Israel's Revolution Will Be the Regime Rising Against the Masses

In Israel, it's not the masses who will rise up against the regime, but the opposite; the government will shake off the checks and balances restraining its power.

The Israeli revolution won't take place in town squares, but in the corridors of power. It won't erupt over increases in the price of fuel and bread, but over fears of anarchy and a loss of governance. It's not the masses who will rise up against the regime, but the opposite. It's government that will shake off the checks and balances restraining its power.

The fault of the system that was revealed over the appointment of the Israel Defense Forces' chief of staff threatens to shake the foundations of the Israeli republic. This can be seen in the failure of leadership and proper functioning shown by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak; the undermining of political control in the army; and the intervention by the High Court of Justice, the state comptroller and the attorney general to determine who would be the next chief of staff and who would quit in frustration. It all prompted a public counterreaction.

The calls for strengthening government and the end of rule by jurists and the media have been growing. Instead of the slogan "corrupt ones, you have become repulsive," we'll get the slogan "purists, you've gone too far."

The loss of faith in our elected leaders has been compounded by concerns over the increased external threats if the Mubarak regime collapses and Egypt becomes an Iranian clone. The fear is growing but the country's leaders are having problems projecting authority and a sense of security. In our Bible classes, we all studied the political commentary regarding the Book of Judges. "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes," the Bible says. When that feeling becomes fixed in the public consciousness, the road to a remedy in the form of a "strongman" who will put things right at home and smite our enemies abroad, like the judges and kings of old, gets shorter.

In the Israel of 2011, unlike biblical times, you don't need to look for the strongman hiding behind the she-asses. He's waiting at the foreign minister's office for his turn. More than any other politician, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman constantly advocates the establishment of a presidential system of government. That's his "truth," his solution to heal the ills of the current political system.

Lieberman's bills in the last Knesset to provide for a separation of powers and a presidential form of government were sloppily drafted but easy to understand. The prime minister would become the country's executive branch. He would appoint "professional" ministers and have oversight over the IDF. Balance would be achieved through mutual deterrence: The prime minister would be able to dissolve the Knesset if a parliamentary majority opposed his policy, and the Knesset, with 80 votes, would be able to dismiss him. Lieberman is promising a stable government of technocrats that would not be dependent on a coalition. His system wouldn't have superfluous ministers without portfolio or deputy ministers like that of Netanyahu's government.

The more the government's authority is undermined and Netanyahu is perceived as an ineffective weakling, the more the public will be captivated by Lieberman's ideas. This is particularly so if he tempts them with provisions like eliminating the right to petition the High Court of Justice, curtailing the state comptroller's authority and limiting freedom of the press. In his presidential system of government, the prime minister would appoint an IDF chief of staff of his own way of thinking. Grumbling neighbors, nosy journalists and badgering lawyers would not be able to interfere.

The parliamentary system is prone to crises and is hard to navigate, but it has two positive attributes. It limits the prime minister's power and ensures representation of rival camps in Israeli society. In a presidential form of government, the winner takes all. Losing votes go to waste and minorities are not represented in the government.

Such a system suits the Israeli right wing, which advocates government by the majority and subjugation of the Arab community and the "old elites." Netanyahu has ridden this wave in the past. In the current Knesset, Lieberman inherited it as leader of the right and the leading nationalist legislative force, while Likud trails behind.

Lieberman didn't interfere in the crisis over the chief of staff's appointment, and while he still awaits a decision over whether he will be indicted, he is quietly enjoying the erosion of his rivals' public standing: the prime minister, the defense minister and the judicial system. Just a few more controversies at the top and the calls to "let them run the country" will be translated into longing for a change in the system of government and installing a strong leader at the top.

Crisis situations such as the current one are prone to such turnabouts. The so-called stinking maneuver of 1990 that caused revulsion toward the political system gave rise to the direct election of the prime minister, which was later repealed. The foiling of Yoav Galant's appointment as chief of staff and the expected revelations in the Boaz Harpaz forgery case in the chief of staff's office could spark the next constitutional change.

Crazy? If we had been told a month ago that millions of Egyptians would take to the streets and demand the expulsion of President Hosni Mubarak, would we have believed it?