Thursday March 23, 2023: Israel's Day of Infamy
PM Netanyahu Ignores Warnings from Top Security Officials and Takes the Law into His Own Hands
At around 5pm on Thursday – after a day of violent protests throughout Israel and approximately 100 arrests – news organizations announced that Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, would make an important announcement on national television at 7:30 pm. Informed speculation was that he would state that the government must pause its manic rush to jam legislation through the Knesset to further their judicial “reform” agenda.
If he had followed through, Gallant would have either been trounced out of the government in a flash or transformed into a de facto leader, opening the door for other disgruntled Likudniks to slip through and support him.
Gallant was deluged with private messages of gratitude and support from his אחים בנשק, as Israeli veterans refer to themselves, “Brothers in Arms.” Expectations were high that he was finally going to do what should have been done long ago: stand up and voice his dissent with the coalition’s judicial “reforms.”
The day before, Wednesday, Gallant had had marathon meetings with various security officials, including the head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s FBI), IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, PM Netanyahu and likely a parade of intelligence officials.
Gallant was convinced that something had to give. He was ready to be bold.
In the meantime, there were reports that Likud MK Dudi Amsalem and Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, had also turned up at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem to speak with Netanyahu and Gallant.
We waited. And waited. Gallant never showed up on the nation’s TV screens. Shortly after 8 pm the Prime Minister’s Office advised that Minister Gallant’s press conference was “postponed” and that Netanyahu would speak in his place.
Instead, at 8:45 p.m., PM Netanyahu took to the dais in the press room; stern, angry, in controlled attack mode.
His brief remarks – about 8 minutes – cursorily acknowledged that stuff’s getting out of hand, but in the same breath he glowered and said: We’re not stopping. Not now. Not ever.
He said that the legislation regarding judicial appointments would be bulldozed through the Knesset in coming days but that he was prepared to consider accommodations to “balance” remaining proposals.
But, that gesture is really a lead pipe tarted up as an olive branch.
Once the first round of Bills passes third reading and is signed into law, the deal is done. As discussed in State of Tel Aviv, and Beyond, podcast, Episode 5, at that point it’s game over; he will have sealed Israel’s fate as a non-democratic nation.
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I mean – that’s not how he’d put it – but it happens to reflect the facts and truth.
Furthermore, Netanyahu said in his remarks on Thursday night, he is no longer paying any attention to warnings or advice from Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara. She takes the position that the Prime Minister – in the midst of a criminal trial – has a conflict of interest when dealing with any matters related to judicial reform and, therefore, must recuse himself. Well – he basically gave her and the nation a big middle finger on Thursday night – saying that he’ll take charge from now on, regardless of whatever the A-G opines.
That is otherwise known as taking the law into one’s hands.
This, just days after two remarkable comments made by his henchmen, MKs Amsalem and Levin, which confirm and amplify the urgency of the moment.
The proposals being rammed through second and third readings in the Knesset this coming week and thereafter signed into law, will give to the coalition government absolute political control over all judicial appointments and those of senior officials in the ministry of justice. That’s a euphemism for a soft legal coup as, thereafter, there will be absolutely zero independence of the judiciary and AGs office. There are other offensive laws – among them one restricting the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to judicially review any new law to absurdly limited circumstances - effectively rendering the court ornamental.
That’s how autocracies work, not democracies. Even PM Netanyahu has to be prepared to receive, in theory, advice from legal officials that do not fluff his feathers.
And, boy oh boy, is Bibi’s crew ever gloating.
This past week, the Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, threatened that if the Supreme Court dares to strike down any of this legislation that he – the Minister of Justice – will consider that to be a “red line.”
Meaning – what, exactly? Don’t test me? Or – is the Minister of Justice straight up threatening Supreme Court judges? What is clear – as he stated – is that he will not abide by any decision of the court with which he does not agree. That, too, is not consistent with any form of democracy.
Likud colleague, MK Dudi Amsalem, picked up where the Minister of Justice left off; threatening protesters, organizers, police officers – making a point of mentioning the chief of police by name – with investigation and prosecution once “this is all behind us.” He had the good sense to do so in the Knesset chamber, meaning that his comments are not legally actionable (parliamentary privilege applies) but they sure are wacky.
Again, this is not how we behave in democracies.
There are professional and dignified ways in which to undertake massive constitutional and judicial reform and this is not the template.
This chaotic mess makes clear why every democracy must have checks and balances – which Israel will no longer have after these laws pass. Why? Because, without them, sadly, power tends to corrupt. And people often incline to being dictatorial.
As we are seeing today in Israel.
That must have been some showdown in the Prime Minister’s office on Thursday evening. I’ll go crazy here and surmise that Levin and Amsalem threatened to pulverize Gallant by bringing the weight of the Likud gang to destroy him for betraying the tribe. In today’s Likud culture, you see, you don’t get to have an independent opinion.
Not even when the government’s actions are imperiling Israel’s security – which was impressed upon PM Netanyahu on Wednesday - in meetings with the IDF Chief of Staff, his Minister of Defense and the head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s FBI).
We cannot manage national security effectively without our reserve forces, they made clear, and if you push through this law without pausing to negotiate, the crisis will snowball.
Oh, well. He said. And then jetted off to London.
This dire warning was repeated, moments ago, on Israel’s most watched Saturday evening political talk show. General Tal Russo (res.) has extensive experience “in the field”, as Israelis say, and also knows Netanyahu well, having interacted with him frequently over decades.
“Make no mistake,” Russo said. “We are in as critical a security situation as we were right before the 1973 Yom Kippur War.”
That is as extreme a warning as it gets. 1973 was an unqualified military and security disaster. Russo said that we must pause, let the nation catch its breath and give the IDF and IAF the operational tools and security it needs to do its job.
Asked by veteran journalist, Ben Caspit, how Netanyahu can carry on like this, Russo answered, solemnly: “This isn’t the Netayahu I knew.”
Regrettably, this is a comment that is oft-repeated these days by many of the PMs closest colleagues from decades past. And it does not bode well.
Violent protests!! Such hyperbole. Israel is and will remain a democratic country. It’s the mob you encourage that will attempt to crush the democratically elected government. You don’t like them? I am certain elections will still be held. You write as though there’s a Bolshevik revolution festering. Look, your Labour Party couldn’t muster one seat! One lousy seat! Liberals have too much free time. Rioting is a luxury of the left as seen in France, USA, Canada and Israel. Let the government govern. Throw them out next election if you can and reverse this judicial change, which btw is basically the same in the United States. Your extremism and nonsensical chatter is hurting Israel more than this judicial change. Smarten up. You have joined the horrid woke culture that threatens basic freedoms while parading as “progressive”. Netanyahu is more progressive than Vivian Bercovici.