He served in the past as chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students, founded a young-population-oriented political party named Tzabar, and also served as senior adviser to then social services minister and today’s president, Isaac Herzog. He was even arrested at some protests, and is proud of it.

Toporovsky also served as chairman of the Issta travel agency, and has been a member of Yesh Atid since its founding in 2012. He served as an MK between 2013 and 2015, and again from 2019 to the present.

Opposition to focus efforts to launch broad protests

Public opinion matters, Toporovsky learned from experience, and this time the opposition will use every tool at hand to launch as broad a protest as possible – in the Knesset, media, street, and more. And, contrary to warnings by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, everything will be done within the limits of the law, Toporovsky stresses.

Why go head-to-head? I ask. Is there no room for dialogue in order to arrive at a middle ground?

For Toporovsky, the answer is a resounding no – and he is critical of the direction that National Unity Party MK Benny Gantz took this week when he offered cooperation in order to attempt to modify the reforms.

In fact, this is exactly what Gantz did two years ago when he broke his campaign promises and, following the third election within a year and the outbreak of COVID-19, formed what he called an “emergency” government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz once again deemed the situation this week an “emergency,” raising eyebrows at the possibility that he was contemplating a change of direction. Gantz made it clear later in the week that he would not join Netanyahu’s government under any circumstance, but his call for dialogue and cooperation over the judicial reforms is already the wrong move, Toporovsky says.

“That is exactly what Netanyahu wants,” he argues.

"There is no option for dialogue. That is what is important for me that you know.... They are offering dialogue only to be able to say that there was dialogue, but the essence of what they are saying is – we were elected and we will trample everyone."

Yesh Atid MK Boaz Toporovsky

“There is no option for dialogue. That is what is important for me that you know.... They are offering dialogue only to be able to say that there was dialogue, but the essence of what they are saying is – we were elected and we will trample everyone,” Toporovsky says.

“I am concerned about parts of the opposition offering cooperation with the Likud. This is exactly to legitimize the injustice.

“They will carry out the reform. The question is whether they will say that they did it with consensus – and then the trampling is justified also in front of the court and in public opinion. This is what the Likud wants, and I do not accept this. You cannot talk about something that is illegal and that ruins the State of Israel, and say ‘Let’s ruin the country a little less.’ It doesn’t work like that,” Toporovsky says.

Instead, Toporovsky says that his party plans to fight until it returns to power. Then, he says, it would contemplate judicial reform.

“We will not enter talks with a gun to our head,” he says.

Toporovsky defines the political and social process that Israel is going through as a move from “the rule of the people” to “the rule of the mob.”

His view of political history is that of a recurring process. Step one, the cycle begins with proper democratic majority rule with guarantees of maintaining minority rights. Step two, this eventually morphs into mob rule. The mob “always wants to stone its opponent,” Toporovsky argues, but it is ruled by emotion and does not always make choices that benefit the nation. Step three, the mob rule deteriorates into anarchy. Step four, the nation looks for a strong leader to end the chaos – and a dictator emerges.

What we are seeing now is mob rule, Toporovsky argues, and his camp’s goal is to direct the country back to the safe ground of rational majority rule and not to allow it to slip toward chaos and dictatorship.

ANOTHER PHENOMENON that accompanies this process is growing corruption, Toporovsky continues. He believes that corruption is directly linked to mob rule. When the mob tramples the minority, the situation that develops is that there are two camps – one enjoys the fruits of being “connected” and on the “right side,” while the other suffers, loses its basic rights and its ability to partake in the democratic process.

In this context Toporovsky makes an interesting comment: The Likud of today is beginning to resemble the Mapai of the ’60s and ’70s – a large corrupt party so used to governing that it cannot fathom the idea that one day it could spend an extended amount of time in the opposition.

Levin, in his press conference last Wednesday in which he announced his judicial reforms, mentioned High Court justices from the Mapai days, such as Shimon Agranat, in order to argue that Israel in those days was a democracy even before Aharon Barak’s constitutional revolution of the ’90s, and therefore his plan to bring the country back to what it was prior to justice Barak is not an end to democracy.

Toporovsky, noting this, argues that Levin’s allusion to the Mapai days was not a coincidence. Then, like now, the largest party by far wished to control all facets of the governing system and, as a result, enable those who were “loyal” and members of the correct side to enjoy the perks of belonging to the governing party, while members of the other side did not. Now the nation has come full circle. The Right wishes to take over completely, and those affiliated with it will enjoy the corrupt fruits of near-total power, while those unaffiliated with it will not.

Toporovosky believes all roads lead to Netanyahu

Toporovosky, like many others, believes that all roads lead back to one man: Netanyahu.

Netanyahu himself proved over the years that he did not believe in the sort of reforms that Levin announced. But now that he is standing trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he is buying his own freedom at the price of the freedom of the people.

Extremists and separatist groups do not have qualms about trampling minority rights, but the Likud surely did, Toporovsky argues. Still, Netanyahu’s partners recognized that he is in a weak position and will give them nearly anything – even if it came at the expense of LGBT, women, secular people, Arabs or other minorities – in order to weaken the High Court enough so that he will be able to emerge from his trial unscathed.

“They [extremists] are saying, excuse me, we succeeded in selling all of your freedom because that is what we believe, that there should be a hierarchy between citizens: first haredim, traditional, secular and then non-Jews. In 2023 they are saying this without qualms. And here, they say, we succeeded in catching a prime minister at the height of his weakness, to sell him his freedom and buy the freedom of the people of Israel,” Toporovsky says.

“Our freedom is not for sale. It is not just a matter of protest or of dialogue.... From my perspective this is illegal, and I stand behind my words. No one has the authority to harm the most basic rights that every human being deserves, but especially citizens of the state in which I am a member of its parliament.

“The only case where we pay with our freedom is in matters pertaining to national security. But in those situations, it is the court that gives the green light to take away our rights – not the government,” Toporovsky concludes.