Editorial

Poodles of the Autocracy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony in Jerusalem, September 1, 2019.
מארק ישראל סלם

Over the past few days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intentions and modus operandi have been exposed. It once again turns out that he seeks to get rid of all the checks and balances that he views as impediments to his continued rule, and also to annex the settlements to Israel, including even the most isolated and extreme ones, under a new system of government he has invented – “Jewish sovereignty.”

The taped conversation broadcast by Channel 13 News this week – in which Netanyahu demanded that former Communications Minister Ayoub Kara dissolve or abolish the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council because it refused to operate in line with the talking points from the Prime Minister’s Office – reflected Netanyahu’s familiar pattern of action: If the law or the gatekeepers are in his way, either they should go to hell or be replaced with obedient toadies.

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But what failed with Kara succeeded with the new state comptroller, Matanyahu Englman. Four days after meeting with Netanyahu, Englman dissolved a special government permits committee that had barred the prime minister from accepting donations for his legal defense. On Wednesday, the comptroller allowed Netanyahu to accept a loan “at market terms” from his American benefactor, Spencer Partrich, for this same purpose. Additionally, Englman has buried the scathing report his predecessor wrote about Netanyahu’s intervention in the media market – a report that could have undermined the Likud party’s election campaign – deep in some drawer.

Englman, like Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Herskowitz, represents the new civil service Netanyahu has been cultivating. Instead of gatekeepers, they are servants whose job is to please the royal court in Jerusalem and Caesarea. Their conduct foreshadows the future appointments of the state prosecutor and attorney general should Netanyahu be reelected; he would turn them from enforcers of the law into dishrags. And Netanyahu’s recent incitement against Channel 12 News, in response to its reporting on his apparently criminal conduct, shows that he wants to make the entire media like his mouthpiece Israel Hayom and turn the press from watchdogs of democracy into poodles of the autocracy.

The election on September 17 should be a referendum on the path Netanyahu is paving for Israel – rule by one man with no restraints, one who is working to set up an unabashedly apartheid state based on Jewish supremacy in the West Bank and to destroy the rule of law within pre-1967 Israel. Ending his reign is vital for the continued existence of Israeli democracy, and it will also leave an opening for an agreement with the Palestinians.

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