Opinion

At Israel's Top Court, Two Contradictory Days of Testimony

B. Michael
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An Israeli man wrapped in a flag watches the live broadcast of the High Court session, Jerusalem, May 3, 2020
An Israeli man wrapped in a flag watches the live broadcast of the High Court session, Jerusalem, May 3, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
B. Michael

There’s something ludicrous, not to mention absurd and insolent, about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arguments to the High Court of Justice.

During the first day’s session Netanyahu and his attorneys made a lengthy argument to the court about why, despite being charged with bribery and the like, he is entitled to be given a mandate to form a new government. He sought to persuade the justices that “under the circumstances created,” only he is worthy of this mandate. His claims, as usual, relied on all kinds of bluffs, vague threats, arrogance, “the voter's decision,” “separation of powers,” and even enlisted a chance remark by Justice Eliahu Mazza, who once used the term “uniquely deserving,” to inform us that Netanyahu, and no one else, is again “uniquely deserving.” If he doesn’t form the government, there will be chaos. Democracy will collapse, masses will take to the streets, it will be bedlam, the end.

For the sake of order, a short recollection of the facts. The results of the election in March showed that the number of people who voted for parties demanding Netanyahu’s removal totaled 62 seats worth, significantly more than the number of people who voted for his camp, or 58 seats worth. And according to the strict letter of the law, nobody voted for Netanyahu. After all, Israel doesn’t directly elect the prime minister. And the public, which managed to overcome the exits of David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and the murdered Yitzhak Rabin, will undoubtedly be able to gnash their teeth and overcome the exit of the bluffer from Balfour, without resorting to armed revolt and chaos. And by the way, it won’t be “the masses” who take to the streets, as Netanyahu predicts, but (perhaps) a mass. And that’s not the same thing.

But the primary oxymoronic grotesqueness lies in the second day of the High Court session, which deals with the bizarre coalition agreement signed between Likud and Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan. As if by waving a magic wand, the “voter’s decision,” “the people’s will,” the “uniquely deserving,” and “chaos” all disappeared, along with all other nonsense presented to the court on the first day. Because on the second day Netanyahu is asking the court to permit him to transfer the lofty position, ostensibly his by right of “the voter’s decision,” to someone else.

And not to just anyone else, but to the person who until very recently was being portrayed by Netanyahu and his minions as a wimp, an imbecile, a stutterer, sexual harasser, and probably corrupt, for whom the job of prime minister was five sizes too large, and a schlemiel who can’t even keep his telephone secure. This is the man to whom Netanyahu seeks to bestow the premier’s post.

Israel's Supreme Court justices meet, March 2020.
Israel's Supreme Court justices meet, March 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

Suddenly there’s no one person who’s “uniquely deserving.” Only 24 hours later, there are already two candidates. In other words, on the second day Netanyahu was asking the court to make mincemeat out of what he had been arguing the first day.

And the “lofty position” has also been taken down a peg or two. There’s no longer a need to appoint only the original we can’t do without. Now it is also possible to have an “aftermarket prime minister,” a new creation, unprecedented in the history of democracies and a bastard born in the weak constitutional womb of the State of Israel. It’s a term that’s part of the jargon used by car mechanics and insurance clerks, which means not original, a cheap alternative, slightly inferior, sometimes even sourced in stolen goods (rather appropriate for Gantz). And now the “uniquely deserving” is asking the court to allow him to assign the fate of the masses to such a defective product? Horrors!

With total frankness I wonder how 11 justices will bridge this huge logical and ethical gap between the emotional constitutional loftiness that wafted over Netanyahu’s arguments during the first day’s session and the deceptive and twisted pettiness of his arguments on the second day. Don’t the second day’s arguments empty the first day’s arguments of any meaning, and vice versa?

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