Politics in a Time of Corona

| Written By:

Israel finds itself in an unprecedented political situation at a time it must face a worldwide pandemic.


Flash 90

While there is plenty of room for change in the Israeli system of government, this is not what has left the State of Israel without a government for over a year. Our current limbo can be attributed only to the Prime Minister’s personal legal situation. As a result, Israel has been forced to deal with serious security issues on its northern and southern borders; with the growing threat of Iranian nuclearization; and most recently, with the coronavirus pandemic, all while under the protracted rule of a caretaker government, and with no budget in place, to make it possible to address these current challenges.

But if we are already stuck in this situation, we should take advantage of the opportunity to examine just how problematic two slogans- trumpeted by the Right in recent years- have been. The first expresses its hostility toward the supposed “rule of bureaucrats.” Based on the fact that it has received the public’s direct support, the political echelon has been granted the legitimacy for making any decision it chooses to make, while civil service “bureaucrats” have been portrayed as seeking only to sabotage this freedom of action in favor of their own private agenda. Clearly, every democratic regime is founded on a defined hierarchy, in which its elected representatives oversee its bureaucratic system, and set policy. But the way in which “bureaucrats,” headed by the director-general of the Ministry of Health Moshe Bar Siman Tov, are handling the huge challenge of the coronavirus crisis, should go a long way towards modulating the tone of contempt inherent in the phrase “rule of bureaucrats.” In the same way that the State of Israel could not function without an elected political echelon to set national policy, it also cannot do without a committed professional echelon to implement this policy, on the basis of its best professional skills. And just as we should not brush away the fears that the professional echelon might have its own ideological agenda, which must be curbed by our elected representatives, neither should we ignore far greater concerns regarding the possibility that the political echelon will seek to set policies that are not in the l public interest. It is important that we have professionals who can oppose such efforts.

The second slogan of Israel’s Right is its opposition to the Supreme Court, and in particular, to the powers the Court has assumed to strike down legislation passed by the Knesset. In recent weeks, those on the Right have seen how the almost inconceivable possibility (from their perspective) of a Center-Left majority has become a reality, and how that same slim majority is now seeking to pass a law tailored to an individual case legislation, (by which a person with an indictment can't been ellected as prime minister), possibly even with retroactive application. In cases such as these, only the Supreme Court can save the Right; had the “override clause” already been passed into law, then even the High Court of Justice would be powerless to intervene. 

The most challenging political question which has emerged in recent weeks is of course, the question of relying on the Joint List in order to form a government. This is certainly a thorny issue. The alliance between the Joint List and Blue and White can be viewed in two ways: On the one hand, as three former IDF Chiefs of General Staff kowtowing to an anti-Zionist parliamentary faction; but on the other, as a first-of-its-kind case of an anti-Zionist party being open to cooperation with a party headed by three former IDF Chiefs of General Staff, including the one who oversaw Operation Protective Edge. In the Israeli context, this is almost the coming of the Messiah.

But just as the inclusion of any party in a governing coalition is dependent on its platform and on its willingness to accept the consensus arrived at among the coalition member parties, the same is true of the Joint List. Unfortunately, it is not just views and statements expressed by members of the Joint List in the past, for which they have never expressed any regret, that disqualify them from the minimum requirements expected even of the Zionist Left; there is also the issue of their current views. If MK Aida Touma-Suleiman says, during the negotiations with Blue and White, that one of her first demands will be to revoke the Law of Return; and if MK Ahmad Tibi clearly states that his party will seek to prevent a Center-Left coalition from pursuing any military operation in Gaza, whatever the circumstances; then the time is not yet ripe for such collaboration.

Thus, the main choice that we are currently facing, as after the two previous elections, is between a narrow right-wing government and a broad unity government. Clearly, the right option is unity. Israel cannot deal with the dramatic issues it now faces with a narrow government, and with a prime minister whose very legitimacy is strongly challenged by half the Israeli public. 

A word to members of the right-wing bloc: In the last few days, you demanded that Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser not succumb to any pressure and be willing to pay a personal price to uphold their principles. In that case, you should wake up and ask no less of yourselves. You too should be willing to display courage, albeit in a much smaller measure, and stand up to the prime minister with a dual message: “Even if, by various manoeuvres, you are able to gain a majority of 61 in the Knesset, we will not support you in any legislation or any decisions that would set a precedent for allowing a public figure to escape being tried for his or her actions. Similarly, we demand that you form a unity government, one that will not save you from your own personal troubles, but that can do much to rescue Israel from its current problems.”

The article was published in the Times of Israel.