Democracy in Times of War
November 17, 2023
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while steering the war, is facing a plummeting level of public trust in his leadership. This situation is underscored by Netanyahu's apparent preparation for the aftermath of the war and the national inquiry committee that will inevitably come.
He's reportedly ordered the collection of classified national security documents and evidence, allegedly to mitigate his responsibility for the events leading up to the October 7 massacre and shifting the blame to the IDF leadership. Haaretz’s investigative reporter Gidi Weitz first reported this more than a week ago, a claim Netanyahu strongly denied in a recent press conference.
However, this week Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, through her aides, instructed National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi to secure all classified documents recently transferred to Netanyahu's office, bypassing standard government procedures.
This development is part of a broader trend where the current coalition appears to be cementing its anti-democratic agenda, despite losing public favor.
For example, the judicial elections committee, under Justice Minister Yariv Levin, convened recently but Levin refused to appoint a new chief justice to the Supreme Court, which currently operates under an interim chief. Levin also declined to discuss filling two Supreme Court vacancies.
Levin's potential nominees, Dr. Aviad Bakshi and Dr. Raphael Bitton, both lacking judicial experience and significant academic records, are staunch supporters of the judicial coup, hinting at Netanyahu’s coalition's relentless intent to dominate the court even now.
Amid these actions, recent polls show an unprecedented shift in public opinion compated to the current Knesset. A Channel 12 News poll suggests Netanyahu's coalition, which currently holds 64 Knesset seats, might drop below 50, while the opposition could potentially form a government with over 70 members. Netanyahu's Likud party is at an all-time low in popularity.
Israeli law allows for a government change without an election through a "constructive non-confidence vote," where the Knesset votes against the current coalition but simultaneously supports a new one with at least 61 votes. Yair Lapid, leader of the largest opposition party, "Yesh Atid," has not called for such a move in the first month of the war. However, this week, Lapid called for Netanyahu's removal, offering support for a Likud-led government, provided Netanyahu is not the Prime Minister.
Although Lapid's proposal seems unlikely to materialize soon, it highlights the disturbing internal political dynamics in Israel. This lack of support to the government in the public opinion is a departure from Israel's historical norm, where typically the nation has rallied around its government during conflicts.
Netanyahu stands out as the first Israeli leader to conduct a war, including unprecedented moral and ethical challenges, notably concerning nearly 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, without a unified support from the Israeli populace.
This divide can only be attributed to Netanyahu's own actions over the past decade, eroding national unity. There is not need to collect classified national security documents to know that the only individual responsible for this dangerous predicament in Netanyahu himself.
Dr. Ido Baum is the legal commentator of the daily newspaper TheMarker. He is an associate professor of law at the Haim Striks Law Faculty at the College of Management in Israel and heads the Louis Brandeis Institute for Society, Economy, and Democracy. He is also a contributor to USA for Israeli Democracy.