Israel’s new governing coalition has yet to be sworn in, but that has not stopped the opposition from seeking to delegitimize and even demonize it before it is formally assembled.
Hurling vitriol that goes far beyond any semblance of civilized debate, various public figures run the risk of severely damaging the very same democracy that they claim so ardently they want to defend. This not only threatens to exacerbate divisions within Israeli society, but it could also undermine the very pillars of our political system.
Take, for example, remarks made this past Monday on Army Radio by Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Asaf Agmon, who warned that if protests against the incoming administration do not succeed, “we will move on to a resistance movement. This government is illegitimate and criminal. We will do everything we can to prevent its existence.” The interviewer then asked Agmon, “Even if it includes breaking the law?” To which he replied, “We will do what we will do and update you.”
Such remarks are downright frightening. It is one thing to protest a government and its policies. But to invoke the possibility of creating “a resistance movement” is a potential invitation to anarchy.
Sadly, no less a personage than Prime Minister Yair Lapid has chosen to join in fanning the flames, deploying rhetoric unbecoming to a premier.
Yair Lapid fans the flames of "resistance" against Israel's next government
On November 30, at a memorial ceremony for David Ben-Gurion, Lapid asserted that “the new government wants to destroy our democracy.” While he did acknowledge that the new coalition is legitimate, his contention that it wants to “destroy” our system of government is irresponsible and downright false.
Indeed, such heated rhetoric contributes nothing constructive whatsoever to public discourse.
But Lapid did not stop there. On December 2, he sent an “open letter” to all the country’s mayors calling on them not to cooperate with the Education Ministry Unit for External Programs and Cooperation. The reason? The unit is slated to be under the auspices of Noam party chairman MK Avi Maoz, who will serve as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I write to you with great concern for the future of the educational system and of the country, since the new government that is being formed in Israel has abandoned the education of our children and passed it to the darkest and most extreme elements in Israeli society.”Yair Lapid
“I write to you with great concern for the future of the educational system and of the country, since the new government that is being formed in Israel has abandoned the education of our children and passed it to the darkest and most extreme elements in Israeli society,” Lapid wrote.
“As you know, this is an extremist, racist, homophobic and dangerous party,” he wrote, adding, “I call on you not to cooperate with the Unit for External Programs and Cooperation in the Education Ministry, so long as it is controlled by Maoz.”
Whatever one thinks of Maoz and his views, there is no excuse for the country’s prime minister to impair the authority and organs of the state. Such words and actions border on a call to lawlessness and disorder.
To be sure, the opposition has every right, as well as a civic duty, to criticize, complain and condemn policies with which it does not concur. But there is a world of difference between that and shaking the foundations of our democratic system to its very core.
IN CONTRAST, consider the civility with which outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz encouraged his fellow opposition parties to counter the incoming government. On December 4, Gantz said, “We will not be silent. We will fight together for the character of the state, in education, the judicial system and the IDF.”
“We will not be silent. We will fight together for the character of the state, in education, the judicial system and the IDF.”Benny Gantz
That is the kind of tone and rhetoric that the public deserves rather than reckless calls for insubordination.
Words matter. Ideas have significance. As John Adams, one of America’s founding fathers, noted in a March 31, 1819, letter, “Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”
“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”John Adams
And that is precisely what we are witnessing now as the government prepares for a transfer of power, which is the bedrock upon which our collective rests.
Rather than preparing for this with grace and dignity, some members of the outgoing government appear to be so consumed by their defeat that they cannot help but paint their replacements as unlawful shams.
The real threat to Israel’s democracy does not emanate from the people who were elected but from those who seek to subvert thewir rivals’ legal and constitutional authority to rule.
Healthy democracies require an active and vocal opposition, of which there is no doubt. But one that is reasoned and responsible is no less essential.
The writer served as deputy communications director under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term of office.