An Anti-democratic Revolution Is on Its Way in Israel

It’s not by chance that Netanyahu is personally promoting two bills over which a black flag flies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Olivieh Fitoussi

Donald Trump’s ascent shouldn’t be explained in a vacuum.

This is a pattern that has been repeated worldwide and throughout history. The greater the socioeconomic gaps become, the more people no longer want a small change in their situation, which they view as intolerable, but instead hope for revolutionary change. This is why the soaring global gaps of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were accompanied by the rise of utopian socialism and communism and, on the other side, fascism and Nazism.

The past 30 years – since the rise of the Reagan-Thatcher economy and globalization – have seen these gaps hit an all-time high. Eighty tycoons have accumulated wealth equivalent to that of the entire bottom half of humanity combined, some 3.7 billion people. This is an inconceivable injustice. In the United States, 20 people have accumulated wealth equivalent to that of the entire bottom half of America combined – some 170 million people.

This is the background to what couldn’t happen during “normal times,” which are slightly more egalitarian. It’s why the radical left-wing Syriza rose to power in Greece, why Podemos arose in Spain, why a radical leftist captured the helm of Britain’s Labour Party, and why, on the flip side, the largest party in France’s regional elections was that of Marine Le Pen, while in Hungary and Poland, far-right, nationalist, semi-fascist parties have risen to power. It’s also why in the United States, the attraction of Bernie Sanders – a socialist from the revolutionary tradition of Jews of the early 20th century – has grown, while on the flip side, Trump is rising, and may even win the presidency.

In this situation, Israel is a democracy at high risk. It has no constitution and no borders, but it does have terror and enormous gaps. This offers some hope to the utopian revolutionary forces, but the danger from the anti-democratic revolutionary forces is much greater. In this situation, with a fragile democracy, the importance of preserving every democratic rule is existential.

It’s not by chance that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is personally promoting two bills over which a black flag flies. The first is the one that would allow elected members of Knesset to be ousted by a majority of other members of parliament. There is not and cannot be any such active law in any democracy. In Canada, which has a constitution, there’s a law with a different intent that hasn’t been used since the 1930s. Even Turkey, Russia and Iran don’t have laws that allow members of parliament to oust other members of parliament.

The legislature, in its role of exercising supervision over the main center of power, has the option of ousting members of the executive branch. But a situation in which a person with executive power – the prime minister – is the one pushing to oust members of the legislature is tantamount to the liquidation of substantive democracy. This crushing of democracy is a repeat of what led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: It began with delegitimizing Arab MKs’ votes, via slogans like “he has no mandate” and “he has no Jewish majority,” and from there, the road was short to “Rabin is a traitor.”

What worked against a man who was Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and defense minister is very easy to do against young soldiers whose lack of support for the occupation suffices to turn them into “traitors.” This time, however, it’s not being done by the opposition, but by the government itself. And the government has the power to change laws.

The second dangerous bill that Netanyahu is promoting is meant to shut down funding for nonparty civic and political activity. These groups are the basis of democracy. Netanyahu’s longing for a situation in which he has a newspaper funded by a billionaire at his disposal, and also other governmental political bodies like local governments in the territories (which helped pay for the rally at which he appeared with radical settler leader Daniella Weiss before the last election), while the rest of the citizenry is crushed, restrained and paralyzed by his laws, is part of the process of moving toward an anti-democratic revolution.