Opinion |

One Person Holds Copyright for the Destruction of This Government

Mordechai Gilat
Mordechai Gilat
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Ayelet Shaked.
Ayelet Shaked.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Mordechai Gilat
Mordechai Gilat

Let’s put aside for a moment the four highly problematic Yamina legislators who stabbed the coalition, and their party chairman, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in the back. Let’s also put aside for a moment MK Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi of Meretz, who still hasn’t managed to explain to us why, rather than saying thank-you to party chair Nitzan Horowitz and all its legislatures for her Knesset seat, chose to stab them in the back. The same goes for United Arab List MK Mazen Ghanayim, who apparently just enjoyed toying with his party’s chair, Mansour Abbas, and refused to come down from the tree he climbed.

Each one of these exemplary folks, who knew from the start just what they were getting into and did not resign, contributed to the fall of the government this week. Each one of these bright shining lights misused his or her party in order to return the country to the political mire.

But make no mistake about it: The person who really holds the copyright in perpetuity on the destruction of this government, a government whose achievements in a single year far exceed those of its predecessor, is Ayelet Shaked. She is the one who really deserves the credit for dragging an entire country to a fifth election within three years. No one can take that away from her.

It was Shaked, the interior minister, who laid the cornerstone for this insanity. She foiled draft legislation necessary to strengthen Israel’s democracy; she could not abide the right joining forces with the left and with an Arab party that seeks to address the needs of Arab Israelis; she teamed up with Bennett but simultaneously kept beckoning to Likud, to the far right, to MK Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism and his ilk – and left people who know her with the impression that her support for the prime minister was very conditional. It seemed to them that as time went by, after a few black cats had passed between them, her support for him became no more than a default option.

Shaked and Bennett came out of a political garden filled with dangerous weeds, shrouded in the darkness of rabbinical control. Both were in a bad place, promoting destructive ideas and sowing division. At the time, both were acting like disciples of the great master of spreading toxicity and hatred, Benjamin Netanyahu. Plenty of negative things could be written about this duo, except that Bennett, totally unlike Shaked, changed very much as prime minister. Changed for the better.

While Shaked struggled to understand that the rules by which the change government played differed from those of a government deeply tainted by corruption and obsessed with going after democracy’s gatekeepers, Bennett was pleased to rub shoulders with the normative coalition parties, and in doing so, he blossomed. For a country as insane as Israel, Bennett was the sanest prime minister we’ve had in the past 20 years. I repeat – the sanest. The most measured and thoughtful, the most security-minded. He didn’t set things aflame, like the leaders of the far right – some of whom never served in the army; he put out the flames. A difference of day and night.

As noted, Shaked was with him, but primarily on paper. She hindered him at every turn, she thwarted important legislation, she kept breathing down his neck. She seemed like an alien in the government of change and healing that came into being to put a halt to Netanyahu’s corruption. Let’s be honest here: This was not the thing Shaked had set her sights on. “Just not Bibi,” that is, no more trampling of the rule of law to save the criminal defendant from prosecution – this was the reason for the formation of this special government. This was and remains its glue, and it is what led Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett, who became completely disgusted with Bibi and his incessant scheming no matter the cost, to “go to war” to stop him. And this was not to former justice minister Shaked’s liking.

This should not surprise anyone. As best I can recall, Shaked has never spoken out at all in regard to any major scandal involving ministers, MKs, mayors or high-ranking public officials. We didn’t hear her object to Aryeh Deri joining the government after his release from prison; we didn’t hear her express any criticism of Yaakov Litzman for any of his reprehensible conduct; we didn’t hear her call for a message-sending conviction of local government officials in the Yisrael Beitenu case; we didn’t see her engage in any cleaning out of the stables at the Interior Ministry from what the Shas chairman left behind there; we didn’t see her wage war on the serious ills of the local governments, as my colleague Oren Aharoni at Kan public television has also reported.

In a series of reports (“Eretz Ir”) over the past months, Aharoni investigated what goes on in many towns and local councils, and it was appalling: acts of fraud, breach of trust, exploitation of authority, bribery, lying to residents, crude treatment of officials from the opposition, zero transparency.

What did Shaked do in the wake of these reports? Nothing. She ignored it all. I asked Aharoni if the interior minister had contacted him since the series aired – if she’d done anything to stem the corruption, to cut off the pipelines of public monies going where they don’t belong, with no oversight? I asked if she brought the police into the picture. “No,” he told me. “That didn’t happen. It doesn’t interest her. She also declined my request to interview her.”

When these are the facts and this is her pattern of behavior, it’s no wonder that her voice is never heard regarding corruption by public figures; it’s no wonder she opposes term limits for mayors, as Sa’ar is proposing; it’s no wonder she did not support legislation that aims to keep the government and Knesset from being turned into a rehab center for criminals. That never bothered her before, and it still doesn’t. Throwing the gates of the Knesset open to convicted criminals or to people who play starring roles in state comptroller reports (in the days when there was a genuinely serious state comptroller) seems the most natural thing in the world to her.

Moreover, in Shaked’s view, an elected figure charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust – offenses for which a conviction leads to a prison sentence – is absolutely eligible to serve as prime minister. She has no problem with this ludicrous situation, which cannot be found in any enlightened democracy. She thinks this is totally normal and reasonable, and sees no reason to keep someone charged with such offenses away from the seat of authority, and the money, before the court hands down its verdict.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who was once a Netanyahu supporter, understood what a huge disgrace this is and, as soon as he assumed his post, advanced legislation stipulating that a person charged with such offenses cannot form a government, even if he received the most votes in an election. A simple, totally obvious bill to any normal citizen. A bill that came into being decades late, perhaps because the country’s founders never imagined that Israel would ever sink to such a state.

This bill gained the support of every part of the coalition – apart from Shaked. It was vetoed by the interior minister, who evidently cannot let go of her dream of joining Likud. Had the bill passed and been ratified, after all six United Arab List MKs pledged to support it, the government would not have fallen. There is no question about that. The door to the house on Balfour would have been locked to Netanyahu once and for all.

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