The heated public discourse, which is quickly approaching its boiling point, can be explained in a few different ways. Some people view the current public atmosphere as a sign of the growing rift in Israeli society between the Right and Left, between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, between the First Israel and the Second Israel or between Israelis who are in favor of a Greater Israel even at the risk of never achieving peace and those who believe that it’s necessary to withdraw from a significant part of the territories and the Arab part of Jerusalem if we want to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
There are more points of contention I could present here that indicate how Israeli society has become splintered and is made up by different groups. The periphery vs the center, haredim (ultra-Orthodox) vs the secular or Jews vs Arabs. Almost all of these conflicts reflect our reality at the moment.
We can reduce the number of components in these controversies, however, and talk about just one crucial one: The aspiration to achieve political power by a regime that knows no restrictions or boundaries, while understanding that life in a democracy requires clear restrictions on the power given to the government and the government’s ability to exercise the authority and power given to it as an essential condition for maintaining stability, balance and solidarity of society as a whole.
All democracies are based on the concept of limitations of power as a basic condition for their existence. This is not about one component, but about an integrated and complicated system of rules, organizations and institutions that aim to create a certain balance in the internal division of society as a prerequisite for its stable existence.
The most basic tenet of democratic life is that all citizens have equal suffrage. Without equal suffrage, there’s no chance for society to be based on mutual responsibility, mutual respect and the ability of its different parts to cooperate in order develop, thrive and create a proper quality of life. The Knesset is another essential element and so is the power and independence of the court. There’s no need to expound upon the idea of how essential a stable legal system can ensure the balance required for a country’s stability. Stability and resilience of the legal system of a country like ours are especially important, since we don’t have a constitution, such as the one the US relies upon.
Of course, the people who claim that the court should not have the excess power it was not intended to have in the first place are correct. As a general principle, this is an accurate statement. However, this campaign of strife and conflict in our court system, especially in the Supreme Court, has long since crossed every reasonable line.
I’ve had quite a few disappointments from Supreme Court rulings, (for the sake of full disclosure, of course this is especially true for the cases in which I was involved and that were wrong according to the best of my knowledge and my understanding), but to claim that, in the State of Israel, the courts decided to cooperate with prosecutors and wage a battle against the government (and to engage in a battle against the courts as if they were an enemy of the democratic system) is a baseless and false claim that must be countered with all our might.
It has no substantive basis, no justification under the current circumstances and stems from the most serious disease from which the State of Israel is suffering these days. This disease is not the severe and life-threatening COVID-19, but the extreme loss of borders of political power in Israel regarding the power its been given, the authority it has and its right to exercise these powers in an effort to achieve goals which are entirely not in the public’s interest.
The bottom line is, no democracy – even one that ostensibly has all of the elements I mentioned – including equal suffrage, an elected parliament, courts and other essential institutions, can be strong and lasting if the political authority is in the hands of people who have no interest in understanding or being committed to setting clear boundaries for the use of governmental power, even if the price of restraint comes with a heavy personal price.
In the State of Israel of 2020, political power is in reckless hands. The State of Israel is being led by a person who is incapable of, and has no interest in making a distinction between the needs of the country and the basic values upon which it must be based, and his own needs, desires, aspirations and interests, as well as those of his wife and children.
It’s true that the anchors that must be part of the system that defines the political-democratic character of the state exist and are active. However, the assumption that they can overcome the abuse of power by the political leadership is an illusion that is quickly fading.
Most of the cases of democracies that collapsed have involved essential elements to protect a democratic regime, including equal suffrage for all citizens, a representative parliament based on general elections, courts, a free press, dynamic academic institutions and a long legacy of democratic life.
And yet, these governments collapsed because the person who headed the government gradually eroded the ability of these institutions to fulfill their mission and protect the democratic nature of life in these countries.
I’m not going to point out in which countries this has happened so that the prime minister’s contemptible gang won’t be able to add another dimension to the already diligent and systematic incitement, which cannot be ignored.
These things have happened. We are advancing on this trajectory at a shockingly rapid speed. One-fifth of the population of the State of Israel (yes, Arab citizens who are supposed to have equal rights and obligations) is not taken into consideration when weighing political power, and the result is that anyone who opposes the fascist Right that is being led by the prime minister must accumulate power that is significantly greater than half of the voters.
Granted, there are no formal voting restrictions on Arab citizens for the Knesset. The incessant incitement against them and their loyalty to the State of Israel, however, and the identification of Arab members of Knesset as traitors who want to destroy Israel and who support violent terrorist activity against us create an atmosphere of reluctance and distancing of a significant part of the Jewish political parties in a way that in practice disrupts the division of political forces.
The Knesset is now, at best, a theatrical performance that arouses alienation and disgust among many citizens who are beginning to ask in blog posts, online comments and tweets why it is needed at all. The government rarely convenes regular meetings. The coronavirus cabinet is a sleight of hand that is not even pretending to be a serious body capable of considering various options for effective treatments of this epidemic that is spreading rapidly among us.
Israel’s judiciary, prosecutor’s office and other law enforcement agencies have shown an extremely weak response in the face of the endless onslaught of criticism. If they weren’t so weak, the Israel Police would have hastened the investigation of the illicit submarine deal and demanded clarifications and the disclosure of documents regarding the NIS 16 million that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got from it, in which as a member of Knesset he was not allowed to be involved. This is the first issue that needs to be investigated, even before examining the source of the huge profit, the partners, and their connection to the German shipyards.
Had the prosecution not been so weakened, they would have been capable of taking strong steps against the prime minister, who is violating the court order regarding the conflict of interest and who is continuing to engage in matters from which the Supreme Court has ordered him to refrain.
If the Supreme Court were not afraid of doing what must be done under these circumstances, it would have called for urgent hearings and taken unequivocal decisions regarding the criminal conduct of the prime minister and his posse.
This is not happening, though, because all of these democratic institutions are up against a group of vigilantes that has no limits, and is headed by an assassination squad consisting of three people: The prime minister, his wife and his son, who demonstrate daily, in every matter, an unstoppable urge to destroy everything that gets in their way, including the anchors upon which the stability of the country depends.
The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel.