Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

A Perfect Storm of the Corrupt, the Violent, and the Out to Lunch: Notes from the Trenches

Monday morning, March 13, 2023

The coalition is proceeding with what even Israeli radio news is now calling a “blitz,” and bringing up for a vote the law for Knesset override of Supreme Court rulings with a bare majority, a vote of 61 Members out of 120. This is a demand of the haredi parties for them continuing in the coalition; without them, this government falls. They have made clear that this legislation is their top priority because it is the guarantee that their sector is permanently immune even from the demand to bear equal obligation to military, or even alternative, service. Since they and their allies now control the Knesset, they don’t have to fear legislation about this being passed there that would be upheld by the Court, which, to be clear, is how this works. The Court does not legislate. It has ruled on what the Knesset legislates, i.e., behaves as a Supreme Court. Which it will cease to be if the coalition’s legal putsch is implemented.

A long string of legal and judicial experts have warned that, if Israel does not have a functioning Supreme Court and an independent judiciary, Israelis going abroad who have served in the IDF are liable to arrest and prosecution as “war criminals” before the Hague. Even that argument against what the coalition is doing– and there are many other arguments, made from across the political spectrum here and abroad against this and warning of devastating economic effects, too, Moody’s warning of downgrade of Israel’s credit rating, critical to the functioning of our economy—none of it is having any effect on this coalition.

It is mortifying, listening to the news. Nothing gets through to them. We all know, ad nauseam, what each of the corrupt parts of this engine has at stake in proceeding, it’s life and death for them, whether it’s to stay out of jail, or enact revenge for having been sent to jail and convicted again, subsequently; or because this is a one-time chance to enact theocracy and violent, racist, rule, and they know that if this government falls, their chances are not assured in another election. Certainly, the rest of the country, much of which was apathetic and complacent, no longer is, and that, the gang fears. What is it that the Japanese Chief of Staff is said to have said, after Pearl Harbor? That he feared they had awakened a sleeping giant?

As of last night, it is open war between this regime and the praklitut, the Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, who ruled that the dismissal of the Police Chief for the Tel Aviv region, Ami Eshed– while last Thursday’s demonstrations and civil disobedience was ongoing– during it– was enacted illegally; she issued a ruling that it be frozen. The country’s Police Commissioner, who went along with the firing, has since said that doing it as and how it was done was a mistake (he still wants Eshed, with whom, apparently, he has a bad history, dismissed, but after following the appropriate protocols, including a hearing), and that he would obey the AG’s ruling. Ben Gvir, however, who ordered the dismissal because Eshed did not carry out his order to break the heads of demonstrators, immediately attacked the AG, nothing new but in stronger language; she is a leftist in the hands of the “anarchists,” the demonstrators. But then Netanyahu did the same. Openly, explicitly, backed Ben Gvir. With whom he refused to appear jointly, be photographed, during the election campaign. Such is the progression that has befallen us in just the few months since this coalition came to power.

There are no standards, no procedures, no rules, it’s whatever the coalition says it– whatever the “it” in question is– is. That is what this whole putsch is about, after all. Simple “majoritarian” rule, meaning, the crass sacralization of power. Power is its own justification. A senior police officer, decades in the field, using his professional judgment about the use of force against demonstrators and practitioners of civil disobedience–that is the term for it– and how not to inflame a situation unecessarily, has to go, summarily, because il duci say so. Whatever the differences between the various components of this coalition, they all share the worship of power as its own justification as their political ideology.

The stage is now clearly set for an open confrontation between the regime and the senior representative of law in this country. That it was headed this way we’ve known but now it is happening. It is no accident, anyone with even a dusting of Freud understands why Ben Gvir and Netanyahu keep calling us “anarchists.” Utter projection. A bunch of sick, dangerous, desperate, men.

A perfect storm, this regime. A perfect storm of the corrupt, the violent, and the out to lunch. That last designation belongs to the disgraceful members of Likud (is there some other kind? Please, surprise me), who understand very well what is going on, and who enable it. To keep their behinds warm in Knesset and Ministerial seats and their cushy government salaries and perks coming because they imagine that there will be a country when all this is over and they can replace Netanyahu, someday.

The mind staggers at what they are all doing. One sees it and definitely takes it in and yet, you just shake your head in disbelief. And horror.

How many times have we watched as coups happened, watched immature democracies turn into total banana republics. But us? This? This precious pearl? Our Israel?

The only possible immediate scenario to stop this train of destruction is the President stepping in in ways that are not currently in his power to do, as far as I know, and are certainly, unprecedented. But Israel has never been in such a situation before, with an existential threat coming from within.

President Herzog’s emergency address last Saturday night, one whose intention to give he did not share with Netanyahu before the latter’s departure for a three-day wedding anniversary jaunt to Rome, already showed that he was moving outside the extreme line of caution he has been following, declaring the gang’s plot “a nightmare that has to pass from the world, and now.”

He has been pursuing talks with various actors, not least, the Movement for Quality Government, a main organizer of the demonstrations (and in which I am a longtime member), which has presented him with a draft of a Constitution defining the structure of a tri-partite government, including an indpendent, professional judiciary and a Supreme Court functioning as one; the functions of the respective branches, and the checks and balances between them; and defining basic and inalienable human and civil rights of all citizens. One would dearly hope that such a document finally define– as in, limit– the role of organized religion in the State, which has to happen, if for no other reason than to make any such Israeli bill of equal and inalienable human and civil rights operative.

That such a document has to happen is clear. But how, what mechanism, to institute such a thing, when the gang is rushing its plan to implementation? Will the President begin to function as the convener of an alternate government? That, in fact, may in fact, be exactly what he is starting to do.

March 12, 2023

Netanyahu can’t back down, he’ll lose his coalition. He sees the car rushing headlong for the brick wall and he can’t, won’t, stop it.

Levin certainly won’t. He’s been after precisely this for decades, and now he has his dream coalition—it was he, after all, who crafted the coalition agreement, all these deals were his work– and a weave of the indicted PM, frantic to stay in power and out of jail; the twice convicted Deri’, both of whom want the legal system overturned for obvious, self-serving reasons; the lunatic, violence inciting and directing Ben Gvir and Smotrich, with power now they could only have dreamed about; and absolutely, not least– the haredi parties, who have made it clear just now again, that the law to give the Knesset override over Supreme Court decisions with a majority of 61 is sine qua non for them staying in the coalition,without which, there is no coalition.

The haredi parties have not received enough attention by those clamoring for “compromise” between autocracy and theocracy, on the one hand, and constitutional democracy on the other. They pretend that this is all about versions of judicial “reform,” and ignore the theocratic dynamism behind it. The haredi parties exploit democratic means, like the ballot and parliamentary procedures but they are utterly opposed to constitutional democracy. That is nothing new in haredi political history, going back to the origins of haredi political organizing in interwar Poland.

They will not participate in any “compromise.” This is their big chance to enact the theocracy they previously could only pray for. Now that they have shown their full hand and the public wrath is fully on them, they have both everything to lose, and nothing to lose, by going for broke and threatening Netanyahu to bring down his government if he budges.

The master manipulator, weaver of webs, is caught in his own.

Very unfortunately for us, he’s got us in there with him.

We will not be his Gantz, throwing him a lifeline.

The pressure will only increase.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.
Related Topics
Related Posts