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Israel, Take a Lesson From Brexit

Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz
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Demonstrators supporting Brexit protest outside of the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, November 23, 2016.
Demonstrators supporting Brexit protest outside of the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, November 23, 2016.Credit: Toby Melville, Reuters
Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz

Ray, 65, from Birmingham, England was a keen supporter of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, saying he was fed up with the elites and the bureaucrats in Brussels deciding things for him – echoing a key complaint among Brexit supporters. Every revolution needs an enemy, and for the British, it was the elites in Britain and top EU officials. Immigrants were also viewed as an enemy (of course). The combination of an aloof, disconnected elite and the specter of an influx of migrants taking jobs away proved to be a lethally convincing formula that led to Brexit.

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Almost six years after London began the formal withdrawal process, many “Brexiteers” now have “Brexit remorse.” The process has not been kind to the British economy. Inflation is high, growth low and the pound sterling is weak. Bureaucracy has only increased and border crossings are less smooth. Ray is also a Brexit regretter: “The real meaning of it wasn’t explained to us,” he says. The anti-Brexit campaign may have been poorly run, but it’s also possible that Ray and millions of other Britons just didn’t want to listen, since anyone identified with the detached elites is summarily disqualified.

This is the situation here with the judicial coup being led by Benjamin Netanyahu. There are elements here that are similar to what happened with Brexit: On one side, elites talking about the dangers posed by the judicial coup to democracy, human rights and the economy; on the other, large numbers of people who relate more to messages about governance, nationalism and strength, and who despise elites.

In Britain, the decision on Brexit was made by a national referendum. Here, not only is the judicial overhaul not being put to a referendum, but no expert committee has even been established to examine the problems in the justice system that need fixing. This radical regime change is being made via an opportunistic grab in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and adheres to the pattern of constructing a common enemy and relentlessly vilifying it until it is perceived as the enemy of the people. We’ve just seen all the top politicians, from the prime minister to the Knesset speaker, lash out at the High Court of Justice in a show of support for Arye Dery. This was much more than an ostensible show of support for him. In practice, it was a show of mafia-style threats against the attorney general and the justice system, lest they dare discuss the possibility of declaring Netanyahu incapable of carrying out his duties, in order to reiterate the lie that the people’s elected choice supersedes every judicial and legal consideration. Dery was the first line of defense that the High Court knocked down, but the main issue is Netanyahu and his legal fate.

The high-tech sector’s protest, the speech by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, the open letters from CEOs, the Black Robes Protest by lawyers, the letter from the former Bank of Israel governors and all the other civil initiatives are very desirable and worthy efforts to prevent the radical judicial overhaul. So, too, are the public protests in the big cities. But these efforts all share one internal flaw: They are associated with the elites, and the message being promulgated by Netanyahu and his far right-Haredi government is that elites, and first and foremost the justice and law enforcement system, are an axis of evil. In such circumstances, even the most professional and genuine attempts to explain and warn of the dangers of the proposed judicial coup are liable to fall on deaf ears.

When educated, well-off people – judges, legal advisors, high-tech workers, executives, lawyers, doctors, academics – come out against the “reform,” it creates an impression that they stand to be hurt directly. But for the most part, they and their children are in good shape – with decent wages, assets and high pensions – and will stay that way even after the judicial coup. The cost of the damage to human rights and the economy, and of the increasing corruption, will mainly be borne by the weaker segments of the public. No good will come to them from politicians being handed more power. The politicians already have more than enough power to address important things like violence, education, infrastructure and the cost of living, with no court standing in their way, and what do they have to show for it? The challenge for opponents of the judicial coup is to get people to listen and to understand the inherent dangers, unlike what happened with Brexit.

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