The Opportunity Created by Corona

For the past number of years we have been subjected to the grinding complaints of our neo-conservative politicians, complaints heard more often than not in the feminine lilt of our once and future Justice Minister, against the power of the judiciary.  Our judges, they told us, have already usurped the legislative authority of the Knesset and are in the process of taking control of the executive branch of our government as well.  What they derisively dubbed “the party of Salah al-Din Street,” they warned us, is hell bent on erasing the separation of governmental powers upon which our democratic political system depends, and replacing it with nothing less than a judicial dictatorship.

Those warnings fell mostly on deaf ears, and for good reason.  As the events of the past ten days have proven, the long term threat to our democracy is not posed by a hyper-active court which foolishly imagines that when push comes to shove the pen will prove to be mightier than the sword.  Rather, the long term threat to our democracy, indeed, our democracy’s existential peril, emanates from our unharnessed executive which cannot be disciplined by the legislature which it must dominate in order to govern.

Our democracy is at risk because of the missing separation between the executive and the legislative branches of our government.  So long as the Ministers of State, including first and foremost the Prime Minister, are permitted to serve in the Knesset while holding a ministerial portfolio – and in the case of the Prime Minister is required by law to do so – the Knesset can be nothing more than a tool of the government, a rubber stamp unable to properly protect and defend the interests of the people.

In the past ten days our government has suspend our courts and shuttered our legislature because in our most recent election we the people decided for the unthinkable:  We delivered control of the Knesset to the parties of the opposition even as we denied those parties a clear path to executive power.  And at the same time we cast a vote of confidence in our current government but only on the condition that they remain a minority in the Knesset.

Said differently, but with absolute finality, we the people did not vote in favor of Likud and against Blue and White and we did not vote in favor of Blue and White and against Likud.  And we certainly did not vote in favor of a national unity government, not on an ongoing basis and not on an emergency basis.  After the misery that the political parties have put us through for the last year and a half, the last thing in the world that we the people want is for the big political parties, with or without their small party partners, to divide the political pie among themselves so that they can fill their coffers with our money and then call yet another election in six to 18 months.

No!  We the people voted in favor of overhauling the structure of our political system, beginning with our clear and decisive demand to completely separate the executive power of our government from the legislative power of our government.  For this reason, we voted to keep the executive branch in the hands of the Likud and its religious allies, even as we transferred authority within the legislative branch from the Likud and the religious to the three Blue and White generals and their mostly secular, mostly Jewish, civilian associates.  And that too is an expression of the wisdom of the people.  Under no circumstances would we the people grant executive power to a group of politicians led by military men, and especially not in a time of national emergency.

What we want from those military men and their civilian colleagues is to follow our orders and establish by law the full separation between the powers of the legislature and the powers of the executive, the separation of powers that our polity so desperately needs and that our votes have decreed must happen now.  Toward this end, just as soon as the three generals and their colleagues take control of the Knesset, we want them to pass a law which requires all Ministers of State, and their Deputies, beginning with the Prime Minister, to resign from the Knesset, effective immediately.  Then, we want them to establish a joint committee with the parties of the minority whose leaders are no longer members of the Knesset because they run the executive, to create new rules for electing both of the now fully and permanently independent executive and legislative branches of our national government.

If done in a proper and responsible manner, these new rules will lift the albatross of proportional representation from our collective shoulders.  In turn, Israel will never again confront the terrible political deadlock of the last year plus, the political deadlock which has allowed the politicians to bring our State to the brink of political ruin.  And if all of that can be accomplished in the next six to eight months while the Prime Minister deals effectively with the Corona crisis and its financial consequences, then the frightening plague now looming over our future will have been proven to be the panacea for which we pine.

And when this comes to pass, the Prime Minister will deserve more than a military parade marching him into jail.  In fact, he will deserve a Presidential pardon.

About the Author
Avi Berkowitz teaches history at the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University, and serves as the Rabbi of the Minyan HaVatikim in the Rimon section of Efrat. He holds a PhD from Columbia University in International Relations, with a specialty in Middle East studies and received his Rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchick. Prior to coming on aliyah, he served as the rabbi of the Community Synagogue in Manhattan's East Village, taught history at the Ramaz Upper School, and was an adjunct Assistant Professor of political science and Middle East studies at CUNY
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