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Learn From U.K. Conservatives

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes Israel's Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Downing Street in London, Britain, in 2019.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes Israel's Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Downing Street in London, Britain, in 2019.Credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS

Members of Britain’s Conservative Party, who dragged their own prime minister, Boris Johnson, out the door of 10 Downing Street this week, have only themselves to blame. They elected him three years ago even though they knew him well. They knew their leader cared mainly about his own personal welfare, that he was power-hungry and a chronic liar. But they elected him anyway, because they thought, rightly, that he would be able to lead the Tories to victory in the 2019 election.

Now, when Johnson’s scandals have become intolerable and he has lost his charm in the eyes of much of the British public, his party is rushing to get rid of him. But despite the Conservatives’ cynical behavior, what remains of a political culture in which a prime minister’s lies are sufficient grounds for his resignation is admirable, as is a parliament capable of doing its job as the country’s sovereign democratic body.

Johnson tried to cling to power by arguing that he received a “mandate” from the people to lead them until the next election. But in a parliamentary system of government, a prime minister serves only at the will of members of parliament, who are the people’s elected representatives. The Tories did well by making this clear to Johnson, even if they did it very belatedly.

We can only hope that parliaments in other countries where populist leaders have put themselves above the law and democratic traditions, will also manage to stand in the breach. Israel – where Benjamin Netanyahu, who is standing trial on severe corruption charges, is trying to return to the Prime Minister’s Office – should learn from the British as well.

The last scandal that stuck to Johnson and ultimately caused his downfall is very similar to the affair of Natan Eshel, Netanyahu’s chief of staff who was forced to resign in 2012 after it turned out he had sexually harassed women working in the Prime Minister’s Office. Even Johnson’s supporters understood that a man who knew about such acts but nevertheless promoted the harasser, sent him on political missions and even lied to the public over the issue, cannot remain in office. Netanyahu, in contrast, remained in office for another nine and a half years after Eshel’s actions came to light, and Eshel is still close to him. Yet not one minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party uttered a sound.

Corrupt leaders like Johnson and Netanyahu corrupt their parties and the mechanisms of government they control. Likud members who glory in the label “conservative” ought to learn a lesson from the original conservatives.

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

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