Netanyahu’s new administration is getting to work - opinion

Warnings about the imminent demise of Israeli democracy seem to have only strengthened the resolve of the recently instated incumbents.

 President Isaac Herzog poses with the 37th government of Israel, December 29, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
President Isaac Herzog poses with the 37th government of Israel, December 29, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The contrast between the amount of time that the new Israeli government spent concluding its coalition negotiations and the speed at which it has hit the ground running is spectacular. During the nearly full two months of portfolio-haggling that followed the November 1 Knesset elections, some voters on the victorious side were biting their nails with anxiety, while others grumbled about the apparent pettiness of the politicians they’d put in office.

The sense among the faint-hearted was that the Right’s clear majority was being squandered on minor squabbles. Worse was the fear that the bickering was providing the heterogeneous “anybody but Bibi” bloc – conjoined solely by a shared aversion to Benjamin Netanyahu – with the hope that the coalition would crumble before it had the chance to come into being.

Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when it finally coagulated minutes before the deadline with hardly any hitches. More astonishingly, the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday caused the previous weeks of worry to evaporate in one fell swoop – for supporters, at least. Those opposed to the most right-wing government in the country’s history channeled their mourning into combat mode.

This hasn’t had the effect they desired, however. On the contrary, warnings on the part of now-former prime minister Yair Lapid and his ilk about the imminent demise of Israeli democracy at the hands of extremists have only strengthened the resolve of the recently instated incumbents to fulfill their campaign promises.

 DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Amichai Chikli will have to fight in the government on behalf of Jewish communities all over the world, says the writer. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Amichai Chikli will have to fight in the government on behalf of Jewish communities all over the world, says the writer. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Israel's new government quickly got down to business

AS A review of the past week alone reveals, they really mean to get down to business. Last Saturday, for instance, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli ordered the halt of an agreement approved by his predecessor, Nachman Shai, to give millions of tax shekels to a left-wing organization associated with the progressive Zionist Berl Katznelson Foundation and the radical New Israel Fund.

The money was earmarked for a program in the United States on gender equality. Given the intersectional activities of the NGOs in question, there’s no doubt that the cash would have contributed to educating participants about Israel’s discriminatory practices against women and Palestinians.

Chikli was unapologetic about nixing the deal that Shai sealed with the Association for Economic and Social Studies. The arrangement, he tweeted, “violates the minimal standards of professional ethics.”

In contrast, he added, “the Diaspora Ministry under my leadership will focus on empowering Jewish communities around the world and on the uncompromising fight against antisemitism in all its various forms.”

“The Diaspora Ministry under my leadership will focus on empowering Jewish communities around the world and on the uncompromising fight against antisemitism in all its various forms.”

Amichai Chikli

On Sunday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced the cancelation of the taxes that his predecessor, Avigdor Liberman, imposed on disposable plasticware and soft drinks in 2021 and 2022 respectively. The stated purpose of the former was to reduce pollution. That of the latter was to lower sugar intake.

The levies, touted as a means to protect the planet and public health, placed a particular burden on financially strapped families with multiple children. In light of Liberman’s incessant haredi-bashing, the one thing that consumers in the ultra-Orthodox community – a key purchaser of the targeted products – didn’t buy was his disingenuous emphasis on lofty ideals to justify making their lives more difficult.

By reversing Liberman’s move, Smotrich is flaunting his free-market credentials right out of the gate. He’s also illustrating a lack of tolerance for nanny-state policies carved out by a self-anointed big brother to tell the ignorant masses what’s good for them.

THEN THERE’S Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who replaced Gideon Sa’ar. Sa’ar resigned from the Likud Party after an unsuccessful bid to beat Netanyahu as its chairman. With hatred for his nemesis trumping ideological concerns, he performed the political about-face that earned him accolades and a choice ministry from previous rivals on the Left and fellow anti-Bibi parliamentarians in the so-called Center.

Levin, on the other hand, came by his position honestly. A longtime Netanyahu loyalist, he garnered the second-largest number of votes, after those cast for Netanyahu, in the party’s primary elections in August.

His internecine popularity was largely due to his push for judicial reform, an objective that was sought for years by right-wingers, including Sa’ar. Because the difficult endeavor wasn’t undertaken during Netanyahu’s numerous years at the helm, voters in his bloc for whom revamping the legal system was an electoral draw were cautiously optimistic about their candidates’ ability to actually make it happen.

Their skepticism was compounded last month when Levin was appointed temporary Knesset speaker. Rumors were flying across the spectrum that he secretly intended to make the job permanent. Pundits kept suggesting that he was about to renege on accepting the reins at the Justice Ministry, precisely to avoid the unpleasant pushback involved in desecrating such a sacred cow.

Lo and behold, it was all baloney. Not only did Levin vacate his interim seat to make way for Amir Ohana to assume the Knesset speakership, he promptly got to work at the task he was elected to accomplish.

IN A press conference on Wednesday evening, he presented his plan to clip the over-interventionist judiciary’s wings on behalf of the executive and legislative branches.

“We go to the polls, vote and elect but time and time again, people we didn’t elect decide for us,” he said, referring to the power-grab of judges at the expense of lawmakers. Outlining the first phase of the plan, he said, “No longer will judges elect themselves behind closed doors without [documented minutes of the meetings],” he declared. “Instead, the three branches of government will have equal representation on the Judicial Selection Committee.”

He went on, “No longer will the [Supreme] Court hold hearings [and decide] on basic laws; no longer will it override laws passed by the Knesset without its consent. Instead, it will act by virtue of the basic laws, not be above them. It will [only] be able to override laws by a special majority [of judges].”

“No longer will the [Supreme] Court hold hearings [and decide] on basic laws; no longer will it override laws passed by the Knesset without its consent. Instead, it will act by virtue of the basic laws, not be above them. It will [only] be able to override laws by a special majority [of judges].”

Yariv Levin

Furthermore, he continued, “No longer will [the court] overrule completely legal decisions by an elected government on the grounds of what a judge deems unreasonableness. Instead, the ability of the elected government to make decisions will be restored.”

Finally, he pointed to the purview of the state’s attorney general. “No longer will the government be subordinate to unelected officials. As their title [in Hebrew] suggests, they are advisers, not decision-makers.”

THE NECESSITY of such reforms is as obvious as the mindset of the lawyers, journalists, academics and high-techies who’ve been up in arms over the mere mention of them. All those decrying the content of Levin’s groundbreaking disclosure would be amenable to it if it hadn’t emanated from the wrong milieu.

In the not-so-distant past, Lapid himself launched harsh criticisms of the legal system. And despite his acknowledging, even while serving as caretaker prime minister, that it needs fixing, he failed to propose any remedies.

To obfuscate this fact, he responded to Levin’s speech by asserting that upon his return to the premiership – no, he wasn’t joking – he would overturn every item in it. Meanwhile, he and the rest of the new government’s detractors have been busy claiming that judicial reform is nothing but a twofold cynical ploy to whitewash Shas Party leader Arye Deri’s suspended sentence for tax evasion and ultimately to annul Netanyahu’s trial.

It’s nonsense, of course. And just as similar ramblings weren’t reflected at the ballot box, the latest droning is no match for the flurry of welcome activity underway in Jerusalem.