For Fear of a Political Turnaround, Israel's Government Is Destroying Democracy

In the face of the real possibility of a turnabout in Israel, Netanyahu's religion-oriented coalition is planning on annuling judicial review, with the aid of anti-Zionist and cynical votes from abroad.

Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
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Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to stamp out judicial review in order to perpetuate his governing coalition. Unlike most people on the center-left, the right-wing coalition knows that the most significant political differences are not that those that divide individual parties but those that divide the two major blocs: the right wing and the non-right.

According to the polls, the gaps between these blocs are currently small and fragile. That makes it essential, in the government's view, to pass a law - with the help of a majority comprised of 65 right-wing religious lawmakers - that will allow Israeli citizens to vote from overseas in the next election. And without fear of the High Court of Justice, anything goes.

This is not "just" about counting the votes of people who emigrated from Israel, who are to the right of prevailing opinion in their mother country, as diasporas tend to be. Israel is unique in the huge proportion of its citizens who have chosen to live elsewhere. Twenty percent of Israelis have chosen to do so, compared with 0.1 percent of the Dutch and 1 percent of Americans.

But what is really unique about Israel is the Law of Return, which allows Jewish people to immediately become citizens. From the moment absentee voting is allowed, nothing will stop the masses of people lining up to obtain citizenship so they can vote. Organized Jewish groups that visit Israel for a short period of yeshiva study or some other reason will be armed at the airport with an Israeli passport and the right to vote.

Even that single visit isn't necessary. Jonathan Pollard became an Israeli citizen from his U.S. jail cell. The interior minister is authorized to grant citizenship to Jews, even from a distance. Here come hundreds of thousands of voters from Brooklyn.

It's not just about politics. The religious right's real answer to the demographic question is allowing Jews living abroad to vote in Israeli elections. Netanyahu already acts like the "king of the Jews," and is in our far-flung country only as a representative of his real electoral district: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Politics is part of what this is about, though. Netanyahu is in power because he understood better than the center-left that in Israel, voting blocs are not the most important thing - they're the only thing. The object of the game is to secure a majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

From the establishment of the state to the Yom Kippur War, elections ended with the exact same result: 75-77 seats went to the non-right-wing, non-religious bloc. Small changes among the parties had no impact. But the 1973 war created a fracture. Immediately thereafter, the non-right bloc declined to 66 seats.

Then came the 1977 electoral upheaval that pushed out Labor and its predecessors and brought Likud to power. The newly formed centrist party Dash had nothing to do with it. The story was the decline of the non-right bloc, for the first time, to 57 seats - meaning it no longer had a majority of at least 61. That is how the religious right won a majority of 63 seats, and a new Israel was created.

Yitzhak Rabin, who in 1992 was the first to once again cross the threshold, with exactly 61 votes, met the three essential conditions for change in Israel: a majority of at least 61, a willingness to rely on largely non-Jewish parties and actually govern with their help, and a desire to fundamentally change Israel.

Those who turned their backs on these three conditions did not succeed. Shimon Peres humiliated himself with the so-called "stinking maneuver" - trying to form a government with Shas and without his senior coalition partner Likud, when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister. That is because he only had 55 seats; no one on the religious right will join with the non-right if there is no majority without them. Ehud Olmert did not understand the leeway provided by the 70 seats secured by Ariel Sharon, and wasted them on corruption scandals. Tzipi Livni and her colleagues did not understand that you come to Shas only when you have already formed a bloc with the largely non-Jewish parties.

Will Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich and new political arrival Yair Lapid understand what it is that you cannot govern without? They might. Mofaz provided two indications that he does, in having been elected by non-Jewish Kadima members as well as Jewish ones, and in his support of the only formula for negotiation: the one that promises the Palestinians a state based on exactly the same territory that was conquered in 1967, with minor 1:1 territorial swaps.

Unlike the closed-eyed pundits, the public at large - as indicated by public opinion polls - is beginning to give this a chance. After remaining at around 50 or 52 seats for most of Netanyahu's term, the non-right bloc has jumped to around 56 seats over the past few months, in keeping with the rise in the secular population's concerns over ultra-Orthodox extremism in Beit Shemesh, the Tal Law's provisions for Haredi draft deferral and the significance of Lapid's entry into politics. And that's without a dramatic rise in voter turnout, which is quite likely to be the result social protests are renewed, sending desperate Israelis back to the polls.

The expansion of the non-right bloc also doesn't take into consideration the implications of a war with Iran. Since 1973, every war with casualties has led to political upheaval.

In the face of the real possibility of a turnabout in Israel, Netanyahu's religion-oriented coalition is planning on annuling judicial review, with the aid of anti-Zionist and cynical votes from abroad. He must not be allowed to demolish democracy.

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