Barukh Binah
policy fellow, writer and former ambassador

What shall we do with an intoxicated nation?

Once again, one should ponder what is happening in Israel, or is this country intoxicated by her political skirmishes? For a brief moment, we savored a glimpse of relief as the previous week had been relatively optimistic. Meeting with so many American friends at the Global Forum of the American Jewish Committee in Tel Aviv intensified the sense of normalcy. The election of MK Karine Elharrar as the opposition’s representative on the Judicial Selection Committee, and especially the stunning defeat of the supporters of the so-called legal reform in the Bar Association elections, provided a ray of light in the bleak darkness. But this brief moment of sobriety was probably premature, as the opponents of democracy, AKA the judicial reform supporters, are still determined to continue their coup and do not intend to retreat.

Let me explain: So far, the Judicial Selection Committee has nine members: the Minister of Justice (as chairman), another minister, three sitting Supreme Court justices (including the President of the Supreme Court), two Knesset members (coalition and opposition), and two representatives of the Bar Association. Generally, there is a balance in the committee’s deliberations, with a commonly acceptable process of give and take. Karin Elharrar won by the votes of the opposition (and some of the coalition) while the coalition could not agree on a candidate – the only lawmaker running for this position was MK Tali “big-mouth” Gottlieb, and she failed.

Moreover, in the ensuing elections for the Bar Association, thousands of lawyers stood for long hours in the scorching Israeli sun, showing up unexpectedly for non-billable activities. They voted overwhelmingly against the government’s plot to present them with a chief convicted of a criminal offense. This candidate received only 19 percent of the vote, while his opponent, supported by public protest, and won 73 percent.

These developments did not bode well for Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters, who thought they could rely on an understanding Supreme Court to review Netanyahu’s appeal favorably if he were to be convicted (which is not certain, of course). So, what can those determined to secure an imminent Netanyahu appeal do now, especially if they also want to replace Israeli democracy with a dictatorship, or at least an autocracy, a kind of “Budapest-on-the-Jordan-River”? It is as simple as it is dreadful. They are trying a few directions.

As the coalition could not send a representative to the Judicial Selection Committee, the committee’s chairman did not convene it, thus nullifying MK Elharrar for the time being. Who cares that there is a shortage of over 200 judges in various courts nationwide as the committee that has to appoint them is paralyzed?

Soon afterward, a Likud MK submitted a bill to dissolve the current Bar Association and create a new body named the Bar Council, whose members will not be elected but appointed by the government and will not serve on the Judicial Selection Committee. It’s like changing the rules of Baseball in the middle of a home run. At the same time, the Knesset Constitution Committee is busy re-introducing the cancellation or at least the thinning of the reasonableness standard or doctrine. This move, if adopted (and there is no reason to doubt it, given the majority of the coalition in the Knesset), will significantly reduce the ability of citizens to confront the authorities. The judiciary’s ability to invalidate governmental decisions that do not conform to the test of reasonableness would also be eliminated. It should be noted that Israel inherited the reasonableness standard (or doctrine) from the British system of government and law. According to Wikipedia, it has its roots in British public law dating back to the 16th century, when the “Rule of Reason” decreed that courts could use this for judicial review of government institutions.

Meanwhile, Israel is turbulent and raucous. Here is a selection from the past few days:

Negotiations at the President’s residence have wer halted and the right-wing bloc is working to restart the legal reform legislation.

Netanyahu’s trial continues in the English resort city of Brighton in the presence of the Lady.

An activist was plucked by police from his dinner table at home, in front of his children, on the unproven grounds that he was “planning violent activity.”  However, the police, faced with a spontaneous demonstration of hundreds of people, released him within two hours without restrictions.

Wild settlers shouting “Revenge!” used terrorist violence in some Arab villages in the West Bank, including setting fire to homes and cars and burning Korans, after an Arab terrorist murdered four Jews.

When the heads of the army, the police, and the security service condemned Jewish terrorism, Settlement Minister Orit Stroock quickly lashed out at them and compared them to the mercenaries of the Wagner force. She did release some apology but clarified that regarding the content of her statement, she did not intend to apologize.

The prime minister (and his ministers) feebly condemn settler violence while the national security minister, Mr. Ben-Gvir, urges settlers to “run to the hills.”

The massacres within the Israeli-Arab sector go on, reaching the unbelievable record of 108 murders since January. So far, the minister of national security has suggested no way out of this crisis.

The Minister of Education continues his efforts to change the character of the academic Council for Higher Education by appointing new members whose primary credentials are their affinity with the political right.

At the same time, the Minister of Culture announces the appointment of three new members to the lucrative committees for literary prizes, all of whom are mysteriously connected to the political right, even if they have not hitherto been known for the prowess and prominence of their literary work.

An important MK (who is also a presenter of a cruise line as well as a construction contractor) discussed the activities of former PM Ehud Barak, declaring that “In every other country, he would be selected for hanging. But Israel is a democracy, so he deserves at least 20 years in prison.”

The Minister of (Jewish) Tradition saw fit to lash out at the Bank of Israel Governor Prof. Amir Yaron, who replaced a brilliant career in an American ivy league university for the governorship of Israel’s Central Bank, and suggested that Yaron “should be thrown out up from all levels. As he is uncivilized and a savage” (he apologized for his choice of words, claiming that he was interviewed “before morning coffee” and he was therefore not responsible for what he said).

Information Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan who was seriously looking for interlocutors for her essential political work, found a suitable figure who holds the high position of concierge in a New York hotel. Distel-Atbaryan revealed that “little Israel is not just on the receiving end concerning the U.S. Today, Israel is also a superpower that gives a lot to the U.S……. The U.S. needs us, and the concierge at a New York hotel told her that, too”. I am now satisfied and am anxiously awaiting Distel-Atbaryan’s bill to stop Israeli foreign aid to the United States, as well as the transfer of aircraft to America and removing the Israeli umbrella that extends over the United States in the Security Council.

However, last week’s highlight belongs to two Likud ministers: Ms. Gila Gamliel and Ms. Galit Distel-Atbaryan, who conducted a magnificent mud fight. To a bystander, Distel- Atbaryan seemed to win on points. Using some non-printable language, Distel- Atbaryan shrieked, “You retarded person… You are a stone in the shoes of the coalition,” adding: “No one loves you.” Gamliel was satisfied with demanding that Distel-Atbaryan stays out of her affairs but demanded that her linguistic gems be received in writing. The ordinary citizen will assume that the two ministers are correct in the compliments they showered on each other

However, public protestation would not remain silent and continue with all its intensity. Prominent figures now raise the possibility of civil disobedience. Thus, Benjamin Netanyahu should be thanked for his main achievement in his sixth government; He succeeded in wedding the fragments of the liberal centrist camp into a vast and formidable political and social bloc. For the past 25 weeks, the tens of thousands have returned to the fight with admirable perseverance, and threats do not deter them. Last Saturday, we counted a quarter of a million demonstrators at dozens of demonstration sites across Israel. The message is clear: Israeli taxpayers, high-tech innovators, and reservists will not allow the Gang of Four (Levin – Rotman – Smotrich – Ben-Gvir) to destroy our beloved country.

Note: Note: this blog is based on a previous blog, first published in Hebrew, in ZMAN ISRAEL, on June 28, 2023

About the Author
Ambassador (ret.) Barukh Binah is a policy fellow at MITVIM, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. He is also a member of the Foreign Policy Forum and of Commanders for Israel's Security. He has served in a variety of diplomatic positions vis-à-vis the United States, including Spokesman in New York, Consul General in Chicago, Deputy Head of Mission in Washington DC and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem,  heading the North American Division. He also served as Israel's ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark. in 2017 he published a poetry book, "it only seems like healing", and recently published his book, "Sonia McConnel and other Stories"
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