It was heartwarming to see tens of thousands thronging the streets of central Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest against the government’s exploitation of its powers for narrow interests.
There were also smaller demonstrations in Haifa and Rosh Pina that drew hundreds of people.
The people who put their personal lives on hold for a few hours and took the time to come to Rothschild Boulevard and protest at the site where Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel were motivated by a genuine concern with the State of Israel’s fragile democratic institutions.
It was a theme that was repeated by the people interviewed by The Jerusalem Post’s Daniel K. Eisenbud. People like Hagai and Tushia Peled of Hadera, Alex of Rehovot, Yasmin Ruvin of Netanya and Efraim Ruveni of Petah Tikva all felt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his two Likud hacks David Bitan and David Amsalem had gone too far with the “recommendations bill,” which was rammed through the necessary committees and the Knesset for a first reading and is slated to come up for final readings and a vote on Monday.
If passed, the legislation would prevent the police from publicizing their recommendations regarding indictment in investigations that deal with public figures – including politicians and high-profile crime bosses. Crucially, the legislation could apply retroactively to the cases which involve Netanyahu if the attorney-general does not intervene.
The legislation is presently so blatantly in Netanyahu’s interest that it is impossible to conduct a fair discussion. Even if, in theory, there were a genuine need for a reform in the way the police publish the findings of their investigations into the wrongdoings of public figures, that conversation cannot be conducted as long as Netanyahu’s fate dominates public attention. The wording of the law reflects the special circumstances of Netanyahu’s plight, the negotiations among the coalition partners are eclipsed by Netanyahu’s unique concerns and, as a result, any legislation produced now will reflect this.
And the “recommendations bill” is not the only personalized legislation that is being pushed by Bitan and Amsalem. The two hope to pass another law that would make recordings inadmissible in a court of law when taken without the knowledge of the suspect.
Recordings are evidence in “Case 2000,” in which Netanyahu purportedly offered Yediot Aharonot publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes a deal. Netanyahu would use his influence at Israel Hayom, Yediot’s main competitor, to downscale the paper in exchange for more positive coverage of Netanyahu in Yediot.
In another piece of legislation that is unabashedly directed at impacting the ongoing police investigation against Netanyahu, Bitan and Amsalem, and the other MKs and ministers that support it, are willing to do away with one of the most important tools that journalists and regular citizens can use against corrupt politicians and double-dealers of all kinds. Clandestine videos and recordings are regularly used to uncover shady businesses and Ehud Olmert would probably still be in politics today if not for recordings that incriminated him.
Israelis who demonstrated on Saturday night at Rothschild Boulevard came not because they are opposed to the rule of a right-wing government. They were exercising their civic duty as citizens who care about the democratic institutions of their state. Similar to the socioeconomic demonstrations of the summer of 2011, people from different political orientations came together for a common cause that rose above partisan politics. It was an encouraging sign that the country’s civil society is alive and kicking.
Cynicism may have taken hold in the government but Israelis have not lost faith in democratic ideals.
Just as the socioeconomic demonstrations forced politicians to address the high cost of living and take action in areas such as cellular phones, public transportation, the wages of executives and import reforms, so too it is hoped that the activism we witnessed on Saturday night will remind politicians that they are in office to serve the public, not to perpetuate their rule, even at the cost of undermining the legislative process.