‘Destruction of Israel’s democracy is at stake’
Former MK's warning

‘Destruction of Israel’s democracy is at stake’

A former MK professor says the coalition government has "declared a war on the court as the enemy of Israel".

Professor Yossi Shain. Photo: Noam Moskowitz
Professor Yossi Shain. Photo: Noam Moskowitz

The Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition government has “declared a war on the court as the enemy of Israel”, leading political science professor, author and former MK Professor Yossi Shain says.

Shain, who has taught at Tel Aviv University (TAU) for 30 years and served in the Knesset from June 2021 to November 22 as part of the Yisrael Beitenu party, spoke to The AJN while in Australia last week on a lecture tour.

“The judicial system needs a reform. I was on the committee of the former government that wanted to start this reform, to create a better balance between the judiciary, the parliament and the government,” Shain, who identifies as being politically right-wing, said.

“For many years, there has been kind of a tug of war about whether we have too much [of] what we call judicial activism … many people thought that the court has overstepped its bounds.”

But he said what is being proposed goes much further.

“I was one of the earliest people who called for reforming the judicial system. But I never thought in my lifetime that I will see such an assault on judges or the rule of law, on rationality, on logic or progress,” he said.

“The destruction of Israel’s democracy is what is at stake – nothing less. They have driven Israel onto the brink of civil war.”

He outlined four reasons why the right-religious government has “declared a war”.

First of all, he said the coalition was in disagreement with the court on issues pertaining to the West Bank, the appointment of ministers “and so on”. Secondly, he said they have defined the court as “liberal and left wing”.

“Thirdly, because Netanyahu is embroiled with the court, and other ministers are embroiled with the courts, they wanted to curtail the court’s position,” he said.

“Fourthly, we have a demographic shift in Israel, the ultra-Orthodox are becoming very, very powerful in politics and also proliferating very quickly … the fastest growing community in Israel. And they are trying to change the nature of the state and the nature of Zionism. And for them, the court represents the state which they themselves debunk.”

Labelling the push “an assault on modernity”, he said Israel was in the midst of a struggle between being a halachic or modern state.

“And the nemesis of those who want a halachic state is the court, which represents modernity,” he said.

“It is a huge fight. I’m 66 years old and I never remember myself so leery about the future of Israel than I have been in the last few weeks.”

Last week Israel’s High Court disqualified Shas leader Aryeh Deri – Netanyahu’s most important ally – from serving as a minister in the coalition due to being convicted of tax evasion.

Shain explained that the punishment was not just due to the tax evasion, but Deri going back on a promise to leave politics as part of his plea deal.

“10 out of 11 judges are saying that he basically lied to the court,” he said.

But he said the decision was being interpreted by government supporters as the court “trying to destroy the coalition”.

“It is all intermingled with Netanyahu’s trials and desires to govern. It’s very, very complicated,” he said.

“It also has the twist of ethnicity, because Aryeh Deri is not an Ashkenazi Jew. So they attack the judges, who are Ashkenazim. They call them whites, they call them racists, all kinds of things like that.”

A scholar of the Diaspora, Shain also addressed the coalition’s desire to weaken the law of return – which allows anyone with a Jewish grandparent to make Aliyah – and ultra-Orthodox rejection of some of the more liberal streams of Judaism.

“There is a total war between the Diaspora orientation of modernity and the ultra-Orthodox orientation of antiquity,” he said.

“I’m one of those who says that we cannot just continue to pretend the Diaspora has to save us against the Palestinians, against BDS, and then continue to debunk the Diaspora as those who are not Jewish. This cannot be the case anymore, and the Diaspora must raise its voice and not let it go.”

Because he said for many of the ultra-Orthodox MKs, “the Diaspora is nothing and they consider it a sign of modernity”.

“And Netanyahu who understands the United States, who understands Australia and so on, he’s completely sold out because of his concerns for his own trial, because he is truly afraid of going to jail.”

Asked to comment on how he saw things progressing over the next four years, Shain responded, “I truly don’t know because I see the destructive forces in society that are getting out of hand and have the ability to bring havoc and really create chaos.

“We just have to pray that the state institutions will not be played as militias.

“[Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar] Ben Gvir, he wants to control the border police, and [Religious Zionism leader Bezalel] Smotrich wants to control the civil administration in the West Bank or in Judea and Samaria.

“We should guard the state institutions. [They] should be shielded from these kinds of influences, personal influences, that may destroy the country.”

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