Signs of government collapse?
It may be early to prepare for a change at the top, either through resignations or a national election. However, there are increasing signs of stress in the strangeness of key officials’ behavior.
The macro problem appears clear to all but those dependent on the continued rule of Benjamin Netanyahu: his own corruption and that of his wife and perhaps their older son, along with numerous associates and aides whose activities should have been clear to anyone in power not deaf and blind.
We’re still short of an indictment, not to mention trial and verdict. But there are so many creatures flying, swimming, and quacking like ducks that it seems likely.
Several responses from prominent Knesset Members of the governing coalition fit the pattern of actions likely to go nowhere, and suggesting a wild desperation for shifting attention from reality. They are political equivalents of a Hail Mary pass in American football. It may win the game, but is more likely to fall onto the grass or into the wrong hands.
We’ll skip over the serious criticism and cynicism of those saying that the police and prosecutors should be moving a lot faster. Justice is being delayed in the Israeli fashion. We’re worrying that it may be something like the 23 years from the first official notice of Ehud Olmert’s wrongdoing to his incarceration, part of which was a dithering of several years from the time of his indictment.
One of the strange recent actions was the comment of Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said that American Jews can’t understand the concerns of Israel Jews because their own sons do not endanger themselves by serving in the military.
It turned into a Wow statement, bringing forth the charge from a leader of Reform Judaism that it simply wasn’t true, that Jews served disproportionately in World War II, that if a non-Jew had made such a comment it would qualify for anti-Semitism, and that Prime Minister Netanyahu must fire Hotovely for endangering the relations between overseas Jews and Israel.
Less passionate responses said that Hotovely’s statement was essentially correct, but an unnecessary slap. Almost all American Jews, like others with their education and economic status, avoid the volunteer military. Hotovely was commenting on recent years, and not the 1940s. Except for a few places at the top, where there seem to be relatively few Jews, the American military has become a job for those who don’t have other opportunities.
Perhaps a more telling response came from Israelis who noted that Hotovely herself avoided service in the IDF, and instead got a cushy national service position in Atlanta, Georgia.
Others described the upset as a smokescreen to mask underlying problems between non-Orthodox American Jews and the Israeli government, due to the Prime Minister’s refusal to implement an agreement that would give non-Orthodox rituals a place alongside the Western Wall.
Hotovely’s outburst may also have been a way to sidestep her Prime Minister’s problem with world Jewry, and put the onus on overprivileged Americans.
At about the same time, Netanyahu was having trouble with the ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition. It was because of their opposition that he was not implementing an agreement about the Western Wall. And now he was in more trouble with them, concerned with railroad maintenance work on the Sabbath.
This is a perennial issue for the ultra-Orthodox, setting themselves against more centrist religious and secular Israelis who accept some necessary violation of the Sabbath. The Haredim would rather shut the railroad during the week for maintenance work, despite great inconvenience and traffic jams for Israelis who work and serve in the military. Also on this occasion was the ultra-Orthodox threat to shut the railroads earlier than usual on Friday, raising a concern that non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis who serve in the military wouldn’t get home in time for their Shabbat evening meal.
Why now? is the question, with one of the possible answers the vulnerability of the Prime Minister to the routine threat of ultra-Orthodox MKs to pull themselves out of his coalition.
Cynics multiplied the possibilities, saying that it was all a ploy of the ultra-Orthodox to increase donations from overseas supporters, a response to a court decision that supported local government arrangements allowing certain retail stores to remain open on the Sabbath, and an effort of (relatively) moderate ultra-Orthodox rabbis to quiet their extremists who have turned followers to block major roads at rush hour in order to protest the need for Yeshiva students to even request an excuse from serving in the military which they are promised to receive..
If all this seems a bit nutty, that is close to the essence of what’s been happening.
Yet another set of extremist actions that looked more like fireworks or temper tantrums than serious policymaking were a number of proposals meant to protect the Prime Minister from the threat of a criminal indictment and all that could flow from it.
One proposal was to legislate protection of a sitting Prime Minister from being the subject of criminal charges.
Another was to forbid the police from recommending to the state prosecutor that an elected official should be subject to an criminal indictment.
Yet another was to limit the capacity of the State Comptroller to investigate or make recommendations pertaining to ongoing government activities.
An impressive array of present and retired senior police officials, jurists, and prosecutors including some appointed by Prime Minister Natanyahu, have ridiculed or condemned the proposals, and describe them as putting the country on a slippery slope from democracy and the rule of law to something else.
Quiet in the Promised Land?
Not only did the Almighty designate several contrary formulations of the geography being promised. His prophets indicating early on that it wasn’t being delivered. And quiet among the people was never part of the deal.
Professor Emeritus) of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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