Netanyahu Is Using Coronavirus to Hold Onto Power

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020.

Panic over the coronavirus, justified as it may be, mustn’t blind the public from seeing how the temporary prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and members of his party are exploiting the crisis to hold onto power. Through their management of the coronavirus crisis, Netanyahu and his government are neutralizing the justice system and quarantining the legislature.

Netanyahu and Likud are not ready to accept the election results. Moshe Ya’alon was right when he said, “For anyone who still doesn’t get it, this is the third time that Netanyahu is trying to get to 61 MKs in order to escape trial and rule as a dictator.”

Not only was Netanyahu’s criminal trial postponed due to the coronavirus, and the Shin Bet given a green light to track citizens using counterterrorism methods without any parliamentary oversight, but now Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has also shed any pretense of statesmanship and enlisted in the effort to rescue his master at all costs.

Edelstein is singlehandedly preventing the Knesset from convening and forming committees. Having realized that the right-wing-Haredi bloc cannot muster a majority in the Knesset, Likud is blocking the parliament from convening. The moves taken by Edelstein are so crude and transparent that it’s hard to believe he isn’t ashamed and concerned about his reputation.

The emergency situation is being fully exploited by Netanyahu and his partners to stop the democratic process. Yair Lapid, one of the leaders of Kahol Lavan, said yesterday that “right now the only state institution that is working is an unelected transition government with a prime minister who lost the election.”

Lapid is right. The parliament is shut down. The current government is blocking the formation of the Knesset committees, including the committee for addressing the coronavirus crisis, the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee and the Finance Committee – all of which are vital for managing the crisis.

Likud is shamelessly citing “Health Ministry directives” about the coronavirus that prohibit large gatherings to nullify Kahol Lavan’s relative advantage in the Arrangements Committee – without which it is impossible to activate the Knesset until the coalition is formed. This, even though the Knesset was exempted from the Health Ministry directives and, in any case, the committee members could watch the hearing remotely and place a note with their vote in a designated spot.

On Wednesday Edelstein announced that he was postponing the decision on the formation of the committees until Monday, which effectively means Knesset and committee activity will continue to be shut down.

Netanyahu and his cohorts should stop denying the election results and ignoring the public’s will. If the government permits itself to use “digital tools” to track innocent citizens, it could certainly use digital tools to convene the parliament, hold votes and establish committees. President Rivlin was right when he told Edelstein on Wednesday that closing down the Knesset hurts the country’s ability to function in an emergency. Israel’s democracy must not be allowed to fall victim to political manipulations in the name of the battle against the coronavirus.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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