Fulfilling expectations

Shaked pushes new legislation on relations between the Knesset and the judicial branch.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
WHEN A man knows he is to be hanged, it concentrates his mind wonderfully, said Samuel Johnson. Perhaps the slap in the face administered by the loss of the Alabama senate race will have an equally salutary effect on the Trump administration and the Republican Party, helping them concentrate their minds ahead of next November’s midterm elections.
Coincidentally or not, the GOP ended 2017 with a big win on the tax bill. It may prove a turning point for the administration and the American economy, in general, or it may be a regrettable decision. Love it or hate it, the bill’s passage accomplished two important things: It signaled to the base that the administration was putting up points on the scoreboard and honoring a major campaign pledge, and secondly, it signaled to the broader public that the administration could implement its policy agenda. Slowing the rate of illegal immigration and starting the process of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem can be viewed in the same context.
The tweets and outbursts were not the major reason for the plunge in Trump’s ratings and neither were the relentless media attacks; the main problem was the sense of incompetence and helplessness that the administration exuded in most of its first year. An administration may be disliked for its policies but it commands respect by following through on its convictions. To be pitied for ineptitude is much worse than hatred. Even The New York Times has taken notice, and recently it ran an article titled, “After a Chaotic Start, Congress Has Made a Conservative Mark.”
A new administration is expected to hit the ground running in its first year, buoyed by the election victory and its opponents’ disarray. There are precedents for a course correction: John F. Kennedy’s first year was marred by the Bay of Pigs and Berlin Wall, and he only righted his administration with the Cuban missile crisis. Although potential flashpoints such as Syria and Ukraine exist, the Trump administration can hopefully rebound without a major crisis with Russia. The administration is sounding more coherent on foreign policy, drawing praise from former opponents. In UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, the administration has found the articulate voice that Rex Tillerson did not supply.
If the corruption investigations do not topple the Netanyahu government, it must contend with the disappointment of its supporters over the stalled agenda. This agenda was predicated on actions primarily on housing starts, designed to reinforce Israel’s position in the areas liberated during the Six Day War. There were also expectations that the government would restore the balance between the branches of government, which has been upset since former Supreme Court chief justice Aharon Barak’s stealthy constitutional revolution.
Despite repeated promises by Netanyahu about massive construction, these promises have gone unredeemed, and a bureaucratic labyrinth requiring five rounds of approvals has been erected to stymie building. As a result, the second and third generation in Jewish-inhabited Judea and Samaria has had to look elsewhere for housing.
The picture is far from optimistic on the judicial front. The investigations have taken their toll and the coalition has had to devote time to the passage of laws, such as one barring judicial recommendations by the police. While the law has merits, the timing is atrocious and appears to be an attempt at saving Netanyahu’s hide.
A second problem has been the coalition infighting over who will receive credit for the achievement. This has led Netanyahu to blackball or slow walk laws proposed by his frenemy Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) colleague, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, have drafted an important law clarifying relations between the Knesset and the judicial branch. If this legislation passes relatively unchanged, it will be considered a major win for the coalition and will buoy its supporters. Obviously, Bennett and Shaked will get credit, but a rising tide lifts all boats and Netanyahu and the Likud are misguided to believe that by beggaring their competitors for the nationalist vote they will prosper.
Then there is Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party. Kulanu presented itself to the voter as the social party. But as a party positioned to the left of Likud, Kulanu sought the added value of occupying the rule of law niche in the coalition and pushing back against efforts to rein in the Supreme Court. In some quarters, this is equivalent to being on the side of the angels.
Unlike the United States or Britain, Israel does not have special or by-elections that can flash a warning. The best we have are the pollsters, whose reputation for reliability has suffered. Additionally, the Israeli Right is overconfident that the Left will never be able to form an alternative government, a complacency that is not shared by the Republicans. It will never happen until it does happen, and the failure to fulfill expectations will be a root cause of the debacle.