They poked the wrong bear
In vain do proponents of Israel’s authoritarian overhaul claim they represent the majority of the public. But even if it were true, and even if one were to accept that the coalition should be allowed to change the rules of the game, this should be clearly understood: the outcome the government seeks is so dramatically unacceptable to Israel’s democratic camp that they will not surrender.
The unimaginable damage being caused, which now includes a genuine crisis with Israel’s grand protector, the United States, is beyond what rational people can tolerate.
From talks with countless Israelis who have spent the last three months protesting in the streets, I can see clearly that the political opposition, in its talks with the government, has no mandate from their supporters to compromise on democracy.
The government would need to so badly want its authoritarian coup that it would be willing to end up fully in charge of a ruined country. One that could well be made mincemeat of by Israel’s enemies.
If this systemic coup goes through, millions of Israelis will become dissidents who feel that the regime – and it will be a regime, not a government – does not represent them. They will feel that the basic covenant between them and the state has been grossly and brutally violated. It has been a critically important covenant and a very successful one: it compelled them to serve when multitudes of seminary students and other dropouts did not. It compelled them to stay when times were hard.
It’s not a threat. It’s a fact. It happened in Lebanon, in Iran, in Russia. Educated people – who in Israel’s case are overwhelmingly in the democratic camp – have options.
It’s possible that the state will try to force them to stay, as in a classic dictatorship, as in tyrannical regimes. It won’t work well. Many people will end up in prison because they will openly fight the regime. But many more will escape.
On the other hand, maybe the upper hand will be with those who, like “Communications Minister” Shlomo Keri, advise Israel’s democrats to “go to hell” because the country “will manage” without them. Such people – of whom it can safely be said that they’re not geniuses – will be happy to see a brain drain. Perhaps they feel that the 49% of the vote that the coalition garnered in the calamitous November election (in which 12% of the opposition vote was wasted due to splits) is enough to justify any action they wish to take (even though the Likud Party, anchor of the coalition, had no platform).
To them it is reasonable to say: Good luck maintaining Israel’s astounding prosperity (a per capita GDP higher than that of Germany, Britain or France until the recent fall of the shekel due to the government’s actions) without high tech or smart industry. Good luck defending the country with a Syria-level air force, and without Israel’s cyber and intelligence experts.
Because the people who stand behind all of these things – and behind the vast majority of the economic output and income from taxes and almost all of Israel’s global prestige – will be otherwise engaged. They will be in prison, or abroad, or on their way to one or the other.
They will probably be in a similar position to that of the Iranian exiles who used to bombard me when I was an AP’s Middle East Editor with reporting on the outrages going on at home, in hopes of embarrassing the Ayatollahs’ regime.
Initially, of course, the new regime the government hopes to erect will not be as benighted as the Islamic Republic of Iran. It will be more like Turkey. But tomorrow it will be like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. And the day after, due to the Haredi birthrate combined with the departure of the productive classes, the Iran scenario is not implausible.
If anyone doubts that Israel is in danger of becoming a dictatorship, Exhibit A is the behavior of Benjamin Netanyahu and his grasping wife.
Where in God’s name do they get the audacity, at this time, to demand huge funding increases for their private residences and the “First Lady’s” clothing budget? Whence the disdain that compels them to engineer weekends in Rome and London at the most expensive hotels with huge entourages traveling on special planes, on the flimsy grounds of Friday morning meetings at which the prime minister was barely wanted (and certainly not his wife). It is not petty to note this. Only detached dictators act this way. It does not happen, not systematically, in any reasonable democracy.
So the right-wing protesters who of late have emerged can complain all they want that they are “second class citizens” whose “voices matter less.” They are destroying modern Israel, and my assessment is that those Israelis who want to be part of the modern world will not make it easy for them.
The current claims that the government “only” wants to appoint “a few judges” via some patchwork legislation are gaslighting and hogwash. The plan largely remains the same as on January 4, when it was presented by the “Minister of Justice” Yariv Levin, and it includes the ability of the Knesset – which will in the future no doubt be engineered to guarantee a majority for the right – to overturn court decisions (even when the judges will puppets).
The broader package includes disgraces such as the Gifts Law and the law preventing the removal of a prime minister and the law that allows Arieh Deri, a convicted criminal, to serve as minister of the interior and minister of health. Down the road await the repeal of fraud and breach of trust as crimes of which officials can be accused, a castration of the civil service, a private militia for a certain previously convicted minister, religious coercion of every kind, and laws enabling Haredim only to not serve in the military.
Until now, the democratic camp in Israel has been asked to put up with the unbelievable stupidity of turning Israel into a binational state by insisting on attaching itself to the West Bank (some right-wingers wanted even Gaza). They had to put up with the madness of funding the reckless expansion of the Haredi sector and their schools that refuse to teach math, science and English, which is a suicide pact for the economy. The democratic camp, to its shame, did not truly rebel against these things. Like sheep to the slaughter, they went.
But by attacking basic freedoms, Israel’s far-right has now poked a rather dangerous bear. He has awoken from his slumber in a rage. An obsession with honor does not allow the conspirators to quickly, gently, and quietly put down their stick. But if they are smarter than they look, this is precisely what they’ll do.