Israel’s New Government Pushes A Rush of Far-Right Initiatives

JERUSALEM – When Israel’s prime minister is appointed, Benjamin Netanyahu, prepare to take the oath in his new hardline government and back in office, his deals to bolster the support of far-right coalition partners are raising widespread concern about the country’s future as a liberal democracy. .

The emerging coalition will be the most religious and far-right government in Israel’s history, comprising Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party and five other far-right and ultra-Orthodox factions. Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister who was ousted 18 months ago, is on trial for corruption and is increasingly reliant on these hardline allies for more liberal parties from refused to sit in a government led by a prime minister. criminal indictment.

Critics say that reliance has weakened him in coalition negotiations, forcing him to comply with at least some demands for sweeping changes that would limit the agency’s power judiciary and limit the independence of the police.

Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-line allies need him as much as he needs them; they, too, have no alternative path to power. But their fundamental lack of trust in Mr. Netanyahu, who has a record of breaking promises with coalition partners, has prompted them to rush to enact legislation to strengthen their new role and authority before the law. legislation, with potentially damaging consequences for the democratic system.

“What we see in the pre-government legislation is a change in the rules of the game in Israeli democracy,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, described the incoming government on Thursday as “dangerous, radical, irresponsible.”

“It’s going to end badly,” he said, calling it “a liquidation of Israel’s future.”

The legislative frenzy and draft coalition agreements include proposals that would allow Parliament to overrule Supreme Court decisions and would give more weight to politicians in choosing judges.

The legal amendments will significantly expand the powers of the incoming national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who oversees the police. Mr Ben-Gvir is the leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Power party and a major supporter of the bill, which would give him the power to set police policy, something critics say that would allow him to politicize the operation of this force.

He was previously convicted on charges of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist group, and ran for the election with an upbeat ticket on fighting organized crime and strengthening governance. rule, especially in areas populated by the Arab minority in Israel.

Another amendment would allow Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the religious Zionist party, to serve as a second minister in the sacred Ministry of Defense. Mr. Smotrich, who eventually sought to annex the occupied West Bank, was promised authority over bodies dealing with Jewish settlements as well as Palestinian and Israeli civilian life in the region. The West Bank was occupied, in consultation with the prime minister.

A third change would allow Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, to stay as minister despite a recent sentence and a suspended prison sentence for tax fraud. Analysts say that amendment could ultimately apply to Mr. Netanyahu if he is ultimately convicted or reaches a plea agreement that includes a suspended sentence.

Mr. Netanyahu denied any wrongdoing and said cases against him will crash in court.

However, the proposed changes outlined in the alliance agreements are still changing, experts say.

“Constitutional political changes are being made at a record pace, even before a government is formed,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan research center. . “This demonstrates the fragility of our democracy.”

But Mr. Plesner stressed that such operations are not unprecedented in Israel and that there are still many possible outcomes.

“There is a difference between the ideas, initiatives and statements of politicians before the election, and what is actually happening in the negotiating room and expressed in the agreements,” he said. coalitions and government policy”.

Mr. Netanyahu, who has pushed Israel further to the right during his 15 years in power, will now be the main moderate force in his government compared to his more hardline counterparts. Although known for his aggressive campaigning tactics, Netanyahu has generally defended the democratic system during his long tenure.

He dismissed warnings of damage to Israeli democracy as feared by election losers and pledged to act in the interests of all Israeli citizens.

“We were elected to lead in our way, in the way of national rights and liberties,” he said in a recent speech to Congress.

The most immediate concerns revolve around the law expanding the powers of Mr. Ben-Gvir, the national security minister. It passed its first reading in Congress but is still awaiting final approval.

Previously, the minister of police oversight would establish policy priorities in consultation with the police commissioner, but would not interfere in operational matters or have any influence over investigations. check.

The bill proposes to place the police under the ministerial authority, leading officials and legal experts to fear the force is politicized. And it gives the minister the power to set priorities and timeframes for investigations that are different from previous practices.

“Israeli police will be run by a threatening and belligerent, irresponsible and inexperienced person who wants to turn it into a political body,” and turn the police commissioner into a “puppet, Outgoing public security minister, Omer Bar-Lev, told Congress this week.

Mr. Ben-Gvir argued that the police must submit to ministerial policy in the same way that the military implements government policy. But critics say that unlike the military that fights Israel’s enemies, the police’s job is to deal with Israeli citizens – including corrupt politicians.

Aida Touma-Sliman, an Israeli-Palestinian lawmaker, told the committee discussing the bill that the upcoming minister’s goals were “ideological” and “racist” and would ultimately create created a “political police”.

Human rights activists say they worry that the law giving Mr Ben-Gvir broader control over the police could be used to suppress protests.

Noa Sattath, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said her organization had petitioned the parliamentary committee to discuss a bill that would exclude protests from Mr. -Gvir, as well as the committee’s own legal advisor. But Mr. Ben-Gvir rejected that recommendation.

“It is clear that the minister wants to have authority over how the police respond to protests,” said Ms Sattath, who described the bill as endangering one of the foundations of Israel’s democratic system.

In the face of growing criticism, Mr Ben-Gvir told a parliamentary committee on Thursday he would postpone discussions and voting on the most controversial parts of the bill until after his inauguration. government.

Also of interest are proposals to change the way the judiciary operates.

If implemented, they would significantly limit the power of the Supreme Court, which has long been viewed by Israeli liberals and analysts as one of the country’s most important institutions. to protect against the erosion of liberal democratic values. Because Israel has only one house of Parliament and no formal constitution, the judiciary plays an important role in protecting minority rights and compensating for majority rule in parliament.

Coalition partners are keen to see these judicial changes, especially to ensure that the Supreme Court cannot overturn the hasty legislation currently being passed by Congress.

“In the coming weeks, we will be faced with the most serious threats that Israeli democracy has witnessed in recent decades,” Plesner said at a recent conference at the institute. about the impact of judicial changes proposed by members of the upcoming coalition.

“The issues on the agenda concern the nature of the state and the fundamental rights of each of us.”

Myra Noveck Report donations from Jerusalem.


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