Saving Israeli Democracy

This is one of the most dramatic elections in the country’s history, it’s not an overstatement to say that what is at stake in the coming election is saving democracy in Israel

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks at a press conference, Jerusalem, March 21, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Haaretz Conference on Democracy in Israel takes place today, 12 days before the election for Israel’s 21st Knesset. This is one of the most dramatic elections in the country’s history.

The right-wing candidate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is contending under the cloud of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s decision to indict him (subject to a hearing) on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and against the backdrop of serious revelations that have yet to be investigated, regarding his alleged involvement in the submarine affair.

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Moreover, the 20th Knesset and Netanyahu’s fourth government devoted most of their efforts to assailing democracy and its institutions through anti-democratic legislation that attempted to weaken the High Court of Justice and limit the power of the country’s gatekeepers. It also sought to harm the separation between government branches, freedom of expression and the concept of equality, especially that of the country’s Arab citizens, while trying to curtail human and civil rights.

This space is insufficient to lay out in detail the bills that were devoted to these objectives. Some were rebuffed at the last moment, thanks to, among others, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon.

The legislative blitz throughout this government’s term was incessant. Many of the initiatives were blocked at different stages of the legislative process. This included several versions of a law which would have enabled the Knesset to legislate anew any law the High Court overturns; the law that would enable government ministers to appoint a ministry’s legal adviser; changing the system for appointing judges; the so-called “French law,” which would prohibit the indictment of an incumbent prime minister; and a law aimed at making cultural institutions toe the government line.

Horrifically, some of these laws actually passed, including one allowing Knesset members to oust one of their colleagues, the law restraining the human rights group, Breaking the Silence, a law requiring non-profit groups on the left to report foreign donations, a law regulating the financing of filmmaking, and the flagship nation-state law, which removed the value of equality from the defining characteristics of the state, anchoring in law the supremacy of Jews over Arabs.

However, this vile Knesset did not stop there. This legislative activism was accompanied by background noise in the form of delegitimization of the media, the courts, the law enforcement agencies involved in investigating Netanyahu, the state prosecution, the police and its outgoing commissioner, Roni Alsheich, the opposition and human rights groups. In addition, there was persecution of “leftist” university professors and artists, as well as unbridled incitement against the Arab minority. Just this week Netanyahu was interviewed on TV Channel 12, where without a shred of shame, decency or statesmanlike conduct he accused the Arab parties of supporting terror.

The election to be held on April 9 was moved up by Netanyahu with the aim of preceding the publication of the attorney general’s decision on his indictment. Furthermore, there is great concern that Netanyahu, if elected, will use his next term in office to legislate laws that will prevent his indictment. It’s not an overstatement to say that what is at stake in the coming election is saving democracy in Israel.