The Israeli political system is in chaos today. Netanyahu’s year-long caretaker government is trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to further stalemate the political process, evidently with the hope of forcing a fourth election in which Netanyahu will campaign as indispensable in the eyes of a worried public.
Netanyahu’s chief means of prolonging the stalemate is closing the parliament out of supposed public health concerns, through the authority of Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Netanyahu loyalist. But a narrow majority of the parliament that was elected March 2 — remember that, the third election inside a year? — wants to remove Edelstein and start doing Knesset business.
Some of that business is oversight of Netanyahu’s authoritarian actions: surveilling citizens who are under coronavirus quarantine, for instance, through their cellphones.
The Supreme Court is involved, urging Edelstein to move to a vote on a new speaker by Wednesday, but it’s a mess. Edelstein and other Likud allies are resisting the Supreme Court, and the Justice Minister has said that not every Supreme Court ruling has to be abided by!
Palestinian leader Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of largely-Palestinian legislators, calls the crisis “unprecedented.” He led a demonstration outside the Knesset today. You can hear lots of cars honking support in the background. Odeh:
No matter what they do, as long as Arabs and Jews stand together, they will always lose. Anyone who wants to beat them must first defeat racism.
Few seem to be observing social distancing in that video.
Noga Tarnopolsky reports from the Odeh protest that Joint List member Ofer Cassif — who is Jewish — says Palestinians are with Israeli Jews in wanting Netanyahu gone. “We stand with you against the corrupt & racist Netanyahu’s coup, and for the public as a whole – Jews & Arabs, together!”
The protests are a “bright spot” in the Israeli crisis, former Israeli Deputy AG Joshua Schoffman told the Israel Policy Forum. Among essential activities the government is allowing to take place despite the pandemic lockdown is protest. “It’s true that mass demonstrations with people in close contact are against the public health edirectives. That in itself is logical but if people are going out in their cars with signs and black flags there’s no prohibition on that,” Schoffman said. “If people come and form a vigil and keep the required distance between people, there’s no prohibition on that.”
Notwithstanding that freedom, some protesters of the “perceived authoritarian lurch,” as Evan Gottesman put it, were arrested last week by police under coronavirus restrictions, for driving too slowly, and for supposed illegal assembly.
There was speculation last week including on our site that the two largest Jewish parties, Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue-White, were on the verge of finally forming a “unity government” so as to fight coronavirus. That move would have been a betrayal by Gantz of his own constituency, which was largely committed to remove Netanyahu. “Stunning if it materializes,” Aaron David Miller wrote.
But Likud was apparently using these reports to try to besmirch Benny Gantz, Tarnopolsky reports. While the New York Times’s Isabel Kershner describes great acrimony between the two leaders, with Gantz saying that Netanyahu wants a fourth election.
Likud officials said Sunday that ousting Mr. Edelstein would eliminate any chance of a unity government.
Mr. Gantz’s party, one of the petitioners to the Supreme Court, responded: “The ultimatum, while harming our democracy, makes evident that Netanyahu would like to drag this country into a fourth round of elections, even in the throes of a crisis that demands that we all act on behalf of the people, both in government and in Parliament.”
There is a lot of rage being expressed against Likud in the Israel press and in social media, including from the rightwing.
After it was reported that some Likud legislators want to defy the Supreme Court’s request that Edelstein hold a vote on the Knesset speakership by Wednesday, a former Likudnik now with Blue and White — Tzvi Hauser– wrote, “Have you lost your minds?” Tarnopolsky reports. She also reports:
“Blue & White to Yariv Levin [Likud minister of Tourism]: ‘Your godfather Menachem Begin would be ashamed of what you wrote. Democracy remains democracy not only its convenient for you. Respect the choice of the majority and stop damaging the institutions of state.'”
Even the New York Times has described the efforts by Netanyahu to authorize the tracking of people’s cellphones so as to monitor their cooperation with health ministry directives as “draconian.” Though Netanyahu has responded to criticism that he is steering the society through iceberg-laden waters when other societies are sinking like the Titanic. You heard that right. Jerusalem Post, March 21:
I am navigating the Titanic and there are many icebergs before us, @netanyahu tells @newsisrael13, in a quote he might regret.
Tarnopolsky describes Netanyahu as illegitimate:
This week, Netanyahu handicapped the judiciary, postponed his own criminal trial & closed down the Knesset. So its not only Arab votes he’s discounting– its all votes…
Netanyahu says he’s being ‘ousted’ & the parliamentary majority wants to ‘overthrow’ the Speaker because by his count— the votes of Israel’s Arab citizens don’t count. Gantz got those votes to form a government.
Charles Dunst writes in Haaretz that Israel’s U.S. friends are turning a blind eye to Israel. “American Jews don’t care that Israel’s democracy is falling apart.”
American Jewish Zionist politicians and public intellectuals have been just as disappointing. There has been nothing from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel or from mainstream Jewish media torchbearers like The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and The New York Times’s Bari Weiss.”
Schoffman at the Israel Policy Forum says that Netanyahu’s “caretaker” government — in place now for over a year as the Knesset has been deadlocked — will only make “limited” moves on colonizing the West Bank. He says that Netanyahu won’t move forward on annexing the West Bank.