Friday, March 31, 2023

Making History--Unnecessarily

For the 30 or so years that I wanted to make Aliyah and didn't, I often said that, when history is written a thousand or two years from now, this period will still be viewed as the re-birth of the Israeli nation.  I wanted to experience that and, if I could, play some small role in it.

My wife and I did make Aliyah about 12 years ago.  And, in the last month, we did play a very small role in an historic moment, the effort to defend Israel's independent judiciary and democracy from a legislative "reform" package that is in no way a reform, but a decimation of Israel's independent judiciary.

It was the fulfillment of an aspiration that I would have been very happy doing without.

The last three months have been among the most consequential months in Israel’s history.  None of it was necessary.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has burnt so many bridges and has alienated so many potential partners, that he is left with a Likud Party that, in the words of Menachem Begin’s son Benny, is not his father’s party, and with coalition partners who are extremist, racist ideologues.  One proudly describes himself as a “fascistic homophobe.”  Netanyahu has given them some of the most sensitive positions with extraordinary power.

Whether one agreed with his politics or not, there was a time when Netanyahu was a responsible leader.  He defended Israel’s robust and world-respected judicial system, and he used restraint in the use of military power.  Now defending himself from criminal charges, his only objective appears to be to hold onto power and to stay out of prison.

If Netanyahu was not the leader of the Likud Party and Prime Minister, Likud could easily abandon the extremists and form a coalition with the center and center-right parties that will not join in a coalition with him.

It is with this background that Netanyahu’s coalition tried to jam through legislation that would definitively change the nature of Israel’s democracy and society.  Virtually eliminating the power of the judiciary to strike down legislation and empowering the Knesset to overturn judicial decisions by a simple 61-vote majority would be devastating to Israel’s democracy.

Israel has only one house in its parliament, the Knesset.  It does not have an independent executive branch; like other parliamentary systems, its prime minister is the leader of the legislative branch.  It does not have a constitution or a Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The Stakes Could Not Be Higher

 As Haviv Rettig Gur pointed out so well a few days ago, we have a desperate, ineffective prime minister beholden to unqualified, extreme ministers and heading up a barely functioning, ineffective government.  It cannot maintain order and it cannot agree on a budget, two minimal requirements of any government.

Tens of thousands of Israeli citizens have been demonstrating in support of democracy every week for nine weeks in front of  the President’s Residence and at the Knesset in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, and on bridges and city squares throughout the country.

The crowds are diverse, and the size and determination of the protesters have not declined. The polls show a majority of Israelis against the legislation that would eviscerate Israel's judiciary.  They also show that if an election were held today, Likud would lose nine seats.

The proponents of the effort to destroy  Israel's independent judiciary have said they are willing to discuss the proposals. But they have not been willing to suspend the efforts to jam the proposals through the Knesset so that discussions are something other than a fig leaf.

The proponents have also tried to label the opposition leftists.  Prime Minister Netanyahu said they reminded him of anti-vaxxers.  If all of the people against these proposals were leftists and anti-vaxxers, Netanyahu and his allies would not be in office and Israel's hospitals would be overflowing with Covid patients.

Benny Begin, Menachem Begin's son and a long-time Likud Member of Knesset, has demonstrated against the proposals.  He has declared that the Likud party of his father is gone. Yossi Klein Halevi and Daniel Gordis, stalwart centrists and long-time explainers of Israel to the American Jewish community and to Americans in general, have called upon American Jews to weigh in on behalf of Israel's democracy.

Hundreds if not thousands of former judges, former Shin Bet and Mossad chiefs, former generals and other IDF officers, economic experts, venture capital leaders, former heads of the Bank of Israel, former Netanyahu appointees, former attorneys general, and top law firms have all spoken out against the attack on the judiciary.

These are not extreme people. They have all concluded that the proposals will basically neuter the judiciary and place unchecked power in the Prime Minister and the Knesset, and that they leave voting rights, minority rights, unpopular views, and minority populations unprotected.