It’s déjà vu all over again as baseball legend Yogi Berra once said.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s televised call on Benny Gantz “to enter the room and talk” because “the majority of the nation wants us to reach agreements” was met with wry smiles and apathetic yawns.
Netanyahu talked this exact way twice in the recent past: once when he sent representatives to negotiate a judicial-legislation compromise, and once in 2020 when he called on Gantz to join an emergency government. In both cases, Netanyahu cited the public will, only to abuse it.
In 2020 he struck a deal that would have made Gantz prime minister the following year, a signed vow Netanyahu duly violated. Last winter, the same deceitfulness made Netanyahu enter the judicial compromise talks, only to suddenly steer the wheel and legislate unilaterally his original blueprint’s first installment.
Netanyahu’s latest statement was so unreliable that his anti-judicial assault’s commander, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, refuted it, saying the kind of compromise Netanyahu was ostensibly seeking would be “impossible to accept.”
The compromise at stake is, of course, not impossible to accept. In fact, accepting it is not only possible but imperative, but Netanyahu can’t accept it because Levin and the far-Right have hijacked the prime minister and the Jewish state.
What, then, is that deal all about, why is it a non-starter, and what should be done in its place? THE COMPROMISE reportedly crafted by President Isaac Herzog would soften the amended reasonableness clause; it would leave intact the Judges Selection Committee, but require that all judicial appointments, not just the Supreme Court’s, be backed by at least seven of its nine members, thus giving the coalition more power, and at the same time, it would leave untouched Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara’s appointment and powers. Beyond these, judicial legislation would be suspended for 18 months.
What Herzog wants is clear. He wants the recent months’ madness of political animosity, social fractiousness, and civil disobedience to come to an end. That’s his job as he so rightly understands it.
Netanyahu, however, does not understand his job which, before anything else, is to bring this disjointed society together. That’s why what he now wants is a matter of speculation.
Some think he wants to divide the opposition; others, that he is beginning to assess Levin’s damage; others believe he is expecting a Saudi peace deal that will entail divorce from the far-Right; and still others think he wants a smoke screen before resuming the anti-judicial legislation.
Whatever his plan, Netanyahu can’t harness the opposition. He has lost its leaders’ trust. They won’t believe him, even if he tells them what day of the week it is. That is why Gantz’s response to Netanyahu’s call was “First rescind that amendment you passed unilaterally, then we can talk.”
It’s a test Netanyahu can’t pass because he is lying. But even if he hadn’t been lying and would have sincerely sought a consensual compromise, Levin et al wouldn’t let him get there. They say that on the record, and they – unlike him – never lie and never compromise. Had they been willing to compromise, they wouldn’t have been the zealots that they are.
The bottom line of all this is clear: Israel’s current leaders can’t solve what we face. They are the problem. They made this mess, and solving it runs counter to their mental structures and personal interests.
It follows, that the president’s effort should pursue an entirely different direction.
CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION – meaning laws that set the political game’s rules – must reflect the national consensus, and foster it.
Such laws cannot be written by active politicians, and the politicians also cannot be the ones to legislate them because their considerations are at best partisan, at worst personal. Instead, constitutions had better be written by consensual, apolitical figures, and approved by referendum, thus bypassing the politicians.
Last November, in the twilight days between the recent general election and the Levin Plan’s announcement, this column advised President Isaac Herzog to preempt the politicians by assembling a forum of political scientists, jurists, rabbis, and retired politicians and ask them to jointly propose a formula that would redefine relations between the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches (“Herzog’s opportunity and duty,” November 12, 2022).
Time was short, Levin moved swiftly, and subsequent events now demand a smaller forum with a narrower assignment – to dismantle the civil-war bomb that is ticking in our midst.
Who are the two men who can diffuse the ticking time bomb of civil war?
There are among us two men who can do just that. Their names are Moshe Nissim and Shimon Shetreet. NISSIM, 88, was Menachem Begin’s justice minister and Yitzhak Shamir’s finance minister, and before that a co-founder of the Likud. Shetreet, 77, was Yitzhak Rabin’s minister of planning and Shimon Peres’s minister of religious affairs.
If this pair jointly produced a new formula for the Judges Selection Committee, it would immediately be accepted as the broad majority’s will, for four reasons.
First of all, no one can say they represent the Ashkenazi elite. Nissim’s family hailed from Iraq, Shetreet was born in Morocco.
Secondly, both are acceptable to the religious public. Shetreet is traditional, Nissim is Orthodox, the son of chief rabbi Yitzhak Nissim (1895-1981). Thirdly, both are esteemed jurists. Nissim is a corporate lawyer, and Shetreet is a law professor emeritus at The Hebrew University.
Lastly and most importantly, both men are responsible patriots who understand the current threat to Israel’s social fabric. When alone in a room with Herzog, they won’t bicker. They will hammer out a formula and it will be adopted.
It may take them a few days, maybe a few weeks, or even a month or two, but once done they will be the first to agree that, in terms of its impact, it was more significant than their combined 35 years in the service of the Jewish state.
The writer, a Hartman Institute fellow, is the author of the bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly) Yediot Sefarim, 2019, a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s political leadership. MiddleIsrael.net