“In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” Ben Gurion 1956.
It may not have risen to miracle status, but something virtually unheard of in today’s world, has happened in Israel. Despite the current Israeli governing coalition having a 64-member majority, despite the Israeli system missing a lot of the avenues for public influence that the U.S. and other democracies have (e.g. legislative districts, two houses), hundreds of thousands if not over a million Israelis came together peacefully for six months to successfully stop legislation that would severely cripple Israel’s world-respected judicial system and undermine its vibrant, albeit flawed, democracy.
In those six months of demonstrations, not one person died, maybe a couple were injured, and property damage was minimal. Compare that to Myanmar, Paris, many parts of Africa, the United States of America. Dissertations will someday be written about this. And yet the world, including America and American Jews, hardly noted it.
The peacefulness and Israel’s democracy are now both on the precipice of being lost. Faced with massive opposition threatening to bring the country to a standstill, Prime Minister Netanyahu put the brakes on the proponents’ original plan to jam through the massive assault on Israel’s democracy in one fell swoop. The intensity of the opposition naturally dissipated somewhat.
Now, Netanyahu and the drivers behind the anti-judiciary movement, apparently thinking that the opposition would not be able to regain its prior strength and support, have opted to piecemeal the proposals.
On Tuesday the bill that would repeal the “reasonableness” standard used to adjudicate government agencies’ administrative decisions passed out of committee and to the Knesset for its first of the three readings.
Having recently seen its candidate for head of the Bar Association, a convicted criminal, overwhelmingly defeated by an outspoken opponent of the assault on the judiciary, the proponents of the attack passed a preliminary reading of legislation to eliminate the Bar Association including, of course, its role in the judicial selection process.
As former Likud member, Justice Minister, and now opposition Knesset member Gideon Sa’ar, a long-time advocate of thoughtful, reasonable judicial reform, said, “Those who cancel the elections in the Bar Association
because they do not like the results, will not hesitate to cancel the results of the Knesset elections one day.”
And just days after telling the Wall Street Journal that the proposal to allow the Knesset to override a court’s decision on legislation was off the table–“I threw that out… it’s out”–, he told some angry Cabinet members in a private meeting that it was not completely out.
In the face of this, the opposition is rallying. People feel that Israel’s democracy is on the line. The protests in the last few days have become more intense, and the organizers are encouraging massive protests throughout the country. More protesters are willing to engage in civil disobedience, blocking highways and other public spaces. They are willing to disrupt their lives and the lives of other Israelis, and risk arrest, to protect Israel’s democracy.
These are not extremists, anarchists, and leftists. These are regular, patriotic Israelis, people who served in the army and who pay their taxes, who care deeply about the country, its democracy, its Jewish character, and the future it holds for their children and grandchildren.
The chances of violence are increased substantially because Netanyahu, in his desperate attempt to stay in power an out of jail, made Itamar Ben-Gvir Minister of National Security, with expanded authority over the police.
Convicted multiple times for inciting violence, rejected for army service by the IDF, and not permitted to attend meetings of the Security Cabinet because Netanyahu knows he cannot be trusted with sensitive information, Ben-Gvir is the last person any sane government would put in charge of security.
He is pressuring the police to use unnecessary force on the protesters. He is inappropriately trying to insert himself into police operational matters. He is pressuring veteran, qualified police leaders who take seriously enforcing the law while respecting democratic rights. The Tel Aviv police chief, about to be transferred because he would not deviate from police standards and practices, resigned last week.
If Netanyahu wasn’t held hostage by his need to placate extremists like Ben-Gvir, he would drop the efforts to piecemeal these sweeping, anti-democratic proposals through the Knesset. He would, in cooperation with the opposition parties, appoint a well-respected, knowledgeable commission to study and develop reasonable, thoughtful proposals for any necessary reforms to the judiciary and the electoral system.
He would focus his government’s attention on developing a strategy for keeping Israel secure while heading off our descent into one-state that is either not Jewish or not democratic, would take steps that would enhance the chances that Saudi Arabia and others will join the Abraham Accords, and would take action to head off the looming disasters in the Galilee and the Negev that will likely not make the news until they blow up.
If Netanyahu allows the fanatics to which he is beholden to move their anti-democracy agenda forward next week, we can expect hundreds of thousands of Israelis to take to the streets. We can expect a disruption of business as usual. And given who is in charge of security, we can very likely expect excessive force and, quite possibly, bloodshed.
Netanyahu could stop this threat to Israel’s democracy, its internal peace, its soul. All he would need to do is cease efforts to unilaterally pass the agenda to cripple Israel’s independent judiciary. He would clearly be met with vicious objections by the extremists in his coalition. It is less likely that enough would be willing to give up their positions to bring down his government and go to new elections.
The five or six Likud members that were responsible for the coalition being unable to pass the anti-judiciary legislation in one sweeping package months ago could have the courage to publicly express their opposition and insist that the government drop its unilateral efforts to now piecemeal the package.
Prime Minister Netanyahu could have an epiphany and decide to do what is right for Israel. He could resign. The minute he did that, those opposition parties and members who are on the right and in the center but refuse to serve with Netanyahu because of his lies and his political and legal behavior would gladly join a coalition with Likud, thereby ridding the government of its extremists.
In short, there are ways out of this. We do not have to go off the edge of the precipice. As the song goes, “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle.” But, as Ben-Gurion said, . . .