The direction Israel’s democracy is taking will be decided to a large extent today. It depends on one man – Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Admittedly, he has been acting on behalf of his master, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who refuses to recognize the results of the election. But the decision on whether to obey the High Court of Justice and convene the Knesset on Wednesday to elect a new speaker – or alternatively, to defy the court and cause a constitutional earthquake – rests in his hands alone.
Less than an hour and a half after he informed the justices that he didn’t intend to listen to them, they ruled that Edelstein must convene the Knesset and enable it to vote on replacing him by this Wednesday. The justices threw him a lifeline on Monday so he could extricate himself from the corner into which he had backed himself, in his master’s service,. But Edelstein chose instead to tie that lifeline around the neck of Israeli democracy.
Of course, Edelstein isn’t democracy’s sole assassin; he is part of a broader political camp. The justice minister’s response to the court’s initial ultimatum has to be read twice to be believed: “If I were the Knesset speaker, I would respond, ‘No,’” he tweeted. But on second thought, nobody should be shocked by this disgrace, since Amir Ohana had declared upon entering the ministry that High Court rulings needn’t always be obeyed.
And anyone who thought Ohana was a wild weed quickly realized his mistake, when he was joined by other ministers and Knesset members, proving that an anti-democratic virus has spread through the right’s ranks. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich termed the court’s ruling “the end of democracy,” while former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked wrote, “The people who petitioned the High Court in its role as the Knesset’s kindergarten teacher are the ones who are killing democracy.”
But worst of all was the response by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Netanyahu’s confidant, who urged Edelstein “to declare that he alone will decide when the plenum will convene and what will be on its agenda.” Levin even directly challenged Supreme Court President Esther Hayut by inviting her “to come to the building with the court’s guards and open the plenary session herself.” It turns out that during all the years when rightists were accusing the left of a governmental coup, they were merely hiding their own plans.
It is to be hoped that Edelstein spent Tuesday night reading the harsh words Hayut wrote about him. She described his refusal to convene parliament as “undermining the fundamentals of the democratic process” and his interference with the majority’s efforts as “undermining the voters’ decision.” Does Edelstein want to go down in Israeli history as the person who, with his own hands, undermined the sovereignty of the Knesset he headed? He must come to his senses, listen to the court and accept the will of the majority. He has a historic responsibility to stop the train that’s racing toward the abyss in the final moment before it’s too late.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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