Is Netanyahu turning Israel into an unhealthy democracy? -opinion

With daily life moving to a new normal as lockdown restrictions ease, we need to ensure that what passed for normal over these past few weeks does not continue to be part of our day-to-day reality.Not only our physical well-being but the health of our democracy has been sorely tested during this time. It remains an open question as to whether the prime minister is truly committed to ensuring the latter fully recovers.A bedrock of democracy is the rule of law and equality before the law, a principle that has been severely eroded during lockdown.At the beginning of the month, Roni Numa, the coronavirus coordinator for the haredi community, noted that while the ultra-Orthodox make up around 12% of the country’s population, this sector constituted 40% of the people diagnosed with coronavirus each day.There are a number of reasons for this high infection rate, including the large-scale poverty and intense housing density characteristic of this population sector. But at its root, the cause of the disproportionate number of haredi coronavirus victims is the community’s leadership’s refusal to accept that they are beholden to the same laws as the rest of the country.“The principle of principles is that the Torah protects and saves, and we must strengthen our Torah study,” said rabbis Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein, two of the most prominent non-hassidic haredi leaders in a recent statement. Government regulations banning large indoor gatherings in study halls and synagogues have no status in these leaders’ view. Face masks, social distancing and hand sanitizing are for the goyim.As the country moves to a differential lockdown under the “traffic light system,” the cities and towns predominantly affected are those either exclusively haredi or with a high percentage of haredi residents. Will Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ensure these municipalities obey the letter of the law in terms of keeping shops and educational institutions closed, and the residents confined within the city limits?Or, given the fact that Netanyahu is reliant on the support of the haredi political parties in order to stay in power, will he turn a blind eye to mass haredi evasion and risk allowing coronavirus to spread again and set off a third wave of infection in the country?Our prime minister, time and again, has shown that he puts his personal interest above that of the country, so only the naive should expect a strict clampdown on red towns and cities in the coming days.Netanyahu can’t even bring himself to discipline a member of his own party, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, who flagrantly broke lockdown restrictions, reportedly lied in her epidemiological investigation and infected three of her senior advisers with coronavirus. Then again, on Seder night during the first lockdown, the prime minister himself was caught ignoring the instructions he insisted the rest of the country follow.While any self-respecting democratic politician would accept that it’s untenable for one to continue as prime minister following an indictment of charges of fraud, bribery and breach and trust, Netanyahu has not just clung to power. He has used his position as the country’s leader to deliberately weaken the foundations of the country’s legal system and law enforcement arm, in his increasingly desperate attempts to avoid standing trial.The prime minister’s prolonged blocking of the appointment of a permanent police commissioner, a new state attorney, and his continued and vicious attacks on Avichai Mandelblit, the man who was his own personal choice for attorney-general, have taken their toll.WHERE NETANYAHU leads, his minions follow.Transport Minister Miri Regev’s screaming match with TV personality Eyal Berkovic a week or so ago highlighted what has become the new normal for the Likud Party. Berkovic, a former star of the Israel soccer team, had criticized the Likud leadership for having behaved like a “criminal organization” in its handling of the coronavirus crisis.Instead of disputing his claim and arguing the toss, Regev shouted that as long as Berkovic refused to apologize for his remarks, she would do all in her power to make sure he never achieved his ambition of coaching the national soccer team. Political interference in national soccer associations is expressly prohibited by FIFA, the world soccer governing body, but such niceties no longer trouble Likud leaders schooled by Netanyahu.And then, as if to prove the validity of Berkovic’s “criminal organization” label, Coalition Chairman Miki Zohar issued a Mafia-style threat against Mandelblit: either resign and drop the criminal charges facing Netanyahu, or risk “an earthquake” with the release of unspecified damaging disclosures.Even for Netanyahu, this proved an incitement too far, and the prime minister issued a rare public rebuke to one of his chief rabble-rousers.But why should anybody take this slapping down seriously when day in, day out, Netanyahu sows division within society and systematically undermines our democracy?The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.



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