Opinion |

Netanyahu vs. Israel's Gatekeepers and Watchdogs

Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his speech in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, August 20, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his speech in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, August 20, 2019.Credit: Efrem Lukatsky,AP
Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz

There’s a tendency to play down the messages flying off the keyboards of Yair Netanyahu, the son of Benjamin Netanyahu, and right-wing journalist Shimon Riklin, one of the prime minister’s biggest fans. After all, they’re the most biased, deceptive and devoted in the campaign to keep Netanyahu in the prime minister’s residence forever. It’s their life’s mission.

But brainwashing, certainly in this era of social media, sometimes works, and there’s a risk that false and distorted messages will penetrate the public debate – like the message that denigrates the gatekeepers.

Yair Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew: “The term ‘gatekeepers’ doesn’t exist in any country and was invented here in Israel not long ago. There’s a need to translate the term into Hebrew. Gatekeepers = small, miserable clerks who serve extreme left-wing agendas contrary to the will of the voter. They frame people and criminally leak distorted material to their friends in the leftist media.” Riklin, meanwhile, tweeted: “Gatekeepers is a concept invented in Israel and is valid for as long as the clerks do what the undemocratic left demands.”

>> Don't dismiss Yair Netanyahu's shocking tweets: He's calling leftists' shots| Opinion

They’re wrong. The term “gatekeeper” is very acceptable, as is the term “watchdog” to describe a whole list of jobs that are meant to protect important public interests. The prime minister himself used the former term last December when he told a conference of the Israeli financial newspaper Globes: “What’s forbidden to do in a democracy, and unfortunately it happens, is to try to apply undue pressure or even bully the gatekeepers.”

In Israel there are many dozens of gatekeepers/watchdogs, both in the civil service and elsewhere, whose jobs are to protect things like our health, savings, food and the safety of our roads and workplaces. None of these interest the young Netanyahu or Riklin. They’re conducting their campaign against gatekeepers who are defending the rule of law, particularly from one Benjamin Netanyahu. Those “miserable” gatekeepers are found mainly in the legal and administrative fields relevant to Netanyahu – the prosecution, the state comptroller, the civil service, and of course the media.

Not all of them. Only those who don’t favor Netanyahu. A gatekeeper admiring Netanyahu will become a family favorite and be quoted repeatedly. Netanyahu has already appointed a civil service commissioner (Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz) and a state comptroller (Matanyahu Englman) to his liking, and a close associate as justice minister. That minister, Amir Ohana, is meant to oversee the appointment of a favorable state prosecutor (which is why he fired the ministry’s director general, Emi Palmor, and replaced her with a good friend, Ofir Cohen – an appointment that’s been stalled for now by the High Court of Justice).

The permits committee that’s under the State Comptroller’s Office, appointed by Englman, is meant to let Netanyahu take money from his billionaire friends to finance his legal battles (after the previous committee, which refused him, was dissolved). And Hershkowitz, in his capacity, also has some say in the appointment and promotion of senior prosecutors. He’s meant to make sure that the new gatekeepers will be to Netanyahu’s liking.

The combination of Netanyahu’s political power and the legal-survival struggle he’s waging has taken down all the barriers of shame. If you’re not with us you’re against us. Anyone who might sabotage the struggle to survive will be fired. Those who can’t be ousted will be marked as a miserable, leaking, leftist gatekeeper. Statesmanship and public hygiene aren’t components of this struggle. Denigrating gatekeepers and stripping critical institutions of their power is the order of the day.

The line being taken by the people in Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan – yes to a unity government but not with Netanyahu – is missing the point about the importance of gatekeepers. They’re saying “anyone but Netanyahu” instead of pressing the voters on the importance of gatekeepers and watchdogs.

“Anyone but Bibi” wasn’t enough for them in the previous round. Now they have another chance to explain how they intend to strengthen the watchdogs and why it even matters, and to do this before the term “gatekeepers” becomes an insult like “leftist” or “the New Israel Fund.”

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