Israel is in crisis. This time, it has no one else to blame | Analysis
Democracy is crisis in Israel today. Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest serving prime minster and the globally known face of Israel for more than a decade, has been indicted for corruption and the breach of trust. He was under investigation for corruption charges in three cases since 2016. Legally, he does not have to resign, and he feels that, morally, he is not bound to do so, as he is innocent.This sentiment is shared by the wider Likud party, which he leads.
Another crisis has been brought on by the failure of the political parties to reach the majority mark (61 out of 120 total seats in the Knesset, Israeli parliament) after two consecutive national elections this year. The country has never had two elections in a single year till 2019, but now, even a third might be in the offing. It is going to be a serious test of the faith of Israel’s citizens in the ballot box. Last week, around 68% of the people said they are not optimistic about the future of Israeli democracy, as measured by the latest Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) Israeli Voice Index Survey.
While greeting late Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, during an official visit to Israel in January 2016, Netanyahu said, “The Middle East’s only democracy welcomes the Foreign Minister of the world’s greatest democracy.” Despite these grand words, many critical questions can be raised about the procedural nature of democracy in Israel today. From the start, Israel has been attempting to negotiate the contradictions between a theological state and the principles of democracy. It finally chose to be the nation-State of the Jewish people, first and foremost, as declared in the nationality bill passed in 2018. All non-Jews have lesser political rights/value in Israel now.
The tipping point has come today due to unprecedented circumstances in Israeli politics. An indicted prime minister has got into a battle with the State itself on the grounds that the long process of prosecution was a conspiracy and coup by the police and the office of the attorney general, Avichai Mandleblit, who was Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary for three years until 2016. Also known as ‘King Bibi’ in Israel after Time magazine put him on its cover in 2012, the PM is one of Israel’s most successful politicians. In the last ten years in the top job, he achieved not only security (an extremely important priority for the Israelis) and stability, but also big diplomatic victories. He single-handedly ensured that the conflict with the Palestinians did not hurt Israel as much economically as had in the past; got the Iranian nuclear deal nullified; convinced the United States that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the Golan Heights, captured territories of Syria, belonged to Israel. For those who consider national interest in terms of the power and realpolitik, Netanyahu doesn’t disappoint. With these and many more perceived successes, he was able to secure the trust of the Israeli majority repeatedly.
However, Netanyahu’s time in politics has led to some adverse fallouts like the centralisation of power, erosion of rule of law, deepening of social-cultural divisions, radicalisation of religion in the Israeli polity, fear-mongering against the minority of Israeli Arabs, and the complete breakdown of the peace process with the Palestinians. He is going to leave behind a controversial political legacy.
His battle against the State will further strain democracy in Israel and also further divide society. Last week in Tel Aviv, he held a public meeting with his supporters to declare his intent of continuing the fight. He also mounted an attack on all those who find him guilty of fraud, bribery and breach of public trust.
David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first PM, once cautioned Israel’s future leaders and the people by saying that the State of Israel will be no picnic. Israel today stands next to a cliff when it comes to the recovery of political legitimacy and the faith of its people in the democratic way of life. It cannot blame the Palestinians resistance, the violent Hamas or hostile regional actors for this crisis.