In order to understand the political drama of former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein’s resignation, one needs to put it into the context of three on-going political struggles: 1) recent inconclusive elections in which there was no clear majority for either major party; 2) a highly aggressive High Court, legal advisers and state prosecutors which sought to impose their agenda on the executive and legislative branches of government; and 3) efforts to depose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Faced with an ultimatum by the High Court to convene the Knesset and vote on his replacement, Edelstein’s dilemma was considered a “constitutional crisis.” Condemned by many in the media and his opponents, he risked his political career. It was for him a moment of Truth that also created the possibility of healing and reconciliation.
The implosion of the Blue and White Party clearly demonstrates why the High Court’s impulsive intervention was wrong, and explains why Edelstein’s resignation was a wise decision. The High Court demanded that Edelstein accept Blue and White’s claim that it had the support of 61 members of Knesset and was entitled to replace Edelstein with its own candidate.
Although Blue and White seemed to have a bare majority of MKs in support (with the Joint List), however, it could not form a government, and therefore was not entitled to replace the speaker, since the speaker represents the government. He is, by the way, the only government representative who is specifically elected by the Knesset.
The High Court’s intrusion into the function of the Knesset was not only unwarranted, it violated the basic foundation and rule of every democracy: the separation of powers.
Rather than violate an order of the court that would have undermined its status and appeared to impugn its authority, Edelstein chose to resign. That was an act of courage and integrity.
Critics of Edelstein and Netanyahu called this a “violation of the rule of law” and an “attack on Israel’s democracy.” There was, however, no “law,” and Edelstein’s decision to resign not only strengthened Israel’s democracy, but paved the way for the formation of a desperately needed unity government. For that, we should all be grateful.
Efforts to remove an effective prime minister because of an indictment during a time of national crisis threaten our national security and stability. They are politically motivated and capricious. By all accounts, Netanyahu is now indispensable. There is no urgency for a trial, especially when the charges are not significant and must first be evaluated by a court.
Edelstein’s widespread popularity as speaker, his political maturity, values, experience and background make him a much-needed leader. He seems to be one of the few political leaders in Israel with a Zionist vision who can overcome the divisiveness that plagues Israeli politics and our society.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist in Israel.