Ex-justice Says Incitement in Israel Persists, but No Longer Comes From the Government

Speaking at the Haaretz Israel Democracy Conference, Beinisch said that Israeli society must hold a serious debate on the kind of democracy we want

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Former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch
Former Supreme Court president Dorit BeinischCredit: Hadas Parush

Unbridled political attacks and incitement are still taking place in Israel, former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said Tuesday.

“The difference is that today it doesn’t come from the side of the government, and that’s significant – because in the past all those things came “directly from the person who was in charge of the government, the cabinet and the Knesset members.”

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Speaking at the Haaretz Israel Democracy Conference, Beinisch said that Israeli society must hold a serious debate on the kind of democracy we want, and not make do with comparing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over whom “there was a consensus about his anti-democratic actions,” to the current government. According to Beinisch, “We don’t have a consensus, not about what is a Jewish state and not about what democracy is.” Beinisch said she was disturbed by the fact that “in four elections the only thing the authorities were able to instill in the public is that the justice system needed to be repaired and everything else was fine.”

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said the change of government saved Israeli democracy. “The slippery slope to which Netanyahu led us created a clear and present danger to democracy. Think about the fact that Liat Ben-Ari [the lead prosecutor in Netanyahu’s trial] required the kind of security that prosecutors of organized crime bosses receive.”

According to Barak, during Netanyahu’s time in office, “the Knesset was neutered, an active attempt was made to dwarf the High Court of Justice, there was unrestrained incitement.” He added that while the current government was not without its flaws, the alternative was “a leader who was constantly preoccupied with saving himself.”

President Isaac Herzog at Haaretz Israel Democracy ConferenceCredit: Hadas Parush

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said that during the previous government he feared greatly for “the democratic future of government in Israel.” When he was asked about his statement, in an interview with the conservative newspaper Makor Rishon, that the state had been on the verge of collapse under Netanyahu, he said: “The state’s democratic institutions became very weak,” adding: “The danger has not yet passed. We have moved away from the edge of the abyss, we’ve come out of the pit. That same system of delegitimizing government institutions is today delegitimizing the elected government.”

President Isaac Herzog told the conference that the rifts in Israeli society are growing and the boundaries of what may be said about the state are eroding. “Responsibility for this situation is not that of one political side or another in the equation. These patterns are present on all sides of the political map.” This situation is getting worse, the president said, and influencing the culture of political debate in Israel. “It is a means of ostracizing and leads to fear of expressing one’s opinion.”

According to Herzog, “The road to change and strengthening democracy also passes through newspapers and the airwaves.” Addressing members of the media in the audience, he added: “Don’t cooperate with the incitement, even if it brings likes on Twitter. Be a quality platform for deep debate that is of value to all of us.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at the opening session of the conference: “The toxic environment in the country is unacceptable. It stems primarily from the unwillingness to accept the rules of the democratic game.” According to Gantz, “we all must take to heart that pounding the keyboard is halfway to pulling the trigger.”

Gantz noted that his own personal threat level, as defined by the state’s security agencies, was high. “I have to replace my phone every two months as a result of threats that I receive – and these come from the political left, not the right.”  

Benny Gantz Haaretz Israel Democracy ConferenceCredit: Hadas Parush

The Kahol Lavan chairman noted that the intimidation come from all parts of the Israeli society. “The same threats I received when the idea was raised of [forming a government that would rely on the support of the Joint List [electoral alliance of predominantly Arab parties] two years ago, I also received after forming the previous government [with Netanyahu].”

The deputy editor-in-chief of Makor Rishon, Orly Goldklang, said at a panel on the state of democracy in the post-Netanyahu era that news editors in various media outlets “are pressured more from [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett, much more” than they had been under Netanyahu. Goldklang said Bennett “enjoys reading me less, to put it mildly,” adding that “the media has lost its mind” when it comes to Netanyahu, and that the media doesn’t criticize the current government as much as it did Netanyahu’s.

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