The resource that Israel will need most in the next few months is the public’s trust in all government institutions: the cabinet, the Knesset, the courts and local governments. Without this trust it will be impossible to win the public’s cooperation with the harsh restrictions on movement and we won’t be able to repair the destruction that the coronavirus is wreaking on the Israeli economy.
Somehow the virus arrived in the midst of a severe crisis of democracy, as if it had come to test the resistance of the government’s immune system against anarchy.
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70
This situation highlights the decisive role of Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party. It may enjoy the backing of 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members, letting it advance issues such as the election of a new speaker, but a few of its members have ruled out forming a government with the support of the Joint List of Arab parties. If this option is taken off the table, two bad options remain: a unity government or a fourth straight general election.
Given the present circumstances, an election would be worse, and it’s doubtful one can be held at the peak of the coronavirus crisis. This leaves a unity government. Gantz’s campaign promise was that his party would not join a government under a prime minister who has been indicted.
The impression is that this promise is cracking. It’s a real ethical problem, but the bigger difficulty is that the indicted prime minister is operating the legal system via a justice minister who from his very first day on the job has come out against it.
The fact that many people are already living in peace with the harsh attacks by Justice Minister Amir Ohana against the legal system under his authority attests to the weakness of the country’s immune system. It’s possible to imagine the panic if the health minister had attacked the health system and undermined the public’s faith in it, or if the defense minister had said the army isn’t such a great army after all.
This puts Kahol Lavan in a position to make a historic decision: whether to enter a unity government to stop this dangerous drift. A fear has stolen into our hearts that the calls by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Ohana not to obey the rulings of the High Court of Justice were intended to create a platform for Kahol Lavan to enter a unity government.
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Their menu has two options: a unity government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or anarchy. As far as Gantz is concerned, it’s better to control both the rudder and the brakes of a unity government. At this time, the most important asset for protecting democracy is the justice ministry portfolio.
Gantz must demand the justice portfolio before others such as foreign affairs and defense, which are more prestigious but are less important for democracy. This is the only way to allow Gantz to violate his campaign promise not to serve under Netanyahu. The prime minister and his emissaries have created the impression that the justice minister has the authority to get involved in criminal cases and frame people.
But legally, and rightly so, the justice minister is forbidden to intervene in cases, thus someone with a reputation for honesty should be appointed. For example, former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni would guarantee that this portfolio would not be used to take revenge. She would guarantee that the justice minister would back the legal system and not take part in the unbridled attacks on the law enforcement system – which might worsen as Netanyahu’s corruption trial progresses.
Netanyahu wants an obedient justice minister who will help him handle his own affairs, put the legal system on the defensive and damage the public’s trust in it. Kahol Lavan must prevent this. There are no visible differences between Kahol Lavan and Likud on security, diplomatic or economic issues. If there are differences in the way they view democracy, watchdogs and the immunity of the law enforcement system, these differences must be reflected in the coalition agreements.
This is a fundamental condition for establishing a unity government, and another even more fundamental condition to address the large health and economic crises the country is going through. Kahol Lavan’s control over the justice portfolio won’t guarantee the proper functioning of a unity government, but without it, failure is guaranteed.