A week ago, there was a great deal to say about the momentous events taking place in Israel, much of it due to, or at least blamed on, the COVID-19 pandemic. There was so much to report and comment on then.
There was the Israeli cabinet’s behind-closed-doors decision to have the Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service, track Israelis suffering from coronavirus, or possibly having come in contact with someone infected.
This invasion of privacy was immediately challenged in court, which ordered an injunction on carrying out the plan. The Justice Ministry demanded that the plan be approved by the Knesset, with appropriate oversight to prevent abuses.
However, Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of the Knesset, closed the Knesset, on the grounds that he feared the spread of the COVID-19 infection to the Knesset’s members. What Mr. Edelstein actually feared was the loss of his job, which was one of the main agenda issues for the Blue and White Party. The replacement of Edelstein, a loyal supporter of Netanyahu, would have been one more nail Blue and White was hammering into Netanyahu’s coffin. By closing the Knesset, which he had no legal right to do, Edelstein prevented a vote that would have ended his power. That power is not insignificant, since it is the speaker of the Knesset who sets the Knesset’s agenda.
Again, the courts stepped in and forced the re-opening of the Knesset so that committees could be formed. Edelstein’s response was, “Let the court send its guards to re-open the Knesset themselves. You call that democracy when an unelected body tells the Knesset when to sit?” This defiance of a court order was the greatest constitutional challenge Israeli society ever had experienced in its entire history.
In response to Edelstein’s closure of the Knesset, a convoy of more than 400 cars jammed the highways, making its way to Jerusalem to protest what many considered an Edelstein-Netanyahu attack on Israeli democracy. This was backed up by a digital demonstration that 597,000 Israelis participated in. Edelstein resigned rather than obey the court order, essentially achieving by himself what Blue and White wanted. His closing of the Knesset prevented the formation of committees for precious days and hours. Some of them were vital in staving off the covid-19 virus.
One would have thought that these obvious attempts to hang on to power would sour the Israeli public on Likud and its partners. After all, 61 Knesset members suggested to President Rivlin that he give Gantz a chance to form a coalition. Now, however, we will never know if the public’s view of Likud and Netanyahu have changed, because in a stunning turnabout, Benny Gantz decided, against all his campaign promises (what a surprise!) to join a national unity government led by—you guessed it—Benjamin Netanyahu.
Let us remember that Gantz swore never to sit in a government led by a man under indictment for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. How truly the psalmist wrote when he warned, “Do not trust in princes, in human beings in whom there is no salvation”!
For the time being, Gantz is speaker of the Knesset, but that should end within a few days, and a Likud speaker, probably Yuli Edelstein all over again, will assume that position. There is talk of what is left of Blue and White, which has split, having the Ministry of Justice. That could be very important in changing the rules about trying sitting prime ministers or removing indicted ones, but given Gantz and company’s capitulation to Bibi, I wouldn’t expect much in that direction.
Netanyahu has promised to turn the prime minister’s position over to Gantz in a year and a half. That will delay his trial, since there are presently no provisions for trying a sitting prime minister. The pundits already are suggesting that Netanyahu will never fulfill this promise, in order to remain a free man as long as possible—perhaps forever.
Netanyahu’s refusal to turn over the Health Ministry to anyone suggested by Gantz’s party, all of whom are apolitical members of the medical profession, is very ominous. At this juncture, these people probably are best suited to conquering the covid-19 pandemic. Rather, Bibi has steadfastly refused to replace Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, the non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox leader of the United Torah Judaism Party (also under indictment), as Minister of Health.
For years Netanyahu has capitulated to non-Zionst charedi and Religious (i.e., Orthodox) Nationalist Zionist demands. Some of these demands have angered and distanced diaspora Jews from Israel. Many others have incensed the general Israeli population, who, though politically to the right and Jewishly traditional, are overwhelmingly opposed to religious coercion by a state-supported rabbinate and its political supporters in the Knesset.
Signs of dissatisfaction with invasive religious legislation have become more public and strident. Tel Aviv now provides public transportation on Shabbat, which it had never done before. Also, the attempt to close all small businesses on Shabbat throughout the entire country as a matter of Knesset law, a prerogative that once had been left to each Israeli municipality, failed, when towns and cities needing these amenities rebelled.
Bibi’s capitulation to Litzman, who refused to leave the Health Ministry post to become Minister of Housing, is only a sign of continued caving in to invasive and coercive religious legislation that has characterized Netanyahu’s relationship with the so-called religious parties.
After all the sturm und drang of three elections, we are back where we started.
The same old same old.