Governments and Other Parasites

Today is supposed to be the day Netanyahu and Gantz finalize their agreement to form Israel’s new unity government. But so what? What is a government for, anyway? Why do we allow ourselves to support such bloated, parasitic organisms? Especially when we watch helplessly as elements of said organism arrogate to themselves resources that ought to belong to society as a whole?

What are governments for? Protection of the citizens is their most important function. Historically a group of humans tacitly agreed to give up their freedom (or were forced to give it up) to a leader who would protect them against the Hobbesian world they lived in. When armies come to sack your city, whom do you call? You need an army too, and somebody needs to command them and pay them. And where does the king or prince or president get the money to pay them? Need I ask?

And naturally he takes something off the top. A “good” leader takes just what he needs (a parasite has to be careful not to kill its host), while a bad one sucks his people dry.

In the far past, governments just protected their people against external aggression and banditry, and internal crime. There wasn’t much that could be done about natural disasters, like earthquakes and epidemics. There was little that could be done to improve economic outcomes as well, although taxation could and did put a ceiling on it.

But with technological progress, intervention by government in both natural and human processes became possible and necessary, for good or ill. The famous saying (who said this?) that civilization replaces frequent small inconveniences with rare large catastrophes, implies a collective responsibility of civilized people to try to prevent those catastrophes. And this responsibility is placed on the shoulders of their leaders, who may or may not rise to the occasion – as we are having quite graphically and tragically demonstrated to us in various countries today.

The next most important job of government is the regulation of markets. Capitalism in a free society is by far the most effective way to create wealth to meet human needs and wants, but it is unstable. As we learn in basic economics class, numerous distortions upset theoretically perfectly efficient markets, and the result is to create a vicious spiral that funnels wealth toward specific sectors of society and starves others.

Radical laissez-faire policies ignore hidden costs of production – for example, air/water pollution – and leave the door open for various causes of instability like artificial barriers to entry and monopolistic practices, exploitation of workers (and shareholders!), and other imbalances. Without external control, a capitalist system will go off the rails.

On the other hand, communism places complete control of the economic system in the hands of the government, supposedly on behalf of the workers; but along with the loss of efficiency that comes from the conscious attempt to control markets, there develops a totally useless, parasitic governmental ruling class which soaks up the available wealth, making the society far worse off than in a purely capitalistic system. The same can be said for monarchies (in which a king or royal family owns most of the wealth) or Islamic regimes like in Iran or Gaza, in which religious principles guide policy. The results speak for themselves: the economy functions poorly or not at all (e.g., Venezuela), and the rulers protect themselves by restricting the freedom of their citizens.

The least bad alternative is some form of regulated capitalism. That requires someone to make and enforce the regulations, which is the second major job of government. It’s easy to see how dangerous this function makes government officials; the temptation to graft for someone given power to regulate commerce is enormous.

The final job of government, international relations, combines the protective and economic functions in the realm of relations with other nations. Governments vary greatly in the way they use their powers in this area. Some wish to live and let live; others – like the Iranian regime, or Hitler’s Germany – behave like pirates. Piratical regimes are dangerous to others and also to their own populations, because they invite reprisals from other nations.

All governments are fundamentally parasitical. But parasites can be useful to their hosts. A good government takes little enough from its citizens to keep from harming them too much, while performing its necessary functions. A bad government, like the regimes of Maduro, Assad, or Khamenei, rapes its people, doesn’t protect them against other dangers, impoverishes them, and exports instability to the international sphere. A good government is like intestinal bacteria. A bad one is like coronavirus.

All this implies that government officials should not be given a smidgen more power than what is required to do their jobs. They should not be venerated or treated as superior or more important than the average citizen, who is their employer. They should not be treated as symbols of the nation they represent; special music should not be played when they arrive; they should not walk on red carpets.

Needless to say, they should not be given outsized salaries or opportunities to enrich themselves that are not available to others. The UK has done a very beneficial thing by offloading the ceremonial and symbolic functions of the head of state to the Monarch, while allowing the Prime Minister to get on with his or her job. A President of the US, on the other hand, has a fulsome array of unnecessary and expensive perquisites, and is sometimes referred to by the offensive sobriquet “leader of the free world.”

Governments are bureaucracies, and like any bureaucracy, only grow larger. Officials protect their satrapies, with far more ferocity than they exhibit in the performance of their duties – high level politicians being the worst of all in this respect. Such cancerous growth can convert a relatively benign parasite into a killer.

Israel’s unity government may have 30, or according to some reports, as many as 36 ministers, the most in the history of the country. As I wrote last week, the cost of each additional minister is 1.2 million shekels a year, and this is an example of parasitism allowed to run rampant – especially at a time that the government needs to come up with a massive bailout for individuals and businesses that will have been hurt by the long shutdown of the economy.

The process of forming the government has so far been enormously expensive, with three elections at an estimated cost of 12 billion shekels. Keep in mind also, that for the past year the legislators have done essentially nothing, while drawing their salaries.

When does a parasite become too costly to tolerate? I would like to think that our politicians are no worse than intestinal bacteria. But could they be becoming a virus deadly to the state?

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Israel’s Political Zoo

The greatest danger to Israel from the coronavirus is not a collapse of the healthcare system and a massive increase in the body count, as happened in Italy.

It’s not impossible, but most groups – with the notable exception of Haredi communities in several locations who might soon find their neighborhoods or whole towns under quarantine – are following social distancing rules, which have proven to be effective. Resources are being pumped into the healthcare system, testing and tracking of patients are being ramped up, and various promising drugs are being tested. It will probably be bad but not apocalyptic, despite statements by some religious figures that the virus is a sign of the imminent arrival of the Mashiach.

I could be wrong. A shortage of doctors and nurses and other health workers is our weak spot. But I think that unless something entirely unforeseen happens, like a war with Iran, chances are that the virus will burn itself out within a few months (though nobody knows how many months).

On the other hand, the economic crisis that may result from the almost total shutdown of the economy for an extended period could trigger a vicious downward spiral, a chain of bankruptcies and layoffs, a classic depression that will take years to come out of.

The government is hoping to avoid this with a massive program of aid to individuals and businesses to get them over the hump. It will provide 80 billion shekels ($22.3 billion), the biggest such package in Israel’s history. As a result, the deficit will increase from 3.5% to 10% of GDP. I believe that whether the program will succeed or not depends on how long the national lockdown continues. When the schools reopen, the economy will come out of its suspended animation. If it’s still alive.

So how is our political class responding to the situation?

Like zoo animals? No, that’s unfair to animals, who after all usually only want basic necessities of life and to be left alone. They are more like really, really, spoiled, greedy, sociopathic, children.

After three elections, it was announced that Netanyahu and Gantz had agreed to form a unity government. But no, it turns out that there are serious difficulties and no solution on the horizon (read this excellent summary of the deadlock by Haviv Rettig Gur). Gantz, as Speaker of the Knesset, can make whatever demands he wishes, since – by procedural maneuvers – he can prevent Netanyahu from doing anything, including forming a government without him, even though Bibi could easily get the 61 votes needed to do so. But with the split-up of Blue and White, Gantz himself has no chance to form a government without Bibi, even with Lieberman and the Arabs. At this writing (Wednesday, 1 PM) neither side has budged. So here we are.

Even if they had succeeded, the cabinet would have been a criminal enterprise. The plans were for a government with as many as 36 ministers! A country the size of Israel does not need 36 ministers, each of whom are paid more than 50,000 shekels ($14,000) a month. It is already outrageous that the 120 regular Knesset members get 45,000 ($12,000) each month, a result of voting themselves raises every couple of years, but when you consider that ministers have well-paid staffs, offices, and so on, the cost is astronomical. Assuming (conservatively) that each minister costs the taxpayers 100,000 shekels a month, if the government were reduced in size to “only” 18 ministers, it would save 21.8 million shekels in a year. As MK Gideon Sa’ar pointed out, the time that the Treasury is about to take an 80 billion shekel hit that will be financed by borrowing is no time to create the largest, most expensive government in Israel’s history. Sa’ar himself has declined to take the most recent pay raise.

It’s possible to argue about who is the most responsible for this travesty of “public service.” Gantz whines that he deserves as many ministries as Netanyahu, even though after the split of Blue and White, he brings only 15 mandates to government, while Bibi has at least 58 MKs to reward by doling out portfolios. Maybe the root of the problem is a system by which a MK is given a ministry as a political favor, and not because he or she is the best person to manage a part of government that actually provides services to the public.

The contest between Netanyahu and Gantz is part of a broader struggle between the “nationalists” (represented by Netanyahu), the group that wants Israel to be a Jewish state in a more significant way than just a state with a Jewish majority; and the “social democrats,” the legal and cultural/media/academic establishments that want to model Israel after Western Europe’s secular democracies. This tension has existed since the pre-state period, and I think it is more explanatory today than the traditional right/left distinction. Even after agreement on a unity government, we can expect more ideology-fueled “constitutional crises” as the opposition attempts to pass laws to oust Netanyahu because of his indictments, and the Supreme Court takes up petitions regarding the Nation-State law.

Several times in our history, this basic divergence – more than just a political disagreement – has endangered the state. This is such a historical moment. Here are my suggestions for what our government should do to survive it – if there ever is a government, and if it has a few free weeks between plagues, wars, and elections:

  1. Amend the Basic Laws for the Knesset and the Government to eliminate the system of proportional representation by party, which has led to the present impasse, and replace it with a system in which the citizens vote directly for their representatives, whether by districts or otherwise. Other countries make this work; we can too. It would greatly de-emphasize ideology in our politics, as well as reduce the likelihood of deadlocks like the present one.
  2. Pass a Basic Law for Separation of Powers. It will apportion power to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government, and in particular define the role of the Supreme Court, specifying the areas in which it may and may not intervene, on what basis, and who has standing to petition it. It should provide for checks and balances so no one branch can act tyrannically. It should also split up the functions of the Legal Adviser to the Government, who should not also be in charge of the state prosecutor’s office.
  3. Finally, the method of choosing judges, including Supreme Court justices, should be democratized. The system that allows the Bar Association and the current Supreme Court to dictate appointments must be eliminated.

Israeli politicians need to grow up and begin to accept responsibility for the people who are depending on them. These changes would give them a framework in which to do so.

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The Haredi Disconnect

About 12% of Israel’s population are Haredim, often referred to as “ultra-orthodox,” an expression which they strongly dislike. The Haredi population is growing rapidly with a birthrate of about 7 children per woman, and if this growth rate continues, Haredim will be 32% of the population in 2065 (this estimate, however, is high because it does not take into account “dropouts” from the Haredi lifestyle). Their religious ideology varies, including Chasidim, Sefaradim, and Misnagdim (sometimes also inaccurately called “Lithuanians”). Among these major groupings there are numerous groups and sects, with strong differences in their beliefs, politics, and ways of life. It would be a mistake to generalize about “those guys in the black hats.”

On the other hand, some things are true in general, and they are not good things for the future of the state of Israel. Haredi schools mostly teach secular subjects like English, the sciences, and mathematics very poorly or not at all. The native language of many Haredi communities is Yiddish, not Hebrew. Most Haredi young men do not serve in the military, and prefer to study Torah in yeshivot than to work at a secular job. These facts make the expected increase in the percentage of the population that is Haredi extremely problematic for the future economy of the state.

These are closed communities, which sometime allow social pathologies like sexual abuse to continue, especially when the perpetrator is an important person in the community. The external society and its police, social workers, and others are only (if ever) invited to intervene in truly horrific situations.

There is a current of contempt for the (perceived as secular) state and its laws in Haredi society. This is encouraged by the Haredi parties in the Knesset, who have taken advantage of their ability to hold the balance of power between the Right and the Left. Their critical position in most recent governments makes it possible for them to demand concessions that they would not otherwise get, like money for their schools and exemption from national requirements to prepare students for 21st century life, and avoidance of military or non-military national service. The Haredi parties have ensured that it is possible for a non-working “scholar” to have 10 children and be supported to a great extent by government child care allowances (often the women work too).

I think many Haredim feel that they can ignore the rules and laws of the state because they are loyal to a higher law. Some believe that Torah study is a more efficacious way to defend the Jewish people from the various threats facing it than the IDF and the police. And they think that congregating in large groups for prayer or other observances is a better response to the Coronavirus than following the recommendations for social distancing that come from the apikorsim (secularly educated, Jewishly ignorant Hellenists) in the government.

This is the kind of reasoning that led the Hungarian Belzer Rebbe to tell his flock that they didn’t need to worry about the Nazis, that Hashem would take care of them. He was tragically wrong. My personal view is that Hashem sometimes does miracles for the Jewish people, but he uses normal physics and biology to do them, and he expects the Jewish people to do their part as well. So in 1967 Hashem made use of the IAF, the military planners who developed the attack on our enemies’ air forces, and the brave pilots who carried it out, to save the Jews of Israel from another Holocaust. Of course I don’t understand Hashem’s intentions today, but perhaps he is working through our Ministry of Health, and yes, even our flawed Prime Minister, to save us from the virus (after all, the Minister of Health is a Gerer Chassid).

Many Haredim see the state as anti-Jewish, no different from any of the diaspora regimes under which they mostly suffered and rarely thrived. The fact that the rulers here happen to be Jews doesn’t change the adversarial nature of the relationship. To them, Netanyahu is indistinguishable from the Tsar. Like the Arabs, the Haredim have their well-developed narratives through which they perceive reality.

Criticism of Haredim is often muted because of a feeling that it is anti-Jewish (of course, in some parts of the Israeli political spectrum that is considered a plus). The Haredim themselves often call critics “antisemites” or even “Nazis.” Most Israelis take a live and let live attitude, which is only upset when Haredi extremists like the so-called “Jerusalem faction” riot and block roads in support of someone jailed for refusing to register for the draft and receive his exemption as a Haredi Yeshiva student.

Recently, however, the extremists – and I have no idea of how representative they are of the wider Haredi culture, just as I don’t know how many Arab citizens of Israel actually agree with the anti-Zionism of their elected MKs – have taken their attitude more than a little too far. Their disregard for the rules established to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus are endangering them, their communities, and everyone else in the country.

In the beginning, it was said that because of their isolation, they didn’t understand the dangers. But it is no longer possible to believe that they don’t know. PM Netanyahu met with Haredi leaders last week to try to convince them to close schools and synagogues. Some did, and some didn’t. Last night there was a funeral of a “Jerusalem Faction” rabbi in Bnai Brak, at which hundreds of mourners crowded the streets. Police, who now have the ability to levy fines on violators of the rule that no more than 10 people may congregate in one place, were present but did not issue any fines. But the authorities are considering quarantining whole cities, like Bnai Brak and Beit Shemesh, as well as particular neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Will fear of Coronavirus do what years of negotiations and attempts at compromise have not, and make the Haredim cooperate with the state? I doubt it, not for those who believe that the pandemic is caused by women wearing wigs made from non-Jewish hair.

No, I think the way to get them to follow the social distancing rules will be widespread fines and arrests for violators. If they think the State of Israel is the Russian Empire of the 19th century, then we’ll just have to start acting like it.

The larger task of integrating all the Haredi communities into wider Israeli society seems to me impossible. There are exceptions, but generally Haredi attitudes toward male-female interactions are not compatible with the rest of the country, even with the religious-but-not-Haredi community.

There is an Israeli TV series about a dystopian future in which Haredim have established an autonomous area in Jerusalem, a “separation” not unlike what has been considered for the Palestinian areas. It’s horrifying, but I am certain there are those among the Haredim who would welcome it. And maybe it will come to pass.

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A Short Political History of Israel

In the pre-state period, the socialist Left dominated the yishuv. They created the institutions that would form the basis of the state, and ran them according to their ideology. The Histadrut labor federation dominated the economy; its closely allied kibbutz movement was the primary producer of agricultural products, the Solel Boneh construction company built roads and buildings, and the Kupat Holim Clalit health fund was everyone’s healthcare provider. The Zim shipping line and the ports, the Tnuva dairy cooperative – most of the essential pieces of the economy were fully or partly controlled by the Histadrut, which was the heart of the Labor Party.

When Labor Party leader David Ben-Gurion declared the state of Israel and became its first Prime Minister, naturally his people ended up in key places in government and business. The government supported arts and culture, and naturally the artists who received grants were the right kind (I should say, the left kind) of people. Music on the state radio stations was primarily written and performed by ideologically correct artists. The Mizrachi Jews that came here after the War of Independence and through the 1960s were treated as second-class citizens by the Labor establishment, which tried to keep them out of the political and cultural life of the country (this was the case for many years – when I tried to buy music by Mizrachi artists in the early 1980s, it was still mostly found on cassettes produced by back-porch entrepreneurs).

The right-wing political opposition was kept as far away from power as possible. Efforts were made to delegitimize the Herut party, led by Menachem Begin, and even to “remove [it] from any recollection or participation in [remembrance of war dead].” The contributions of the right-wing military organizations, Etzel and Lehi, to the achievement of independence were minimized or erased from official histories. Ben Gurion would not even mention Menachem Begin’s name in the Knesset, or speak directly to him. Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of the Etzel and the inspiration for much of the Israeli Right, died in 1940; Ben Gurion did not allow him to be buried in Israel and it was not until he left power that Jabotinsky’s remains were finally brought to Mount Herzl.

But in 1977, the world (well, at least Medinat Yisrael) turned upside down. In 1973, the Labor government had blown it big time. Regardless of the debate about precisely who was responsible for the debacle that almost ended the State of Israel, it was clear that it was time for new leadership. At the same time, Mizrachim had had enough of the paternalistic condescension and discrimination that characterized the establishment that was running the government. The people of Israel gave Begin’s Likud 43 seats, despite the fact that Begin himself had recently suffered a heart attack and did not participate in the campaign.

Since then, Israel has had right-wing leadership – or at least purportedly right-wing leadership – with the exception of a period between 1984-86 when Shimon Peres was PM in a rotation agreement as part of a unity government, 1992-96 when Yitzhak Rabin was PM, followed by Peres after his assassination; and then in 1999-2001, the term of the execrable Ehud Barak.

The Labor Party and the various small parties to its left have shrunk radically, as the Israeli public lost confidence in them following Oslo and then the Second Intifada. But to a great extent the leftish establishment in the media, the arts, academia, and the legal profession has remained dominant in those areas. And it has become more and more frantic in its desire to regain its former control of the country. In particular, it sees Binyamin Netanyahu, who has surpassed Ben Gurion as the longest-serving Prime Minister, as the personification of the enemy, a fascist enemy of democracy. But that is unfair. Netanyahu has problems, but he is not an enemy of democracy. He has become PM by winning democratic elections, or at least by putting together coalitions, something the opposition cannot do.

The Blue and White party was created by this establishment for one reason only: to remove Netanyahu. Benny Gantz was chosen as a neutral figure, somebody that would be respected as a former Chief of Staff, a person who has little baggage. His campaign was notable for its concentration on Netanyahu’s indictments and its almost total lack of other content. The party leadership does not share an ideology, and I suspect that 99% of those who voted for it understood that they were voting to depose Netanyahu – and the rest would have to take care of itself.

What has happened now, as I write, is that Blue and White did not come close to being able to obtain the needed 61 mandates to form a government, so they violated their pre-election promise to not try to form a minority government supported from the outside by votes from the anti-Zionist Arab parties. But then it turned out that they did not have the votes to do even that. So while they negotiated with the Likud to form a unity government in which Netanyahu and Gantz would take turns being PM, they planned to get the Knesset to pass several bills that would prevent Bibi from serving due to his indictments.

In order to do this, the Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, would have to let it happen, and Likudnik Edelstein wasn’t moving. B&W demanded that the Knesset vote to replace Edelstein with a more pliant candidate, but Edelstein refused to schedule that vote. So they turned to the Supreme Court, which issued a ruling that Edelstein must schedule the vote to replace him. Edelstein responded by resigning his position as Speaker, and in a particularly moving statement, said,

The High Court of Justice’s decision is not based on the language of the law, but on a unilateral and extreme interpretation. The decision of the High Court destroys the work of the Knesset. The High Court decision constitutes a gross and arrogant intervention of the judiciary in the affairs of the elected legislature. The High Court decision infringes on the sovereignty of the Knesset. …

As someone who has paid a heavy personal cost of years of imprisonment and hard labor for the right to live as a citizen of the State of Israel, no explanation is needed as to how much I love the State of Israel and the people of Israel. Therefore, as a democrat, as a Jewish-Zionist, as a person fighting against dark regimes, and as chair of this House, I will not allow Israel to deteriorate into anarchy. I will not lend a hand to civil war. I will act in the spirit of Menachem Begin who in June 1948, during the Altalena days, prevented civil war.

Members of Knesset, citizens of Israel, these days our people need unity, need a unity government. These days, when an epidemic threatens us from the outside and the cleavage rips us from the inside, we must all act as human beings, we must all transcend. We must all unite.

Therefore, for the State of Israel and in order to renew the state spirit in Israel, I hereby resign from my position as Speaker of the Knesset. We will pray, and even act, for better days.

Edelstein’s resignation will take effect in 48 hours. But the Knesset’s legal advisor warned him that he will be liable to a charge of contempt of court if he does not allow a vote to be called immediately. I suspect that the man who spent three years in a Siberian gulag will not change his mind.

I see the whole process that began with the investigations into Netanyahu more than three years ago, with all of the improprieties involved – the continuous media leaks from the police and prosecution, the abuse of witnesses, the recent last-minute attempts to change the law so that Netanyahu could not be even a part-time PM, the intervention of the Court – as a continuation of the struggle to subvert the will of Israeli voters, and bring the discredited Left back to power.

But the world has changed. The Labor Party and the Histadrut can’t pick the prime minister from among their activists anymore, as they did until 1977. Ben Gurion isn’t coming back. Form a unity government with Bibi and move on.

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Bibi Derangement in the Age of Corona

If there is one theme that PM Netanyahu’s opponents are banging away at – and that includes not just his political opposition, but most of the mainstream media in Israel and a small army on social media – it is that he is “destroying democracy,” or even trying to turn Israel into a dictatorship. If you don’t believe me, just google “Israel democracy Netanyahu” and you will get pages and pages of the same old … stuff.

Democracy, in the broadest sense of the term, means that the citizens of a state determine its policies by voting. Usually they vote for representatives to run things according to their understanding of what’s best for everyone, like parliaments or senators and congressmen, prime ministers or presidents. They grant these representatives power for a limited period of time, and then review their performance by holding elections.

Different countries have developed different systems for doing this, and some are better than others. Israel has a system of proportional representation by political party, which has some theoretical advantages but one big disadvantage: it doesn’t work. We have had three elections in about one year and none of them has enabled the formation of a government coalition.

The system is what is preventing us from having a functional democracy, not Bibi Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s Likud party got a plurality of seats in the Knesset, although no one party ever gets a majority. His bloc, which means the Likud plus some religious and right-wing parties is short of a majority, too. So why doesn’t the opposition have a majority? Because it  has two parts: the part composed of the Blue and White party and a few other parties on the (more or less) Zionist Left, and the part which is the 15 seats held by anti-Zionist Arab parties.

Not one of the Arab legislators will agree that Israel should be a Jewish state in any sense of the word. The most moderate would prefer it to be a “state of its citizens” like the USA, for example. The slightly less moderate would like it to become a binational state, while the rest are Islamists, or Palestinian or pan-Arab nationalists. I like to think that the political forces that produced them are not an expression of the true attitudes of Israel’s Arab citizens, but I’m not sure.

Most of Blue and White’s leaders could not bring themselves to include the Arab parties in the coalition (would you?), but apparently they are not averse to forming a minority government that depends on their votes. Our system allows a coalition of a minority of the members of the Knesset, as long as they don’t lose a vote of confidence.

This would mean that the Arab parties would have a veto over all the actions of the government. Given their ideologies, that is unacceptable. And at least three members of the opposition agree with me, so this will not happen. There is a law, by the way, that says that someone who “[negates] the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” can’t sit in the Knesset, but the Supreme Court has prevented its application to Arabs.

The other alternative is to form a unity government in which the leaders of the two major parties would take turns at being Prime Minister. That is the direction we are going now, and they are negotiating terms – who will fill the various ministerial slots, who will be PM first and for how long, and so on.

At the same time, the opposition is trying to pass laws that will prevent Netanyahu from being PM at all, because he is under indictment for alleged corruption. In a way it is not ex post facto because he has not yet tried to form a government; but in a way it is, because the people voted with the understanding that he could.

It is also possible that if Netanyahu were to be offered the position of PM of a unity government, the Supreme Court will jump in and find a way to disqualify him. They have received petitions to this end, but they chose not to decide because until the moment that he actually tries to take the position, the issue is considered “theoretical.” The present law says that a Prime Minister can continue to serve when indicted, and only can be removed upon conviction. But here the situation is that he is presently PM of a caretaker government, and the government is about to change.

I should mention that some of the charges against Netanyahu appear justified, and some clearly don’t. It is also true that the behavior of the police and state prosecutor’s office during the three years of his investigation was reprehensible, bordering on criminal. There were daily leaks to hostile media, improper treatment of witnesses, and violations of privacy. In any event, he has not been convicted of anything.

Netanyahu says that the true danger to democracy is the combination of non-elected forces – the Attorney General (in Israel, he has far more power than the equivalent official in the US), the State Prosecutor, and the Supreme Court – acting against an elected Prime Minister. The selection of all of these is controlled to a great extent by one organization, the Bar Association.

It is also true that from an overall perspective, the people of Israel have consistently voted for a right-wing government in recent years, especially since the debacle of the Second Intifada. They didn’t always get one, as when Yitzhak Rabin promised that he wouldn’t talk to the PLO and then ended up on the White House Lawn with Arafat, or when the formerly right-wing Ehud Olmert took over from Ariel Sharon after his stroke, and tried to negotiate a withdrawal from virtually all of Judea and Samaria.

Today the explicitly left-wing parties like the Labor party that ruled Israel from its founding until 1977, have withered away to almost nothing. Since Menachem Begin’s victory, we’ve had a situation in which a usually right-wing prime minister and Knesset confronts not only political opposition, but also left-wing media, legal, cultural, and educational establishments. Blue and White, which has no real ideology other than a burning desire to oust Netanyahu, is supported by these groups.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been dealing with the coronavirus crisis appropriately, mostly following the guidance of the Health Ministry, which includes taking and enforcing unpopular decisions. His opposition, both in politics and the media, have been claiming that he is using the issue as a “pretext” to “seize authoritarian powers.” One writer even suggested that an order banning gatherings of more than 10 people was issued to prevent demonstrations! Their self-absorption is remarkable.

Bibi has been appearing on TV almost every evening, explaining the steps the government is taking and why. Personally, I find it reassuring and I think he is doing the right thing to calm a nervous public – and to influence them to comply with the rules. But his enemies claim that it is all done for looks. The fact is that anything that he does will irritate them – especially when he projects competence.

So what does democracy demand? Unfortunately, we can’t tell from our badly broken system. Until we can fix it maybe it would be better to ask which of the possible outcomes is best for our country at this difficult time. The answer is a unity government, which need not contain either the extreme Left or the Haredi Right, and which does not depend on the votes of anti-Zionist Arab politicians. And probably the best person to lead it (eat your hearts out, Bibi derangement people) is Binyamin Netanyahu.

Posted in Israeli Arabs, Israeli Politics | 1 Comment