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Netanyahu-Gantz Deal Might Mean Ordinary Israelis Must Save the Day

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
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Protesters at the 'Black Flags' protest in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, April 19, 2020.
Protesters at the 'Black Flags' protest in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, April 19, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak

Nothing of the like has been seen before – not in Israel or in any other advanced democracy. This political agreement, fundamentally corrupt and rotten, emasculates the Knesset under cover of the coronavirus, undermines the foundations of our system of government and subordinates the Supreme Court to the government.

The obvious reason for its existence is neither the coronavirus nor the crisis, but immunity for the criminal defendant, Benjamin Netanyahu, in any situation and at any price. Here’s a partial list of its components, all of which are in the defendant’s service.

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If the defendant is barred from serving, Israel will hold another general election. Effectively, this eliminates the so-called Dery-Pinchasi precedent stating that a minister charged with bribery or a similar crime must be fired.

For six months, the Knesset will not legislate and no appointments will be made, including of a new state prosecutor and police commissioner. The Judicial Appointments Committee will include a representative of the defendant instead of a representative of the opposition.

Finally, there’s the so-called Norwegian Law that lets ministers resign from the Knesset and be replaced by someone else in their party’s election slate, but not necessarily the next in line. (And for now let’s ignore the new government’s two “prime ministerial” residences and the 50 ministers and deputy ministers at a time of a million unemployed and businesses are collapsing.)

This agreement reflects a moral, political and psychological collapse by Kahol Lavan leaders Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi. It’s a gross betrayal of their voters’ trust, and the concrete result is miserable.

When they already had the backing of the High Court of Justice, and when all that was left to do was to pass a law stating that in the future someone charged with crimes involving moral turpitude may not form a government, everything collapsed – in a way that I find inexplicable. One obvious possibility is that this outcome stems partly from considerations hidden from our eyes. But another part revolves around rescuing the defendant, both from his current trial and the investigations to come.

And don’t let them tell you there was no choice. Netanyahu was making threats with an unloaded gun. The very passage of the law to bar him from forming a government would have weakened him dramatically, made it clear that there could be no fourth election and opened up possibilities such as a six-month emergency extension of the current caretaker government. Or maybe even the Likud party would have abandoned its leader, a defendant whose time is up.

Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister's residence after signing the coalition deal, April 20, 2020.
Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister's residence after signing the coalition deal, April 20, 2020.

Even if, for lack of other options, Netanyahu had resumed talks on a unity government, it would have been unity between equals, with Kahol Lavan at 33 Knesset seats and Gantz possessing political power as well. Instead, the two former military chiefs who led the “Bibi go home” bloc for three election campaigns now find themselves crowning the defendant and collaborating with him on destroying the rule of law.

This is utter insanity. Would anyone have believed a year ago that Gantz would give the defendant veto power over the appointment of the attorney general, state prosecutor, police commissioner, police investigators and Supreme Court justices?

Many people contributed to this crisis. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who submitted the indictments against Netanyahu “with a heavy heart, but at peace with himself,” has been silent ever since. Why? What’s happening with the investigations into Netanyahu’s stock dealings with his cousin, on which the statute of limitations will expire in six months? And into Netanyahu’s false reports to the state comptroller? And into the hacking of his rivals’ cellphones, including the role played in the affair by Rafi Weizman?

The High Court also played a role in the crisis. In a Weimar-like moment on the eve of the third election, the court refused to rule on whether someone charged with bribery can form a government, arguing that the question at the time was only theoretical. But what could have been more concrete? Millions of Israelis were going to the polls, and the court wasn’t willing to answer this simple question. And if it didn’t have the courage to do so then, how will it now?

What an irony. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the son of a historian of the Spanish Inquisition and the son of a survivor of Bergen-Belsen signed an agreement that will go down in history as a disgrace and probably won’t be implemented anyway. It’s now up to the High Court, and if it fails to make a clear decision, the torch of the battle to save the Israel we loved will pass to ordinary Israelis.

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