Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Israel prepares for a bumpy (and litigious) ride

We know what we are going to get on Thursday, when incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is installed in his position. We know what we are going to get because because the cast of unsavoury ultra-right-wing characters with whom Netayahu has thrown in his lot in order to get himself elected have already stated their demands in no uncertain terms.

Netanyahu knows he cannot form a government without the support of several smaller (and much more radical) right-wing and ultra-nationalist parties. He just didn't garner enough votes. And, such is the man's lust for power, he had no compunction about allying himself with whichever party is willing to play with him, no matter how unappetising their own politics. Netanyahu himself is still facing allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, but he is somehow still able to continue as leader of his party. Some of his other allies, though, are even more suspect, and some of the legislation they are insisting on is radical indeed

Among the new laws needed for Netanyahu to tie up coalition deals with his radical new partners, are: 

  • A special law to allow former interior minster Aryeh Deri to take a position in government, despite being convicted of accepting bribes, and having resigned from the Knesset as part of a plea deal for another charge of defrauding the state of taxes.
  • A law that allows ultra-nationalist theocrat Bezalel Smotrich, a "proud homophobe" who wants to impose "Torah law" on Israel, to take personal control of the occupied West Bank, previously under the control of the Israeli army.
  • Another sop to Smotrich is support for a "discrimination law" that allows inequity in the public sphere such as hotels and businesses, and allows doctors to not treat patients who defy the physician's personal values (e.g. sexuality).
  • A separate coalition deal grants Jewish religious courts the power to rule on civil and economic matters.
  • Yet another special law gives Itamar Ben Gvir, the only Israeli lawmaker ever to be convicted of terrorist associations, the new position of Minister of National Security, and also gives him power over the West Bank previously held by the army, as well as to allow the death penalty for terrorists.

These are unprecedented legal moves, even in the context of Israel's non-standard judiciary and politics. They will transform Israel's judiciary from an independent branch of government into a vestigial limb, and turn the country into a partial authoritarian democracy similar to Hungary or Poland. I'm not sure it is quite what voters had in mind when they voted for Netanyahu (although frankly they could have predicted something similar).

Many commentators on lsraeli politics, both within the country and internationally, are sounding alarm bells at what might be coming, and some members of the Israeli Supreme Court are ready to rule against some of the planned reforms. However, one of the other pieces of proposed legislation (an "override clause") is designed to specifically avoid that very eventuality, by allowing a simple majority of Knesset members to override Supreme Court rulings. So, even that possible brake on the new right-wing government's ambitions may no longer be an option.

Prepare for a bumpy ride as Netanyahu throws caution to the wind in pursuit of his sixth term as Prime Minister. But, like a certain American ex-president, Netanyahu seems to thrive on litigation and controversy.

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