On January 9, 2004, journalist Amnon Abramovich, addressing a distinguished group of journalists at the Van Leer Institute, admonished them to treat then-prime minister Ariel Sharon as a Jew treats an etrog. We journalists, he preached, must protect Sharon from all attacks – even from prosecution for criminal acts so that he could bring about the disengagement from Gaza announced fourteen months earlier. The sermon was heeded and Sharon avoided prosecution as the media studiously focused on other sensations instead of the Sharon family’s alleged corruption.
Today, this same media and elite milieu which protected Sharon has a different agenda. They are consumed with fear that the reputed strong men of the new coalition – Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich – are about to bring about radical change to weaken or possibly destroy democratic rule in Israel. Today, believe it or not, they are out to protect Bibi.
While the rest of us celebrate Hanukkah, this real fear of theirs is turning Netanyahu into an etrog. Just a few months ago, these commentators and newscasters were attacking Netanyahu nonstop as a danger to criminal justice and cancer on our public morals and standards. Now, he is heralded as the responsible adult in the room who must (and will) save democracy and protect the police, IDF, and Supreme Court from the sinister forces about to take power.
This 180-degree about-face is already evident and it will only grow stronger with time. Even for Israel, it seems remarkable.
Whereas before, we heard startling revelations and devastating leaks from Netanyahu’s trial almost hourly; now the media broadcasts and replays his statements on how he will keep the electricity flowing on Shabbat, how he and the defense minister, and no one else, will continue to shape policy in Judea and Samaria, and that public secular education will remain secular, protected from the threats of religious indoctrination and homophobic influence.
WE ALSO hear testimonies from these commentators, news broadcasters and ubiquitous panelists, that this same Bibi who they attacked for years as working to corrupt the country’s system of justice, has actually always protected the Supreme Court and the judicial process from untoward pressures for change, quoting former Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinisch, among others, to this effect.
It was said of Sharon in 2004, that the extent of his withdrawal determined the extent of his protection; now one can say about Netanyahu, that the more power he cedes to Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, Avi Maoz and the haredim, the greater his imputed importance as the guardian of democracy in Israel.
Is democratic rule in Israel in danger?
Is democratic rule in Israel really in danger? Only ideologues and elite power centers on the Left, who suffer unrelenting anxiety and consternation as they witness the evolution of the Israeli body politic, deny the need for major reform in our system of justice. The courts concocted a “legal revolution” (former president Barak’s description), and since then have actively dominated our governance and lives.
The Supreme Court substitutes its judgment for that of the government and cancels any government action it doesn’t consider “reasonable.” The court substitutes its judgment for that of the elected Knesset and nullifies any law it deems to contradict one of the Basic Laws. These Basic Laws were ordinary laws with a fancy title until the court used legal alchemy to transmute them into a binding constitution.
Our prosecutors use coercion and blackmail to elicit and influence testimony. Our police cannot control street crime, organized crime, public lawlessness, nor even insurrection in our cities.
The government’s legal adviser, the attorney-general, does not advise: He/she dictates precisely what the government can and cannot do – once again, under the arbitrary authority imposed by the Supreme Court. The ministries’ legal advisers stay in office throughout numerous elections and changes in government and are accountable to the all-powerful, centralized attorney-general, rather than to the minister under whom they ostensibly serve.
Much reform is needed to give Israel a balanced government that can govern effectively like all the other democracies. There is no basis for concluding that the new government and the Knesset will act irresponsibly in effecting the reform. Neither judges nor media talking heads have a monopoly on fidelity to democratic principles or on common sense.
In summary, the fears of the elite and media are unfounded and their reliance on the new/old prime minister for protection is unnecessary. They don’t have to turn Bibi into an etrog, and from what one can understand from the public record, Bibi will survive his current ordeal without media and elite protection. If anything, Bibi seems more like a Hanukkah dreidel than a Sukkot etrog as he continues to put together a new government with demands from all directions.
The writer is an attorney in Israel and the US. He founded the Institute for Zionist Strategies.