Hitler and Mussolini Won’t Be Resurrected in Israel

Netanyahu at a press conference in Ramat Gan, in which he declared intent to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, Spetember 10, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

I still think, unlike Chemi Shalev (“Netanyahu deploys Trump’s election fraud canard to devastating effect,” September 9), that it won’t happen here. Hitler and Mussolini won’t be resurrected in Israel – despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to destroy the checks and balances which, in a functioning democracy, stop the rise of a dictator. Netanyahu is doing this primarily to save his skin from the claws of justice, not because he’s ideologically hostile to democracy. After all, democracy is what brought him to power and has kept him there.

For now, and Netanyahu is right about this, the press is against him. Even the electronic media for the most part works to oppose him (thanks to the character of the honest journalists employed there), despite being controlled by the government and tycoons, some of whom are close to the first family. For now, the police and the legal system seem to be moving steadily – too slowly, in my view – toward filing indictments, holding a trial and sending Netanyahu where he deserves to go.

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It’s true that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has granted and will continue to grant discounts to the Netanyahu family, on the pretext that there’s not enough evidence to achieve a conviction on some charge or another, and it’s true that Netanyahu has managed to appoint a poodle as state comptroller. And perhaps he will manage, either before his pre-indictment hearing or after it, to appoint additional toadies. But the hearing will come. It seems unlikely that even a victory for Netanyahu in Tuesday’s election would suffice to stuff the legal genie back into its bottle. I’m not an optimist by nature, but it seems to me that Netanyahu hasn’t managed to push the gatekeepers out of his way, and that judgment day is nigh. No one, including Netanyahu himself, can guarantee that even if he wins the election, his partners – within the Likud party and beyond – will manage to save him from the long arm of the law (hence the hysteria of his words and actions over placing cameras in the polling stations).

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They may provide Netanyahu with the longed-for 61 Knesset seats. But they won’t be able to overcome the legal system’s institutions as long as honest citizens – such people still exist – and the police and Shin Bet security service, enable the justice system to faithfully do its work. Shalev is right when he accuses the enlightened public in Israel of being too apathetic as Election Day approaches. But that’s a product of its belief that the legal system will do what it’s supposed to do. I have no doubt that at the moment of truth, the enlightened public will flock to the polls and vote in very high numbers for Netanyahu’s ouster. In a strong democracy, the appointment of a single person, however unworthy he is, can’t destroy an entire institution like the State Comptroller’s Office. State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman will be followed by someone more suitable, just as more suitable presidents will return to the White House after Donald Trump, either next year or in 2024, and neither the institution of the presidency nor American democracy will be destroyed.

Israel’s Jews are different from the Germans of the early 1930s, and the democratic tradition has struck roots in Israel, despite the fact that most Israelis originally came from countries that lack democracy. This country doesn’t resemble Germany during the brief days of the Weimar Republic, which collapsed due to a deep economic crisis and the humiliating feelings of defeat left by World War I. Israel has suffered no such traumas. And the messianic wave that Netanyahu is riding still represents only of a minority of the population (even if this minority is indeed a growing one). It won’t happen here.