In 2012, I published “The Last Israelis” as a chilling wake-up call to the world about the dangers of allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
The apocalyptic thriller envisioned the ultimate external threat — one that could bring about the end of the State of Israel (and much of the world) — just as Israel’s Prime Minister was incapacitated by a health emergency.
But I could have never imagined that just eleven years later, the most potent danger to the State of Israel would actually come from within — and at the hands of the very Prime Minister who had deftly steered the ship of state around so many regional perils.
Unfortunately, the threat of a nuclear armed-Iran is far greater today than it was in 2012, and Israel is growing militarily weaker by the day, as its army and society are torn asunder by so many politicians who could have avoided this calamity, had they placed country before career.
What’s painfully baffling is how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (aka “Bibi”) and everyone in his government could stubbornly and callously ignore so many massive, popular protests and countless dire warnings from virtually every direction: the military and national security community, business and union leaders, top economists and credit-rating agencies, legal scholars and political scientists, senior leaders of the Jewish Diaspora, and even the president of the United States. To think that all of these voices are wrong is reckless hubris and/or willful self-deception for the sake of personal interests.
Now the Supreme Court must decide if the Knesset can pass a law that limits the Supreme Court’s power. There’s a theoretical argument that the Supreme Court should recuse itself because it has a vested interest in the case that it’s being asked to decide. But here the Supreme Court is playing a vital role that trumps all other considerations: acting as the institutional guardian of Israeli democracy. Moreover, the Knesset regularly expands the scope of its power and/or overlooks conflicts of interest each time it passes a law that governs a new area of life and each time it decides questions that directly affect the interests of its members (like their salaries), so no branch of government can perfectly avoid all conflicts of interest.
There is also the question of what checks and balances can curb the Supreme Court’s power, if the Knesset cannot pass any law that does so. Recently exposed unethical conduct by certain US Supreme Court justices demonstrates the need for some kind of regulation to avoid corruption at the highest court. Still, the nature of the judiciary is inherently passive and limited, as it has the fewest resources (in terms of its budget and staff) and can decide only the cases that come before it, without any power proactively to legislate or execute policy. Thus, a concern about curbing excessive judicial power in the context of the court’s attempt to protect the democratic nature of the Israeli state seems emphatically secondary.
For example, if the court can no longer block executive or legislative actions that are unreasonable, then what is to stop a government from naming as Finance Minister someone who has been convicted of financial crimes or is clearly intending to use the office for corrupt purposes? What would prevent a law that allows doctors to refuse to provide treatments that contravene their religious faith? Without a strong and independent judiciary, Israeli “democracy” becomes “tyranny of the majority.”
Thus, it seems likely that the Supreme Court will rule that the Knesset cannot limit judicial review because of the deep and potentially irreversible damage that such a law would cause to Israeli democracy. A failure to invalidate the law would effectively place the judicial imprimatur of the highest legal authority on what may be the most anti-democratic law ever passed in Israel. The real question is whether Bibi and his government will accept such a momentous decision by the very Supreme Court they wish to diminish, since respecting such an important ruling against Israel’s legislative and executive branch would have the effect of enhancing the Court’s power to an all-time high.
For that reason, it is very likely that the government will defy any ruling that strikes down their attempt to limit judicial review, and that’s when the real constitutional crisis begins. Hopefully the government opposition has been coordinating the appropriate response with the current Chief of the General Staff, Herzi Halevi.
At that dark hour when the Israeli government attempts a political coup that changes the very nature of the Israeli state (despite a mandate that doesn’t represent even a simple majority of the voters), a military coup by those committed to restoring democracy is the best and last hope for Israel. The military should seize control of the government, and retain power during a transitional period that is long enough to (1) ensure that the IDF remains united and ready to counter external threats (which have only multiplied with so many vital elements of the military publicly refusing to serve under a changed regime, (2) establish a Constitutional Committee to draft a much needed Israeli Constitution, and (3) hold a national vote for a new government, once the situation has stabilized enough to organize free and fair elections.
A military coup would also provide the opportunity to establish, that, going forward, there will be an extremely small number of exemptions from compulsory military service for religious individuals. This point is critical because, in light of fast-moving demographic trends, now may be the last opportunity to reign in the unsustainable growth of a population primed for parasitism. Because IDF service also makes individuals more employable, requiring equal military service from the Ultra-Orthodox would also help to make them more productive members of the economy, rather than a net drain. No definitive solution to this thorny and divisive issue has ever been proposed because it’s too politically toxic, but in the current environment, where the country has already been brought to the brink of a civil war, this key question can and must be resolved, once and for all, so as not to let the current crisis go to waste.
Precisely because it is a people’s army with a strong moral compass and stunning achievements, the IDF is the most respected institution in Israel, and thus uniquely positioned to stop the deeply polarized country from barreling any closer to the abyss.
Beyond the moral sway and respect that it commands with the vast majority of the population, the military is the ultimate protector of the Israeli state and should continue to fulfill its vital role — even when the threat, for the first time, comes from within. Indeed, if the IDF acts responsibly and wisely, Israel could actually emerge from this existential reckoning with a far healthier democracy, society, economy, and military over the long run.