Democracy dithering due to 'dictator' or dictated by disease? – analysis

On Tuesday morning, when Netanyahu faced criticism from Knesset Speaker and political ally Yariv Levin, it was the ultimate man-bites-dog story in Israeli politics.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is used to facing criticism from opposition MKs, from world leaders and from the media, so one more bit of criticism is the journalistic equivalent of dog-bites-man.
But on Tuesday morning, when Netanyahu faced criticism from Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, as KAN Radio reported, that was the ultimate man-bites-dog story in Israeli politics.
For many years, Levin has been the politician Netanyahu trusts most. He has been his top political and diplomatic adviser, his main contact in Israel with the United States and the minister he sent to greet US Vice President Mike Pence when he arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport. The calm and efficient Likud veteran has been Netanyahu's long arm for anything sensitive that truly mattered to the prime minister.
Levin conducted the coalition talks that formed the current government. When Blue and White demanded that then-Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein be ousted, Netanyahu happily complied and put Levin in charge of the legislative branch. With Levin as Knesset speaker, Netanyahu essentially controlled two of the three branches of government.
But that was apparently not enough for Netanyahu. He thought that when it came to passing regulations on the coronavirus, the Knesset was going too slow.
So he got the Knesset members to take a step that – at least temporarily on that one key issue – forfeits their power to Netanyahu.
Once the Knesset Bypass Bill passed into law in the middle of the night, Netanyahu can now make decisions on emergency coronavirus regulations by himself, with just the rubber stamp of a quick cabinet vote that can be conducted by text message.
The bill allows such decisions to take effect immediately. Knesset committees will discuss the decisions made by the government after the fact and only then decide whether to approve them, in whole or in part, within seven days of when they passed.  
"The inability of the cabinet to stop the spread of the coronavirus is very much its fault," Levin was quoted as saying in a meeting with his deputy speakers. "It cannot take so long to file bills that it claims are needed to save lives and then act as if the Knesset is just its rubber stamp."
If Netanyahu lost Yariv Levin, do not be surprised when his opposition gets even more fierce with its metaphors. Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy called Netanyahu a dictator; Joint List MK Ofer Cassif called the prime minister a psychopath.
"Remember this day when the Knesset ceased to exist," said Yesh Atid MK Orna Barbivai, a former general who, unlike Levy and Cassif, is not known for hyperbole. "Anyone who votes to annihilate our democracy will be a partner to this black day."
Defenders of the bill say it was necessary to prevent the coronavirus from spiraling out of control. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the law is similar regarding emergency security issues and that it was COVID-19 that dictated the change, not a prime minister accused of being a dictator.
"We are in a war for our existence," Interior Minister Arye Deri told the Central Elections Committee on Tuesday morning. "In this war, we have to all fight together."