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Dan Perry
"I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble"

Wanted: Five righteous persons in Sodom

These are the MKs who can keep the coalition from turning Israel into a dictatorship
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 12, 2023. (AP Photo/ Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 12, 2023. (AP Photo/ Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)

Demonstrations, strikes and warnings from Israel’s friends will not deter the gang that has seized power. It must be defeated in the Knesset, where it currently has 64 seats out of 120. Biblical Sodom needed 10 righteous persons in order to be spared; the Sodom of the coalition needs but five.

The stakes could hardly be higher: if the systemic coup is carried out, every Israeli will be in danger of being arrested in the middle of the night by a politicized police. This is not catastrophism but the clear lesson of history: the floodgates will open to abuses of all kinds: from confiscation of property, deportations, and oppression of minorities to rampant corruption and mayhem in the West Bank, which will quite likely lead to war. It will be a war in which many citizens will, for the first time, refuse to fight. Down this path, under an even worse government, lie executions.

The struggle against this mutation of Israel’s once-patriotic right wing is not really about debating the finer points of comparative constitutional law with the intellectuals of the Kohelet Forum. Israel is not Denmark, and its potential future leaders are not Hamlets who will agonize before abusing limitless powers. In Benjamin Netanyahu and his Rasputinesque justice minister, Yariv Levin, we’re dealing with people far closer to Vladimir Putin.

They do not want Israel as it is today – a country allied with the democratic West. And if they should succeed, they will most certainly get their wish: Europe, the US and most American Jews will abandon the Jewish state, its high-tech community will gradually depart and the country in time will become a backwater. It will be a new society altogether whose future will be, as described by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Enemies will overrun it.

This is happening because populist demagogues who view the judicial system as a barrier to their corruption and greed have taken maximal advantage of the incompetence of Israel’s center-left politicians, who through divisions and ham-handedness have managed to gift them their Knesset majority.

And yet, the plot to transform Israel into an authoritarian state is vehemently opposed by almost the entire productive sector of the country – a vast majority of those responsible for the technology and science that underpin the economic miracle that has brought prosperity, security, international status and a per capita GDP higher than that of France. (The latter is due to the exchange rate of the shekel, which will collapse.)

It cannot be allowed to succeed. There must be no “override clause” canceling court decisions by a simple majority, no politicization of the courts and civil service, and no weakening of anti-corruption legislation.

There is, alas, nothing to discuss with the Haredi parties and the fascist right. But five members of the Likud Party will be enough. I have the candidates:

  1. Yuli Edelstein: You know, as someone who fled the Soviet Union where your family knew oppression, what a dictatorship looks like. You served as Speaker of the Knesset – a position of seriousness and responsibility. You cannot possibly want to see Israel as a Stalinist country.
  2. Danny Danon: You, who were the ambassador to the United Nations, surely understand the challenges facing Israel in the international arena, and how things would look if its only allies were Putin and Viktor Orban. You cannot want diplomatic isolation that would quickly become a security danger.
  3. Nir Barkat: You, who made many millions from technology, surely hear the cries of the scientific and entrepreneurial communities – and know that investors will not sink money into an unstable fake-democracy whose government is loathed by many of its citizens. And you cannot want to see Israel impoverished.
  4. Yoav Galant: You, who were a general and almost Chief of Staff, surely understand the danger to security if half of the population feels that the country has lost its way. You know that Israel’s enemies have been waiting for this moment and rejoice at its transformation into a Jewish version of Turkey, which would be a much weaker country.
  5. Avi Dichter: You, who were the head of the Shin Bet and proved in the 2012 film “The Gatekeepers” that you understand the dangers of the occupation, surely also understand the danger of a toxic split from within. You do not want the Shin Bet to mutate into an Israeli KGB. You do not want this catastrophe carried out in your name, and hanging on your conscience.

Perhaps there are a few more borderline candidates: it is not inconceivable that Gila Gamliel, Israel Katz, and Yoav Kish have a trace of decency left. It’s possible.

Potential righteous people: you are Zionists who probably do not want to destroy the fabric of society, and you are neither naive nor stupid. The gang must be thwarted, and it is up to you.

Could it be that I am giving too much credit? Might the luminaries mentioned above – indeed, might any of the readers – actually not know that the government’s talking points are twaddle and flimflam? Just in case, I offer a quick summation:

  • The Supreme Court was never “activist,” despite a few exceptions and a handful of unhelpful statements by former Chief Justice Aharon Barak. In all 75 years of Israel’s history, it intervened in 22 laws and clauses, with most of the cases clearly aiming to protect the public and some rather trivial as well. Only three cases were related to the occupation, which the courts never did challenge on principle. They also did very little to curb the privileged status and sectorial preference accorded the Haredim.
  • In a highly relevant case in point, the Supreme Court did not even prevent the scandal of a criminal defendant being appointed prime minister. Contrary to rumor, the judges are something of a rubber stamp. Until a few years ago, they were also quite popular and were even routinely and warmly praised by Benjamin Netanyahu, who understood the global status and freedom of action that the rule of law accords. The only thing that has changed is that Netanyahu is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
  • The judges do not “appoint themselves”: the state’s Judicial Appointments Committee features nine members, of which three are judges and four politicians, usually three of them coalition members, with two representatives of the Bar Association. It is a sincere attempt to balance a complex issue. Replacing it in effect with the prime minister will eliminate the separation of powers, especially in the absence of a constitution.
  • The “people” didn’t “choose” this path and certainly have not “spoken”: Likud had no platform, Netanyahu vigorously denied that radical measures would be hastily enacted against the judiciary, and the coalition parties received less than half of the votes on Nov. 1. Their calamitous majority stems from the fact that 6% of the votes – one out of every eight for the opposition – were wasted due to splits. (In a parallel universe where Levin was a gentleman, he would every day send flowers to Labor Party leader Marev Michaeli for her reckless insistence on not uniting with Meretz.)

Righteous persons: If you vote with the coalition on the laws that will destroy democratic Israel, your legacy will be ignoble.

But you have a golden opportunity to do something much bigger than serving the grasping first family. You can exist on a higher plane. You can act with honor and reap glory as your reward. By your word, Sodom can be spared, and Zion shall thrive again.

About the Author
Dan Perry is the former Cairo-based Middle East editor and London-based Europe/Africa editor of the Associated Press, served as chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem, and authored two books about Israel. A technologist by education, he is the Chief Business Development Officer of the adtech company Engageya and Managing Partner of the award-winning communications firm Thunder11. His Substack, Ask Questions Later, is available for subscribers at https://danperry.substack.com/. Also follow him at twitter.com/perry_dan; www.linkedin.com/in/danperry1; www.instagram.com/danperry63; www.facebook.com/DanPerryWriter/; and https://muckrack.com/dan_perry
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