After the last Israeli coalition government collapsed, Yair Lapid became caretaker prime minister. Given that a successful incumbent prime minister often has a strong chance of reelection, Lapid likely thought that such moves as cutting a hasty maritime deal with Lebanon and Hezbollah would bring him victory. Instead, he was defeated by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Now Lapid believes he is on a mission to save Israel from Netanyahu. In particular, the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial reforms.
Judicial reform was a major part of the platforms put forward by the right-wing parties in last year’s election campaign. The new Justice Minister Yariv Levin, backed by the coalition, has wasted no time pushing it forward.
Lapid promptly went on the warpath, claiming that he is fighting to save Israeli democracy. On Feb. 5, for example, he posted a video recorded while he marched with protestors against the reforms. “We will save our country because we are unwilling to live in an undemocratic state,” he said.
However, Lapid has, in the past, expressed the desire for some degree of judicial reform and he still does, as evidenced by his request that President Isaac Herzog establish a commission to examine the issue. Lapid did this even while spearheading public protests, threatening civil unrest and calling on employers to let their workers march on the Knesset.
In requesting presidential intervention, however, Lapid is sidestepping the democratic processes he claims to extoll. It is as if he does not trust the very institution he supposedly wants to protect.
In a Facebook post, Lapid went hyperbolic: “Next week the coup d’état goes up a step. They don’t stop. Rushing fast to destroy our democracy, tear the people apart and crush the economy.”
Yet in that same post, Lapid pointed to actions taken by Knesset committees that are the essence of the democratic process: “In the last month, we held discussions all night in the Knesset building, presented reservations, presented arguments, professional opinions, brought in dozens of external experts. We made the coalition understand that they would not be able to pass anything easily.”
Here, Lapid is simply identifying what is best about Israeli democracy—discussion, debate and providing expert opinion on a particular piece of legislation. This is exactly what the role of any parliamentary opposition entails. Legislation as significant as judicial reform should not be able to pass easily. That is the whole point.
Lapid continued: “In recent weeks, we have demanded a series of discussions in all Knesset committees on the damage of the regime revolution and its impact on all areas of life—in the economy, security, foreign policy, women’s and minorities’ rights.” Exactly. That is his job as opposition leader.
Not the president’s job
But then Lapid showed us that he has no respect for our democratic processes: “I put forward the proposal to establish a presidential commission to save our democracy from destruction. The basic condition for the establishment of the committee should be to stop the legislation.”
That is not the president’s job. It is Lapid’s job, as head of the opposition, to attempt to stop the legislation if that is what he thinks should happen.
Lapid, however, does see the need for reform: “The president will establish a committee that will listen to all parties and submit a proposal for real, moderate and balanced reform that will regulate the powers of the court and the separation of powers.”
Again, that is not the president’s job.
It is the job of the Knesset committee that debates and amends bills. Even that is not the last word. As Lapid knows, laws continue to be amended over time as experience shows what changes are required.
In his post, Lapid claimed to be part of a protest movement that is “not giving up on my country, on its values, I do not agree that Israeli democracy will be erased.” At the same time, he is giving up on traditional democratic processes by encouraging presidential intervention and civil unrest.
He concluded: “We have to stop this madness.”
Yes. The madness has to stop. It’s time to get off the streets, out of the president’s office and back into committee.
Quieter efforts to influence judicial reform in the proper venue will not go unnoticed. Anyone interested can follow committee proceedings on the Knesset website. Articles can and will be written on the opposition’s efforts to modify the reforms.
But it is so much more fun to block roads, organize mass demonstrations, blame Netanyahu and denounce the MKs who are doing what the majority of voters elected them to do.