Israel now driving on the road to hell with new gov't - opinion

The delicate edifice of Israel’s Jewish democratic state is about to be torched to the ground, and the pushback will be furious.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, in his first term as prime minister, shakes hands with then-PA head Yasser Arafat at the Middle East peace summit at Wye River, Maryland, 1998. Netanyahu, with the aid of Palestinian terrorists, helped scuttle the Oslo Accords, says the writer. (photo credit: REUTERS)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, in his first term as prime minister, shakes hands with then-PA head Yasser Arafat at the Middle East peace summit at Wye River, Maryland, 1998. Netanyahu, with the aid of Palestinian terrorists, helped scuttle the Oslo Accords, says the writer.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

In Israel, raging opposition to the government has been a thing of the Right. Even when the Left held mass protests and were very cross indeed, they remained relatively well-behaved. This may be about to change, because the incoming government seems set to cross a very dangerous line.

It is not that previous Likud-led governments did not do horrible damage. Menachem Begin, for example, brought 400 percent inflation and a pointless occupation of Lebanon which gave birth to Hezbollah (but also peace with Egypt). Yitzhak Shamir scuttled a mature effort to hand the West Bank problem to Jordan, leading to the first Intifada. Benjamin Netanyahu, with the generous help of Palestinian terrorists, helped ruin the Oslo Accords. But still, the basic compact enabling a diverse nation to somehow coexist was sufficiently preserved. 

I urge those inclined to dismiss such warnings as hysteria or bad sportsmanship to calmly read on, and to put aside the knee-jerk talking points. And you will need some patience too, for the pending crimes against democracy and Zionism are broad and deep.

The override clause will make Israel a fake democracy

To begin with, the incoming coalition appears determined to enact something called an “override clause,” which would enable any Knesset majority of 61 out of 120 to cancel rulings of the Supreme Court. The hare-brained argument for this rests on the notion that the majority must be allowed to govern – as if no limits whatsoever should ever be set on Knesset coalitions. 

It is no coincidence that almost no democracies on earth have any such thing (Canada is the sole exception, under circumstances that do not apply here): it neuters the judicial branch and means the citizens have no rights. The obvious first victims will be the Palestinians, who depend on the court for the tiny protections they still enjoy. In reality, however, no group in the country will be safe from oppression – not just by the ruling party, but from any small coalition partner that party needs to satisfy at any given moment. 

 MK MOSHE GAFNI emerges from coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem, last week. ‘We are joining in order to implement policy and to do so we need the override clause,’ he said. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK MOSHE GAFNI emerges from coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem, last week. ‘We are joining in order to implement policy and to do so we need the override clause,’ he said. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The “override clause” alone would suffice for Israel to apply to join the ranks of fake democracies. And more is planned, thus ensuring its acceptance as a leader in that club. The new coalition wants to give politicians total control over the choice of judges at all levels, which in reality would make them puppets. No other democracy gives politicians control like this – with the exception of the United States – which ought not to be used as a role model today. Every other democracy in the world has attempted to devise better ways to maintain a professional, independent judiciary responsible to the public and the law, and not to political overlords.

Redefining key civil service positions

To complete the picture, the incoming coalition also wants to redefine key civil service positions – the “legal advisers” that exist in ministries and at the cabinet level – into political appointees who serve at the pleasure of elected officials. This would upend a status quo in which civil servants have been critical to reining in the excesses of politicians, and providing them with sound, independent legal advice.

For a sign of where this is going, take a look at Arye Deri, the former jailbird, who is the leader of the Sephardi religious party, Shas. Deri has already served a prison sentence for bribe-taking, having provided the current defendant, Netanyahu with the model for claiming that charges against him were fabricated by the deep state. After his release, Deri got in trouble yet again, and under a plea bargain, agreed no longer to be eligible to serve in the cabinet. He now demands the new coalition pass a law to get around this. Were this to happen, it would be an illegal law, having been tailored to fit the needs of one person. Deri sees this as the first big test of the “override clause.” 

Deri is far from the only convicted criminal who will get a seat at the ignoble table currently being set. He would be joined by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a brute who once bragged about physically “getting to” Yitzhak Rabin, (as one of his cohort eventually did, assassinating the prime minister) and who faced dozens of indictments, including on terror-related charges, resulting in a number of convictions. According to reports, Ben-Gvir will be given a turbo-charged version of the police ministry, which, with the aid of several reforms, would make him the absolute overlord of the police he knows so well, but is manifestly unqualified to lead. 

BEN-GVIR has made his name by provoking violence with Arabs, drawing guns in parking lots and the like. He and his fellow religious fanatics favor changing the delicate status quo on Jerusalem’s supremely combustible Temple Mount. He and his associates want to allow Jews to pray on the same level as the al-Aqsa Mosque, which many of them wish to destroy in order to rebuild the Jewish Temple. Doing this would almost certainly lead to violence and badly damage, if not scuttle, the peace treaty with Jordan – which is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites, and upon which Israel heavily relies on for strategic depth.

Ben-Gvir’s partner in the Religious Zionism list is Bezalel Smotrich, another rabble rouser who is known for claiming to be a “proud homophobe,” bemoaning the presence of Arabs in his wife’s maternity ward, and advocating for the supremacy of halachic law in Israel. He has the temerity to demand the position of Defense Minister.

While I doubt he will get that – Netanyahu probably does not want to blow up the Middle East just yet – according to reports, the far-Right will be given control over the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria. This would enable them to control construction permits and home destructions in the West Bank, as well as the provision of entry, exit and work permits to Palestinians. As a consequence, we can expect a massive boom in settlements, and mounting tensions with the Palestinians.

Israel’s only hope of surviving as a Jewish state is to maintain the slim possibility of an eventual partition from the Palestinians in the West Bank. Four more years of accelerated settlement could be fatal to such hope. Indeed, these ultranationalists have other plans – either to rule over the Palestinians forever, or to somehow compel them to leave by the millions.

A highly plausible outcome to all of this is a third intifada. And there is little doubt that the incoming policies of Ben-Gvir as the public security minister will anger Israel’s Arab minority who are citizens, and who are likely to get drawn this time into a new conflict with the Palestinians.

The danger of haredim to modern Israel

Meanwhile, I have written many times about the danger to modern Israel from haredim. This stems from a combination of the following: their insistence on large families (almost seven children on average per family), their refusal to teach children core subjects like math, science and English, to enable them to secure gainful employment, and the sanctification of lifelong religious study by the men, with the expectation of a state salary to boot.

With a population doubling every 16 years, and already constituting almost a fifth of Jews, collapse is inevitable. Israel is likely to become a Third World country, brimming with theocratic rules that will force many secular people, who account for almost the entirety of its current economy, to flee.

The only way around this is to phase out child subsidies and yeshiva salaries. In addition, all applications for school funding and licensing should be conditional upon the implementation of a core curriculum. But the incoming Netanyahu government is set, not only to do none of the above but also to vastly increase haredi budgets. 

This nightmare is upon us because of sheer stupidity. Based on the number of votes cast, the election was a dead heat, with the two blocks broadly evenly split. On the face of it, such an outcome should have been sufficient to allow Prime Minister Yair Lapid to remain in power. The Right’s Knesset majority only stems from splits in the Left and the Arab list that left two key parties just under the 3.25% threshold, with their votes going to waste.

“On our journey ‘cross the wilderness from the desert to the well, we have strayed upon the motorway to hell.”

Chris Rea

You can say that these are the rules and that’s the way it goes. But you cannot just burn down a person’s house. The delicate edifice of Israel’s Jewish democratic state is about to be torched to the ground, and the pushback will be furious. In the immortal words of the British rocker, Chris Rea: “On our journey ‘cross the wilderness from the desert to the well, we have strayed upon the motorway to hell.”

The writer is the former Cairo-based Middle East editor and London-based Europe/Africa editor of the Associated Press and is managing partner of the New York-based communications firm Thunder11. Follow him at twitter.com/perry_dan.