Editorial

Zero Hour for Israeli Democracy

People walk along a pedestrian overpass beneath an election billboard in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan on March 1, 2020.
Menahem KAHANA / AFP

Israelis will once again report to polling stations to vote on extending the term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The dirty slander campaign Netanyahu has waged in the past few days against his rival, Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz, underscores the danger posed to Israel’s future in the event the so-called right-wing bloc wins control of the government under a power-hungry politician who has lost all restraint and who seems determined to keep his seat forever.

Netanyahu’s ever-changing campaign slogans and the self-praise he exudes in every rally and interview barely mask the prime minister’s real goal: to avoid prosecution for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The “judicial reforms” promised by the right-wing parties are aimed at aiding one particular, privileged defendant, to save him from facing justice, from the humiliation of appearing in court and perhaps even from imprisonment. To obtain that goal, they will turn the entire legal system into an obedient arm of a right-wing government.

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Netanyahu has already proved that to avoid justice he is willing to degrade and to destroy all of the state’s institutions, which he accuses of “political persecution” over his refusal to withdraw from the territories. After casting aspersions on the legitimacy of the police, the prosecution and the attorney general, he came to his judges, as expected. In a interview with Israel Channel 12, he described them as “leftists” and demanded that they prove otherwise.

Netanyahu’s message is visible from a great distance: He deserves to be a king, a tyrant who is above the law, and anyone who asks him to respect the law, like an ordinary citizen, is a traitor. His victory would destroy the rule of law, leading to a wave of persecution against civil servants and politicians, prosecutors and judges, who will be labeled enemies of the state and be forced have to prove their loyalty to the ruler – like Netanyahu’s submissive colleagues in Likud and the parties of “the bloc.”

For this reason, Monday’s election is zero hour for saving Israeli democracy. Everyone who seeks to continue living in a democracy must go out and vote for one of the rival parties or electoral alliances: Kahol Lavan, Labor-Gesher-Meretz or the Joint List.

Much can be said about the shortcomings of these slates and their candidates, but now is not the time to be a purist or to split hairs. Kahol Lavan, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List must get sufficient Knesset seats to block the formation of another extremist government headed by Netanyahu and scuttle the destructive right-wing plans to annex the settlements and crush the legal system. Supporters of democracy who want to end Netanyahu’s eternal government of one, guarantee the independence of the judiciary and preserve the possibility of an arrangement with the Palestinians must vote.

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