To Save Its Ailing Democracy, Israel Must First Rid Itself of the Tyrant

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi in New York, September 27, 2018.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

When the young people involved in the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt were asked how they could support the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical religious movement that persecutes the LGBT community and represents the exact opposite of the slogans the liberal protest movement were touting, they answered that “first of all, let’s establish a democracy, then we can deal with its character.”

The focus of their protest and the goal of the revolution was to depose the tyrant, Hosni Mubarak. But the Arabic expression “Irhal” (leave) – which swept the Middle East, reaching Israel as well with similar cries of “Go!” – and the example of removing the dictator, did not bring about the anticipated results. Another dictator replaced the ousted one, human rights were trampled with greater intensity, democratic institutions were paralyzed with thousands made prisoners and detainees, and censors blocking the few voices that dare challenge the regime.

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People fond of comparisons will probably say that the lesson from Egypt is that it’s better to stay with the dictator you know, even if he is corrupt, a racist, an inciter and a liar, than to enter a new adventure strewn with land mines. Why should we strive to remove Bibi if we get in his stead Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett, with Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox as a possible bonus? How would we then attend to the quality of our democracy? Bibi at least brought us peace with the Arabs, he’ll be pressured by Joe Biden, which may promote negotiations with the Palestinians; he even made sure we’d get the vaccine.

This is how daydreamers are trying to convince people that the country will be lost without Bibi. This is a view espoused not only by Netanyahu’s supporters, but in the center and even on the left as well, especially among people who suffered a concussion from the blow dealt them by Gantz. Every day Gantz continues in his job as alternate prime minister, with his party serving as an accomplice to the criminal coalition, constitutes a danger to the very existence of Israeli democracy, the wellbeing of the judiciary and the national economy.

One can understand the frustration of people wanting to stick with the status quo, with Bibi in charge – but one cannot, or, more accurately, one must not accept their arguments. A people that is unwilling to put its chances of replacing a bad government to the test is a lost people. Citizens who feed on the gloom they are in, at the same time getting used to the kind of democracy that was shaped for them by the ruler and a party based on a personality cult, without taking advantage of the democratic tools at their disposal to replace them, are unworthy of being called citizens. Anyone who is alarmed by the great expense incurred by an election while ignoring the tens of billions of shekels wasted without any accountability, with no logic or plan behind it, is condemning himself to living without hope.

Does the wish to see the moving van departing from Balfour Street and the accused entangled in the web of his trial justify voting for Sa’ar or Bennett? This is a trick question that reflects the mindset of serfs. No one is suggesting that people in the center or on the left embrace the representatives of the hard-right as an alternative. If Kahol Lavan takes action and removes Gantz, appointing in his place Avi Nissenkorn, who has come to represent the authentic party as it started out to be before Gantz degraded himself, if such a renewed party joins Yair Lapid, Meretz and the Joint List, it could present a realistic alternative.

But even if the election results lead to a coalition of Sa’ar, Bennett and Lieberman, this would be a dangerous coalition, but still a much more cautious one than the gang that’s turned this country into a desolate place, its main importance would be in getting rid of the tyrant from Balfour, undermining the mindset that created Bibi as the eternal leader, upending the axiom that there is no point holding an election when the result is known in advance, and reviving the belief that the public does, after all, have the power to act out its sovereignty. The debate over the quality of a democracy cannot precede the necessity to establish one, or the saving of its vestiges before it is totally annihilated.

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