Ticket to Ride Roughshod Over Democracy

Benjamin Netanyahu is trampling on all the elements that ensure democratic rule, assisted by his supine cabinet ministers.

Uri Misgav
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu peers over his glasses at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 29, 2015
Uri Misgav

Fifty years ago, The Beatles dared deviate from the perceived three-minute limit for a pop song. Until “Ticket to Ride,” the working assumption they had inherited from legendary producer George Martin was that “less is more.” There is nothing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that’s reminiscent of Martin. There is also nothing Beatles-like or poppy about his backing band of ministers. But ladies and gentlemen, history does repeat itself: Earlier this month, Netanyahu allotted his ministers a speaking quota of three minutes per cabinet meeting. And a week later, this allocation was cut to one minute – 60 seconds per speaker.

It is clear that Netanyahu doesn’t care about his ministers’ opinions. They are a nuisance. At the same time, it was also reported that a technical problem had arisen. A large clock had been hung on the wall of the cabinet meeting room, but Netanyahu was having a hard time operating it while simultaneously conducting the meetings. So the measurement of time was handed over to Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit. This is not democracy. At best, it is a reality show about democracy.

Almost everything that can be said about Netanyahu has already been said. The last election campaign highlighted some of the most prominent aspects of his personality: paranoia, lack of shame, lust for power. Israel today is ruled by a sort of grotesque combination of the Roman emperors Nero and Caligula.

But he does not rule alone. The time has now come to turn the spotlight on his collaborators. Ministers who are willing to dance to the tune of the person who allocates them a single minute to speak are without honor. After all, these are people who have achieved things in their public careers – so why are they silent and being silenced?

The corruption of democratic values is, of course, not limited to the cabinet table, where there are always five vacant seats because the emperor has seen fit to retain no fewer than five government ministries. In an accelerated process, fundamental components of democracy are being trampled, one after another. Nothing is sacred any more. Not the separation of powers. Not preserving regulatory independence. Not non-intervention in professional appointments. Not avoiding clear conflicts of interest.

National Security Council head Yossi Cohen is one of the leading candidates to become the next Mossad chief. In the meantime, he has managed to come to the rescue of Netanyahu and provide him with a “professional” opinion that grants the natural gas framework thievery a strategic security significance. Netanyahu needs this opinion in order to implement clause 52A of the Antitrust Law, which allows him to bypass the antitrust commissioner. This is an embarrassing document that Cohen has shamelessly lent his name to.

Going to the polls occasionally does not guarantee democracy. Without checks and balances, majority rule can easily turn into the tyranny of the majority, or the rule of one. In plain sight, Israel is turning into a Jewish and dictatorial state. The attorney general and state comptroller – two of the most important guardians of the rule of law – were chosen by Netanyahu only after they passed casting calls in the imperial residence. At least in the case of State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, it is known that these auditions included a meeting with the prime minister’s wife. And the leading candidate to replace Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is the operator of that cabinet stopwatch, Mendelblit.

In the meantime, Rami Sadan – who previously served as Sara Netanyahu’s media adviser – was appointed to the board of directors at Channel 10 News. He is also expected to eventually become chairman of the board. At rival station Channel 2, they are anxiously awaiting word from Communications Minister Netanyahu regarding the fate of the channel and its franchisees.

Last week, the channel’s prime-time news show featured consecutive items on the prime minister’s reprimand of MK Oren Hazan (Likud), Sara Netanyahu’s visit to a shelter for abused women, and a story that included a picture of the premier’s dog. How apt for a democracy that is going to the dogs.