Creating schisms within Israel and Jewish communities abroad, a government on a warpath with its people
By David E. Kaplan
Opening the papers each morning solicits a groan followed by the moan. It’s crazy but this government is set to undo all the good work built over the years.
The shekel is sliding and money is exiting, and soon people may too! This is a country that traditionally encourages Aliya (immigration); but its new government’s policies may lead to Yerida (emigration) – of both people and purse. As reported in The Times of Israel, bank officials believe some $4 billion moved out of Israel in recent weeks!
Headlines today in The Jerusalem Post February 22, 2023, reads:
‘As shekel slides, PM rejects call for gov’t oversight on interest rates”, and underneath in even bigger font and in bold, a warning that “Judicial change threatens minority rights”.
I could have taken the news headlines any day of the week for the last seven weeks, and all would have been as disquieting. What makes it even more distressing is that it is all of our own making. For a country priding itself on being SMART, this period will go down as STUPID! Does this government want to be responsible for Israel’s proud image of Start-up Nation to turn to Wind-down Nation?
Seemingly oblivious to the warning signs or obvious dangers, Netanyahu’s coalition purposely pursues collision.
And in that it has been worryingly successful:
- It collided with the country’s State President, Isaac Herzog, who made a reasoned desperate appeal to take time out and pause the process for dialogue and compromise. The President’s warning of “a powder keg about to explode” solicited from the Justice Minister, “I won’t stop for a minute.”
- It collided with the BANKERS that have warned Finance Minister Smotrich that judicial shakeup is causing economic fallout. Reported on Channel 12, Uri Levin, the CEO of Israel Discount Bank, is said to have expressed at a meeting that “The shekel is growing weaker, Israel’s risk factor is rising and our stock exchange is doing worse than others around the world.” Levin’s concerns were reportedly supported by other top bankers with another participant reportedly saying that “money is leaving Israel at a rate ten times higher than usual.” And what was the reaction? Smotrich reportedly dismissed the warnings and accused the bankers of having double standards. This is not normal; this is lunacy.
- It collided with Israel’s Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, who has ordered the Prime Minister to not get involved in the controversial overhaul of the country’s judiciary due to a conflict of interest stemming from his ongoing corruption trials. So the PM lets his coalition cohorts bulldozer the process along and he pretends mum because “I can’t get involved.”
- It collided with Israeli major retailers. Over 50 CEOs of major retail chains and companies in Israel called for a compromise amid concerns over the government’s proposed changes to the judicial system.
- It collided with over 460 ex-Shin Bet agents urging Likud agriculture minister Avi Dichter warning that the proposed legislation is a ‘coup’ against democracy. Among the signatories were three other past directors of the organization – Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, and Yuval Diskin. They wrote: “We turn to you and ask — do not lend your hand to moves that threaten the foundations of the democratic regime, the unity of the people, and national resilience.”
- it collided with seven Israeli Nobel laureates who warn that scientific excellence can only thrive in democratic nations with full freedom. “This isn’t a small change,” expressed Nobel Prize laureate for Economics Kahneman in an interview. “It’s a huge revolution…. that changes the nature of the country from a working democracy to something that is not a democracy, that is pretending to be a democracy.”
- it collided with its overseas allies including US President Biden who in a statement to The New York Times, Biden said, “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary.” Building consensus for fundamental changes, he cautioned, is “important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”
- It collided with one of the most vociferous supporters of Israel abroad, the eminent jurist, Prof. Alan Dershovitz who says he’s been a student of Israel’s Supreme Court for over half a century and that it is key to the Jewish state’s battle against propagandists claiming it is not a democracy. He warns that the institution “should be kept out of the realm of partisan politics.”
- It collided with major Diaspora philanthropists who warn that judicial overhaul threatens Israeli democracy. Fifteen leading donors and charities, including Birthright’s Charles Bronfman, say they are “deeply concerned’ by government’s plans and strongly urge dialogue.”
- It collided with Jewish leadership in the USA. Departing from the tradition of reticence on Israeli politics, the Jewish Federations of North America – one of the largest and most prominent Jewish institutions in North America – warned the Israeli Prime Minister against his government’s plan to legislate an “override clause” that would allow a 61-seat Knesset majority to overrule Supreme Court decisions. “Such a dramatic change to the Israeli system of governance will have far-reaching consequences in North America, both within the Jewish community and in the broader society,” the group said.
- it collided with much of the people of Israel who are taking to the streets in ever increasing numbers to protest not because they lost an election but because they fear losing democracy. One marcher’s placard summed up the sentiment:
“For Sale: Democracy. Model: 1948. No brakes”
Although the legislative process is well on its hasty way, it is still not too late to seek dialogue and reach a compromise to prevent an unnecessary and irreparable rapture of Israeli society. As we approach Independence Day in April and are reminded of the value of solidarity and wise leadership over 75 tough and turbulent years, let us be guided by our State President who has suggested not a halt but a pause to find a judicial compromise.
Is that too much to ask when one considers what is at stake?
I am reminded of the Prime Minister’s superb book ‘A PLACE AMONGST THE NATIONS’, where Israel – against all the odds – stupendously succeeded in this quest.
It would be a shame to lose it in the heart of our people!
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