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Resigning Budget Chief Is Latest Victim of Netanyahu’s Advancing Revolution Against Democracy

The prime minister’s developing coup d’état is subtler than Trump’s and more dangerous for it

Chemi Shalev
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Shaul Meridor
Shaul MeridorCredit: Sivan Farag
Chemi Shalev

The harsh letter of resignation submitted this week by Israel’s top financial official, budget director Shaul Meridor, should have shocked Israel to its core but was mostly shrugged off instead. The earthquake that Meridor’s unequivocal indictment of Finance Minister Yisrael Katz in particular, and of Israel’s economic decision-making in general would have once registered only slight tremors, at best, among politicians and the public at large.

The first reason for this was that everything is dwarfed in comparison to the public’s existential worries over a resurgent coronavirus, deepening economic recession and chronic political instability. The second reason was the unending stream of news reports emanating from these multiple crises – especially on a day inundated with PR for the fantasy flight to Abu-Dhabi celebrating peace sans Palestinians – which pushed reports of Meridor’s unprecedented resignation in protest to the rear, where it will soon be forgotten.

And third, Benjamin Netanyahu has utilized the paralysis and confusion he has imposed on Israel’s body politic over the past two years to dismantle the checks and balances that stand in the way of his efforts to avoid criminal trial. It is one of many battles in the total war that Netanyahu is waging against the very foundations of Israeli democracy, which, in his distress and incessant self-victimization, he has come to despise.

Meridor is the latest victim in Netanyahu’s ongoing campaign against the already-limited independence of the civil service, a basic building block in most democratic regimes that Netanyahu derides as “rule by officials.” It is one of numerous battlegrounds in which Netanyahu is trying to degrade and seize control of the democratic strongholds that, imperfect as they may be, made Israel into what it is today, or possibly what it was yesterday.

After neutering the Knesset, neutralizing the state comptroller, assaulting the police and legal system, conquering and occupying much of the media and striking fear in the rest while sowing fear, inciting to hate and pitting one part of Israel against the other – it’s hard to escape the conclusion that on the way to securing release from his criminal charges, Netanyahu has launched a revolution. Meridor’s resignation is one of many proverbial trees that prevent Israelis from seeing the sinister forest as a whole.

Netanyahu’s attempted putsch is more restrained, subtle, gradual and thus potentially more dangerous than the gory, no-holds-barred and currently escalating war waged by his friend and ally Donald Trump against U.S. democracy and rule of law.

President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, January 27, 2020.
President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, January 27, 2020.Credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP

Trump is far more impetuous and reckless than Netanyahu, and possibly more desperate as well, given the polls. He flouts the constitution, ignores laws, and tramples custom with abandon, for all the world to see. He shoots indiscriminately and simultaneously at multiple targets, cajoling white supremacists to violence while sowing distrust in the U.S. election system, setting up a nightmare scenario of an epic constitutional clash that could easily deteriorate to violent civil conflict and bloodshed.

As Trump showed in his acceptance speech at a White House turned royal palace before his loyal subjects and devout practitioners of his cult of personality, once known as the Republican National Convention, Trump is gradually assuming all the trappings associated with dictators, tyrants and strongmen at large.

His lies are as numerous as ever but are nonetheless getting bigger by the day – monstrous even as they pertain to America’s shameful and deadly response to the coronavirus epidemic. His actions and statements are increasingly drawing analogies in the U.S. to the death of German democracy in the early 1930s, comparisons that are still taboo and verboten in public discourse in Israel.

Netanyahu and Trump may differ in personality and tactics but are near-identical in motives and in their ultimate goal. Both are narcissists plagued by perpetual paranoia. Both have been consumed throughout their lives by a delusional sense of grievance and victimhood, even though both were born with silver spoons in their mouths and both skyrocketed to the top like meteors. And both are responding to the remaining pockets of resistance inside the establishment and to its desperate efforts to safeguard the rule of law and constitution with megalomaniacal outbursts of rage fueled by a deep desire for revenge.

Both are in the midst of an attempted coup d’état that would inflict lasting and irreversible damage on their democracies and on public trust in its institutions. Both are degrading, eroding and could soon destroy the cornerstones of the democratic regime that has hitherto enabled their polarized political groups and ideologically divided citizens to live and flourish together.

And both could achieve their sinister goals unless these same citizens and their elected representatives who vowed to defend democracy wake up, identify the looming danger, snap out of their apathy, replace it with the long lost courage of their convictions and fight back, if it’s not too late.

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