Opinion |

Here Comes the Destruction of Israel

The Trump administration’s chaos may be worse than what’s going on here, but that’s cold comfort given the Netanyahu government’s methodological actions to undermine the state

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, September 16, 2018.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, September 16, 2018.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump assailed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday for raising U.S. interest rates, hinting that he was considering firing him. This would be an unprecedented act in the modern era, one that would destroy the Fed’s independence, could drive markets to collapse, and prove once again that Trump doesn’t understand the limits of his power.

Time after time, Trump exceeds all bounds, doing things that shouldn’t be done and saying things that shouldn’t be said — and he keeps getting away with it. He is methodically destroying his nation’s most crucial instruments of good governance for the sake of his personal interests, paving the way for the end of good governance around the world.

Given the chaos in the United States, it’s tempting to find comfort in the situation in Israel. But it would be a fool’s comfort, because the trend here is identical: sacrificing the most crucial elements of good governance to advance narrow interests, often politicians’ personal interests. Here, and there, the state is being destroyed.

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The destruction of the state’s most sensitive institutions was well-planned. The most effective executor is Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who will most likely be responsible for a trifecta: breaking the power of the High Court of Justice, undermining the civil service and, starting this week, destroying the independence of the legal advisors in each government ministry.

Shaked’s justifications are a sharp, brilliant manipulation. She simply wants to make the High Court more balanced and more conservative, which sounds legitimate, except that she’s doing so by portraying the court as a subversive, anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist institution that betrays the country’s interests. Thus she is destroying the legitimacy of the High Court and the entire judiciary. But Shaked is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve her goals.

The independence of ministry legal advisors, who will now be appointed by a committee that is dependent on the minister, was sacrificed on the altar of her false good governance campaign — as if the gatekeepers were the ones keeping the government from governing. The subtext is that the government’s professional employees are also traitors, since they undermine the ministers’ work.

Shaked is at least sophisticated enough to give her campaign of destruction a veneer of legitimacy. But when it comes to some of the country’s most sensitive institutions, there’s no longer a veneer — there’s just a direct, brutal onslaught. Culture Minister Miri Regev’s “loyalty in culture” bill, for example, characterizes the country’s cultural institutions as disloyal to the state. Even more forward is Coalition Chairman David Amselem, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, who states at every opportunity that the Israel Police is carrying out a coup, no less, in its investigations of corruption allegations against Netanyahu. Amselem makes no attempt to disguise his claim that the police are traitors.

Even more shocking are the actions of Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett, who is generally fair and reasonable as politicians go. Bennett found a new target: Israel’s research universities. He stated proudly at a recent cabinet meeting, “We broke the university cartel,” while presenting Israel’s top research institutions as criminal. Israel’s universities could justifiably be criticized as wasteful and prone to power abuses, but they’re also the basis for Israel’s strength, and without them there would be no high-tech and no economic growth. Bennett knows this as well as anyone.

But Bennett can’t help himself. He feels his partner in Habayit Hayehudi Shaked breathing down his neck, hanging scalps on her belt, and he’s racing to catch up. What would be more popular than destroying that liberal stronghold, the research universities? To heck with the future of Israel, which depends on them.

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The politicians’ targets all have something in common. It’s not just liberal strongholds the Likud government seeks to destroy. Mainly, these are all institutions that counterbalance and limit the politicians’ excessive power. The professional-level civil servants, police detectives, ministry legal advisors, critical academics — all these people are bulwarks against the limitless rule of politicians, who seek to do what they please, when they please and how they please. The institutions of good governance, which protect the rule of law, effective government, the public’s long-term interest and democracy itself, are all being destroyed.

The stink starts at the top, of course. At the top is the prime minister, who is leading the assault on the police, which is investing him in numerous corruption probes. Netanyahu allows Likud Knesset members to assail the police, the judges and the civil servants. He set new records for cynicism when he incited against Israel’s Arab citizens on Election Day, saying they were “going in droves to the polls.” Netanyahu, like Trump, set the new priorities: My personal welfare comes before that of the land. The fact that Trump is even more cynical and crass is cold comfort.

Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.” Despite all its shortcomings, democracy has a tendency to fix itself ultimately. The last time an Israeli political party confused its own interests with those of the state, it took less than a decade for it to be forced from power. That’s what happened to Mapai, a precursor to the Labor Party, in the 1970s. For Likud, too, which acts as if it has the country in its back pocket and the voters are a captive public, there’s reason to believe it will not be too long before the nation will pull itself together and show the party the door. It’s just not clear how much of the state will be left when that happens.

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