Paul Mirbach

‘I see both sides, but only my side counts’

When a prime minister announces that he wishes to address the nation, a ripple of anticipation courses through the veins of journalists. Even the public gets caught up in the excitement. It must be important, or momentous. Otherwise, why address the nation? Not with Netanyahu; His addresses never live up to the hype. You feel that you can’t afford to miss it, because it might be something meaningful, but it never is. That’s why I have stopped watching them.

But last night was different. The fact that Gallant announced that he was going to make a public statement followed by Netanyahu made it different. The anticipation that a breakthrough had been reached – that maybe, at last, 11 solid weeks of mass protests had gotten the message across and borne fruit was too tempting to miss.

And so, I swallowed the rising bile in my throat when his face came on the screen without throwing something at the television. However, I couldn’t control myself when he opened his address with his signature sickening “Ezraheir Yisrael”, and shouted back “Oh, *&$# already”! (That drew a sideways glance from my wife… )

But I endured and listened. His conciliatory opening remarks had me thinking “here it comes, any minute now he’s going to say that he is suspending the legislation to allow for negotiations. We did it!”. But like an experienced seductress, he flirted with us, led us on, lured us in, hinted, tempted, almost said it, but then moved away, leaving us feeling cheated and cheapened.

Netanyahu’s address, 23/3/2023. (Courtesy of Times of Israel)

And then he doubled down. In describing how he understood “both sides,” he emphasized the validity of the concerns of those in favor of the legislation, but when he spoke about those against, his tone was full of derision, barely hidden ridicule, and more than hinted that we were being alarmist. Same old Bibi with his supercilious smirk and his haughty mannerisms.

“We have not come to trample and oppress, we have come to balance and repair,” he said.

It is one thing when you use sophistry, gaslighting, half-truths, and misrepresented examples to create an illusion that you are motivated by a sense of civic-mindedness to justify the “national necessity” to pass legislation that strips the Judiciary of its independence and which gives the coalition majority in the Legislature, together with the  Executive branch, structural dominance over it. But when you do this to conceal an ulterior motive, the duplicity reaches a whole new level of outrageousness.

And that is what this is about. Each party in the Coalition, whether it is legalizing settlements, imprisoning and deporting asylum seekers, or cementing exemption from military service for Haredim has its own agenda and its own reasons why it wants to strip the Court of its independence. The motivation for these laws has less to do with rectifying a “broken system” and much more to do with what they intend to do once these laws are passed.

Let us not give Netanyahu credit where it isn’t due. This is not his brainchild. As devious as Netanyahu is, anyone who is at all familiar with Kohelet Policy Forum, would have recognized that Netanyahu was quoting verbatim, straight out of their playbook. Even the examples he chose are “cases in point” from Kohelet.

Kohelet Policy Forum is a sinister, extreme Right-Wing think tank, comprised mainly of religious Zionists, whose goal is to “ensure Israel’s future as the nation-state of the Jewish people”. That should read expanding settlements and annexing the West Bank. They are financed by two Jewish American billionaires, who are not even Israeli citizens. Their aim is to influence government policies to achieve this goal. While Netanyahu and his troglodytes denounce NGOs like the New Israel Fund, for receiving foreign funding with the intent to influence Israeli politics, when it suits them, they apparently have no problem with two American nationals, not only influencing Israeli government policy but actually writing legislation – AND our basic laws!

The thing is this: It is easy to create a false narrative based on half-truths and manipulated facts to back up an argument for judicial “reform”. But it takes much longer and a lot more effort to debunk their disinformation and expose them. They rely on us not having the time to do this, and thus their arguments get away with sounding convincing.

Not this time! Netanyahu lied to the public one time too many. Time to debunk the lies.

Assertion: The Supreme Court acts like a closed old boys club that appoints judges on the basis of “a friend brings a friend”… “The judges appoint themselves”.
Truth: The Judicial Selection Committee today comprises nine members: three members of the Supreme Court, three members of the ruling coalition, one member of the Opposition, and two appointees by the Israeli Bar. To appoint a judge at least SEVEN members, need to vote in favor of the appointment. That means at least FOUR members, *, in addition,* to the three members of the Judiciary have to vote in favor. How can three judges on the committee appoint their own candidate if you need seven votes?

The Judicial Selection Committee at work, February 22, 2018. (Courtesy of Times of Israel, Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Assertion: The three members of the Judiciary on the committee have the power of veto in judicial selection.
Truth: a) There is no foundation for the assumption that all three judges always act as one. b) There are also three members of the ruling coalition on the committee. They ALSO have veto power. Therefore, there is no way that a judge can be appointed over the objection and against the will of the ruling coalition! 

Assertion: “The law that will be approved next week does not take control of the Court, but rather balances and diversifies it. It opens the gates of the Court to different world views and sectors and communities that have so far been excluded from it for decades.
Truth: The following is the current composition of the Supreme Court: Of the 15 Justices (16 if you include the Supreme Court Registrar), four are religious. Three live in the West Bank. Two lived in a ma’abara or development town. At least three are not Askenazi (who are not among the religious justices mentioned above). Seven are women. Seven are known to be right-wing or right-leaning. And at least eight out of the fifteen were appointed UNANIMOUSLY by ALL 9 members of the Judicial Selection Committee.
Is this not balanced and diversified? Apropos equal representation, when will we see three Arab Supreme Court judges?

Assertion: “In all democracies, including the US, publicly elected officials are those who appoint judges”.
Truth: In France, the President appoints judges upon the recommendation of the Higher Council of the Judiciary. He has no say in selecting the candidates. (The Higher Council of the Judiciary is comprised solely of judges. Apropos judges appointing themselves…).

In Britain, the Election Commission of judges, an INDEPENDENT commission, recommends candidates to the Lord Chancellor. He has no role in the selection of the candidates.

In Canada, the Speaker, the Chief of Justice (head of the Supreme Court), and the Chancellor of the High Court (head of the Appeals Court) decide on judicial appointments. Only the Speaker is publicly elected.

In New Zealand, appointments are made by the Governor-General upon the recommendation of the Attorney-General. The Governor General is appointed by the King of England upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. He/she is not publicly elected.

So much for publicly elected officials in “all democracies” appointing judges. (Does he not even check his facts before he speaks)??

Assertion: “My intention is to make sure that civil rights are anchored as a law. We will guarantee the rights of all Israeli citizens; Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, women, men, and LGBTQ… I will make sure that this is the case.
Truth: Funny, but we have heard nothing about this intention during the entire three months of argument over the judicial “reform”. This was the first time it was even mentioned! However, if he was sincere about this intention, the correct order of legislation would be that these laws should have been passed BEFORE any of the laws to change the Judiciary passed for the first reading. They weren’t, because it is an empty promise.

Assertion: “Regretfully, representatives of the Opposition have refused to enter into such a dialogue. Three months have been wasted because of this”.
Truth: The Coalition is ramming through the legislation in a blitz. The Coalition has refused to halt the legislative process to allow talks. “Not even for a minute”, to quote Yariv Levin. Netanyahu’s call for negotiation with the Opposition on condition of no preconditions while refusing to halt the legislation which is the mother of all preconditions is bad faith.  Calling upon the Opposition to enter negotiations under these circumstances, is like a Mafia boss “negotiating” a deal and making an “offer you can’t refuse”.

Assertion: “The Court has unjustifiably intervened in security considerations, and time and again it presented obstacles and difficulties to the execution of the government’s policy. It prevented sending out infiltrators from Israel.”
Truth: a) Mentioning asylum seekers, people fleeing political persecution, in the same breath as terrorists, thereby portraying them as a security threat to Israel, is the ultimate example of demonization of the refugees. Not a single refugee was arrested for terrorist activities. b) The Supreme Court DID NOT prevent the government from deporting asylum seekers. The government sought to incarcerate asylum seekers for up to three years prior to deportation. The Court ruled that the government could not inter the refugees in detention camps, because it violated the basic human right to liberty as enshrined in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. By all accounts, the policy of incarcerating refugees is inhumane and in violation of international law and the Geneva Convention, Articles 31 and 33. It was unconscionable in 1946-1948 in the Cyprus Detention Camps, and it was unconscionable in 2013-2015 when we did it. The Supreme Court had no choice. c) In April 2015, Netanyahu signed a deal with the UN to relocate thousands of refugees. Two hours later, he was pressured to cancel the deal – NOT by the Supreme Court, but by his own Coalition partners!

The Holot Detention Facility, February 17, 2014. (Courtesy of Times of Israel, with attribution to Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

Assertion: “It also intervened with the gas deal without authority …. And we paid a heavy economic price for that, tens of billions of shekels”.
Truth: The Supreme Court ruled against ONE CLAUSE in the gas deal. The clause stated that Israeli governments would be prevented from making regulatory changes for TEN YEARS. In other words, Netanyahu committed future Israeli governments to not be able to make decisions regarding the over-generous tax and restraint of trade concessions Netanyahu made with Noble Energy and Delek. The question is not whether the Supreme Court had the authority to rescind a clause that restricted the Knesset’s powers for a decade, but whether Netanyahu had the authority to make such a commitment in the name of future governments. This was not an international agreement with another country; it was an agreement with a tycoon and a gas consortium! Netanyahu lied and obscured the context of the decision, thereby intentionally misleading the public and intentionally making the Supreme Court’s decision seem unreasonable.

Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. And I will add that it takes a special kind of malicious duplicity to do so in order to unilaterally effect such a constitutional change to Israel’s political structure in order to extricate oneself from a possible conviction for corruption. And that is Netanyahu in a nutshell.

About the Author
Paul Mirbach (PEM), made Aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz, transforming rocks and mud into a green oasis in the Gallilee. Paul still lives on Tuval. He calls it his little corner of Paradise.
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