The immediate, unequivocal support voiced by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for Russia's parliamentary election, which he characterized as free, fair and democratic, is puzzling. Russia and Vladimir Putin are pro-Iran, pro-Syria, pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah, and by Lieberman's ultra-nationalist Israeli lights, they are terrible for Israel. So why is he so eager to embrace them?
Perhaps it's an expression of his great identification with, and envy for, Putin's position. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his own quiet support for Lieberman's remarks, demonstrates that he shares the desire to be in the same position as Putin.
The method is familiar: Lieberman speaks or acts, and Netanyahu tacitly acquiesces. It's the same modus operandi the prime minister is using with MKs Zeev Elkin, Ofir Akunis, Yariv Levin and Faina Kirshenbaum and, of course, with Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. They initiate laws and measures to erode democracy, and Netanyahu says nothing. Occasionally he delays deliberations on a particular bill or announces that the cabinet will not approve another - making him look like the knight come to the rescue of the rule of law, the man with his finger in the dam, the very defender of democracy.
But when we look at the bigger picture we see a comprehensive program that serves Netanyahu and his ideology and is orchestrated by him. The Prime Minister's Office hires people to silence, or simply get rid off, journalists in the Israel Broadcasting Authority; the PMO decides to arrogate for itself authority over Israel Educational Television, a station that had heretofore been nearly invisible; Defense Minister Ehud Barak runs Army Radio as he sees fit; the government puts Channel 10 in a financial stranglehold and appoints cronies to the Second Authority for Television and Radio, which regulates commercial broadcast outlets. Meanwhile, the Israel Hayom daily benefits from the freedom to coordinate every word it prints with the prime minister.
Netanyahu appointed Neeman, and backs him by supporting bills aimed at changing the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee and at interfering with the inner workings of the Israel Bar Association and the way the president of the Supreme Court is selected. There is nothing accidental about the timing of the onslaught against the Supreme Court and the news media. Each is supposed to protect the public, and democracy at large, from such measures; the combined assault renders each incapable of doing so.
It seems that even Israel's international isolation is no mistake, and the cold shoulder from friendly states is not undesirable for Netanyahu. Just as an abusive husband isolates his wife from her social circle, both as part of his abuse and a means of facilitating its escalation, so too does Israel's isolation facilitate the escalation of the occupation and the antidemocratic processes within. Fewer external pressures, fewer countries to give an accounting to - and on top of that, the government can always blame the other countries for being the ones to turn their backs on us.
It's possible that Netanyahu is not always conscious of the motivations behind his actions; he certainly doesn't see himself as a Lieberman. That is why he chose to surround himself with antidemocratic people, each of whom is a projection of a different repressed aspect of Netanyahu's personality. There's Barak, whose career in the army was presumably based at least in part on his affinity for the undemocratic nature of ruling by command (and his final round as Labor Party leader proved that he never relinquished that affinity ). There's Neeman, who is loyal to power and to Jewish law, but not to democracy. And there's Lieberman, of course. Not for nothing has Netanyahu termed them "our natural partners" from day one. Each one is an alter ego who does what Netanyahu would like to do himself but does not dare.
After all, Netanyahu does have other political options. He could have given more power to Likud politicians like Dan Meridor, Benny Begin or Reuven Rivlin, but they wouldn't have served his purposes. Netanyahu wants to be Putin: an iPad for every worker and complete freedom to rule. There's a reason for Netanyahu's timing in scheduling a party primary that almost guarantees him victory - he wants it now, as the antidemocratic efforts are gaining momentum.
"We're proud to be a country that is governed by laws, not people," Netanyahu said last week in honor of International Human Rights Day. And that is precisely why his people are changing the law so that only certain people will be able to govern the country.
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