Analysis

Israel's Finance Minister Isn't the 'Responsible Adult' - He's Party to the Crumbling of Rule of Law

Weak in the polls and with zero desire to go to elections, Kahlon is trying to play the hand he has been dealt as best he can. His Kulanu party can say that it is remaining true to its historic role: damage control

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, November 26, 2017.
Emil Salman

There’s something a little pathetic about the repeated expectation, usually by people who did not vote for Kulanu and never will, that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s party will bear the burden of protecting Israeli democracy. Kahlon has some responsibility for this expectation, as he continues to present himself as the “responsible adult” and the defender of the courts in a government that shows unprecedented hostility to the rule of law. In fact, the burden Kahlon bears is maintaining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government – not only by the number of raised hands in the coalition, but largely, and no less importantly, by legitimizing it.

What was presented as a dramatic surrender by Kulanu – which paved the way for the approval of the “recommendations bill” prohibiting the police from recommending an indictment of the prime minister, and which was formulated by MK David Amsalem in the Knesset Interior Committee – is none other than an additional service provided by Kahlon’s beauty salon: delicate or heavy cosmetic work on more or less insane bills. The purpose of this service is usually to weaken the law enforcement system and subjugate it to the political sphere.

As in the case of the law to retroactively legalize the hold over the occupied territories, and legitimize the expropriation of Palestinian property, Kulanu fought to extract a few ugly elements on the way to approving this generally calamitous piece of legislation. In the case of that law, the issue is the retroactive “clause 7,” whose purpose is to reverse historic court decisions, which Kulanu fought to exclude from the bill.

As for the recommendations law, Kulanu insisted that the police be allowed to submit their recommendations to the prosecution in current cases, upon request by the attorney general, but agreed that recommendations in current cases, that is, in the Netanyahu investigation, not be made public. Politicians are saying that those recommendations are due to be published in mid-December, which explains the violent hysterics of the ruling party that manifests itself in such bills.

Kahlon’s operating system is clear and constant and can be identified in both cases: The law on expropriations won’t cancel out previous High Court rulings, but will allow present and future land grabs. The police will continue submitting its recommendations to the prosecution (upon request by the attorney general) but the public will not be able to receive information on the Netanyahu investigation, that is, details of the prime minister’s alleged corruption.

We can understand Kulanu’s psychology. When they are weak in the polls and with zero desire to go to elections; alone in a coalition to which corruption is no stranger; abandoned by Habayit Hayehudi, which according to sources in Kulanu has made clear that it will not fight over the personal aspect of Amsalem’s bill – Kahlon and his party are trying to play the hand it has been dealt as best it can. Kulanu can say that it is remaining true to its historic role: damage control.

To these motives may be added that the real contribution of the law is negligible: As opposed to the original version that would truly disrupt cooperation between the police and the prosecution, the bill as approved is intended mainly to prevent making public the official police document containing its recommendations. It will not prevent the continued investigation of Netanyahu nor even stop the police from submitting its recommendations regarding him to the prosecution (if Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit isn’t afraid of Netanyahu’s thugs). It is reasonable to assume that the recommendations, whose publication will be banned, will be made orally, and will find their way into columns by country’s finest journalists. Sources close to Kulanu say he’s even counting on this. So what is the problem, besides all the hot air?

Like the law on expropriation in the territories, which is frozen in the High Court, the recommendations law is intended to change perceptions. Its goal is to publicly delegitimize the agencies investigating Netanyahu and political corruption, and to pressure them, like the expropriation law is pressuring the attorney general, who has refused to defend it in the High Court because it is unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter what story its members tell themselves, as long as the opposition is not an option for Kulanu, it is beautifying the path leading to the crumbling of the rule of law.