Benjamin Netanyahu - AP - November 2011
Netanyahu at a session of the Knesset. Photo by AP
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Benjamin Netanyahu is a democrat, though of course there are people who are more democratic than he. He is imbued, from his youth, with a dangerous ambition to destroy Israel's "old elites," but he doesn't claim to want to destroy its democracy. Let's give him credit for that.

Likud's prime ministers before him knew how to inflame passions - Menachem Begin in the street, and Ariel Sharon in the party central committee - but somehow they also knew how to preserve the democratic framework.

Netanyahu, who in some ways is stronger than they were (since he has no significant opposition within his party, or outside it ) but who has a weaker personality than they did, is taking this game too far.

Netanyahu is liable to find himself very quickly in a situation in which he won't be able to stop this dangerous game. In his heart he is probably saying, let the kids play; let the Elkins, the Danons, the Akunises and the Levins go as wild as they like - I'm here, and I'll know how to stop the charging tiger in time.

But Netanyahu can no longer stop it; this galloping tiger is already too hard to stop, and in the end, it will throw Netanyahu off, and with him Israel's democracy, crushed, bleeding and irreparable.

These Elkins aren't monsters. Some of them are ignorant of the rules of democracy, which aren't particularly important to them. Others are motivated by cynical considerations - how well their moves will play in the party primaries. Without shame, they are having fun playing with hellfire, which helps them attract the public attention they could never get without their scandalous proposals. There are also those among them - Avigdor Lieberman, for example - who are aiming to turn the Israeli government into a Putinist democracy.

Netanyahu believes he will know how to stop them in time. On Tuesday, he vetoed the bill calling for confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices. Netanyahu is convinced that as long as he is in power, democracy will never be harmed, but in the end he will prove sadly mistaken, and we will lose our last hope to preserve the face of the regime.

Meanwhile, the cracks are widening at a frightening pace; law after law, piece by piece, the hawks are tearing at live flesh, until one day we will wake up to a different state.

And when Netanyahu also wakes up at that point, he will discover that the bastards who are now changing the rules will also be throwing him off the tiger. They know that Netanyahu isn't one of them, he's a democrat. And at the crucial moment, when all that's left of our democracy is some charred wood, shreds of laws and leftover mechanisms, they will anoint another king instead of him, someone who's the real deal, like Avigdor Lieberman or someone similar.

There's no exaggerating the seriousness of the threat lying in wait for Israel. No Iranian bomb can compare. A state with a neutered court, fearful media and illiterate Knesset - and all this without much of a civil society to speak of - will never recover. Every scratch now will leave permanent scars.

Every law passed now with shocking haste will distort our checks and balances, which are unstable as it is, in a society in which for most people democracy means no more than elections once every four years, preferably for Jewish right-wingers only.

In a society that doesn't have a true democratic consciousness, it is very easy to smash the institutions meant to protect it.

The Supreme Court has no armies. Its power comes solely from public acceptance. And when this is undermined, the whole regime is undermined. Even the media, particularly the weak, recruitable, commercial, rating-conscious Israeli media, are easy to blow off.

Blow - no more court; blow again - and there's no more media, at least the kind that does its job. The soldiers of Netanyahu, the democrat, are the bellows behind this great and terrible wind, and the house of cards is threatening to collapse.

Netanyahu will fall off the tiger. He doesn't know how to ride it, and it's gotten out of control. Netanyahu will turn into Benny Begin, Reuven Rivlin or Dan Meridor, the castrated democrats. In their party, which is changing its face, makeup and essence, he will seem a stranger.

Could you believe it? Netanyahu is now the last great hope for Israeli democracy. But he is being carried on the back of a crazed tiger, which is galloping along without a rider in control.

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