Samuel M. Edelman
Professor Emeritus and Lecturer

Netanyahu and the Israeli judicial crisis

As a long time, Zionist and warrior in the US academic BDS wars I am proud of my Israeli colleagues and friends who marched and demonstrated in the streets to stop Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing minions from destroying Israeli democracy by ending judicial checks and balances.  No one should be fooled by Netanyahu’s call for a brief pause in the coalition’s rush to approve changes to the judiciary.  Bibi is not going to compromise in anyway because he really believes that only Bibi can lead Israel.  Netanyahu has for most of his career been focused on Netanyahu.  He owes no allegiance to anyone or anything other than himself. His loyalty only goes one way, like Trump. He sees that the only way out of the criminal indictments confronting him is by gutting the judicial system itself.  He comes to this path naturally, as the entitled son of Benzion Netanyahu, the much aggrieved and rejected university professor and secretary to Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Bibi is not a supporter of democracy. He has always been a closet autocrat. He in fact uses democracy to undermine democracy. When he became prime minister this time, he reached out to his fellow autocrats Victor Orban of Hungary, Andrzej Duda of Poland, Italian fascist prime minister Giorgia Meloni (who he just visited).  Bibi’s long history of friendship with and support of Donald Trump often was based on shared authoritarian tendencies both men expressed.  Trump, Orban, Duda all have focused their efforts on altering their countries judiciaries as a first stage in eradicating governmental checks and balances opening the door to greater and greater authoritarian policies and muzzling of the press and making dissent illegal. Bibi is just following suit.

Bibi, Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben Gvir, Yariv Levin and Simcha Rotman all have taken lessons from Orban in Hungary and Duda in Poland.  Both Orban and Duda first went after their country’s judiciary.  During Israel’s last election campaign there was little talk on the part of Likud that they were going to first go after the judiciary.  So it was a surprise even to some in the Likud Party that the first effort of the coalition was to focus on so called judiciary reform.

Netanyahu has for years touted his supposed support for Israel’s democracy. In fact, he has always had authoritarian tendencies. He gleaned these authoritarian tendencies from his father Benzion Netanyahu. Benzion was Vladimir Zev Jabotinsky’s secretary in the late 1930’s until Jabotinsky’s death in 1940 in New York.  Benzion went on to forge strong relations with Republican politicians during the Roosevelt administration.  So, it was natural that Bibi would follow in his father’s footsteps.  In the early 1920’s and 1930’s Jabotinsky flirted with the fascism of Mussolini but rejected it. Jabotinsky did not reject autocracy though. As Jabotinsky’s secretary, Benzion clearly absorbed much of Jabotinsky’s vision of the world.

In 1985-86 as a part of the World Zionist Organizations Ben-Gurion’s Centenary celebration preparation I went to the Netanyahu home in Jerusalem to interview Benzion on his views toward Ben Gurion and Israel.  After spending a few hours of exceptionally stimulating discussion with Professor Netanyahu I left feeling dismayed.  I had been treated to a stunning argument for authoritarian rule over Israel and a bitter attack on Ben Gurion and the left.

Having heard the father’s vision of Israel it is not hard to understand the son’s continuing the legacy of both Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu in today’s Israeli crisis over the ending of the judiciary check on the possibility of growing authoritarianism over democracy.  Knowing this generational context it is clear that the demonstrations against the current coalition’s judicial coup must continue.  Israel needs a constitution not a new militia controlled by Ben Gvir and unchecked by the judiciary.  Most importantly, Israel needs a government with checks and balances. So for those demonstrating in Israel for democracy do not stop.

I am proud of the demonstrators and the opposition in Israel who understand the value and importance of democracy for Israel and who fight to stop the advance of autocratic despots who want to destroy all that Israel has built in its 75 years of existence.

About the Author
Samuel Edelman, PhD, is an emeritus professor, former co-director of the State of California Center of Excellence for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, former dean at the American Jewish University, former executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and currently a lecturer on world affairs, Israel, and the Holocaust.
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