President Itzhak Herzog has broken all the rules in an attempt to appropriate powers to which he is not entitled. The former Labor chairman––who will never forgive Benjamin Netanyahu who trailed behind him throughout the 2015 election campaign only to defeat him decisively with 30 Likud mandates to Labor’s 24––took to the airwaves Thursday night to add his voice to Netanyahu’s enemies on the left, demanding that the majority coalition abandon entirely its judicial reform legislation. It was more than chutzpah, it was sedition.
After the establishment of the state, David Ben Gurion opposed the very institution of the presidency, but gave in to his great rival Haim Weizmann, after Weizmann had succeeded in convincing President Harry S. Truman to recognize the State of Israel, reject the British plan to cut off the Negev from Israel’s map, and give Israel the loan it so direly needed. The Prime Minister simply had no choice, Weizmann––the elder Zionist statesman responsible for the Balfour declaration––had to be rewarded in grandiose fashion. But Ben-Gurion staunchly prevented granting any powers to Israeli presidents. This was tested immediately by the first president, when in November 1948, he wanted to send a telegram to Truman requesting American arms. Ben-Gurion blocked the move, and wrote Weizmann: “It is desirable to warn the President of the State Council that he cannot negotiate with the President of the United States…” Later on, Ben Gurion strove to deprive the presidency of all powers, and generations of Israeli presidents obeyed those constraints.
Until last night.
Last night, President Herzog alerted the major television channels that he had something important to say about things in Israel, and they all trained their cameras on him. From what we know, he never coordinated this appearance with the prime minister, who was conveniently on a state visit in Italy.
Herzog came on like gangbusters, clearly unabashed about taking sides in the political struggle between the coalition, with 64 Knesset mandates, and the 46 Jewish MKs (the Arabs have been staying out of this one, they could demonstrate with the left, but chose not to).
He said: “The entire legislation currently being discussed in committee must be removed from this world quickly. It is wrong, it is predatory, and it undermines our democratic foundations. Therefore, it must be replaced with another, agreed-upon outline, immediately.”
Some of the folks clashing with the cops on Ayalon highway were less anti-Netanyahu than President Herzog. For one thing, Herzog lied: there’s nothing in either MK Simcha Rothman’s or Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s bill that undermines anything, other than the unchecked tyranny of a High Court that placed itself above the other branches of government with no electoral support whatsoever. And then, who gave the president the authority to pass judgment on Knesset legislation?
Basic Law: The President states the following job description, nothing else: the president signs bills into law, endorse state diplomats and receive foreign diplomats, sign agreements with foreign countries, ratify (ceremonially only) the appointment of judges, and pardon criminals. He is the definition of a constitutional monarch, but with term limits – five years.
So where did President Herzog get the authority to interfere in the work of the country’s elected lawmakers? Same place the High Court got the authority to interfere with both the Knesset and the government – they just took it. But while the court framed its takeover of authority it did not have over an arduous process of thirty years, President Herzog did it overnight. Because he could.
Like a banana republic despot taking advantage of a crisis, this president, too, announced that he was suspending the country’s democracy for the sake of preserving democracy, because “the sights of this day are a nightmare of a country. Enough. I can no longer see how our nation is being torn apart before my eyes,” he opened, “What’s happening here is a disaster.”
In other words, the fact that 100 thousand privileged anarchists have been taking to the streets and breaking every rule of civilized behavior, trumps the fact that about 2.4 million voters chose the Netanyahu government for the express purpose of undoing the court takeover of every aspect of Israeli society: legally, politically, militarily, and economically.
What the president did, under the guise of taking emergency measures to “heal the nation,” should be grounds for dismissal. I know Ben Gurion would have kicked him down the stairs and to the curb. But here’s the catch: Netanyahu didn’t. Which leads me to believe that, as I’ve always suspected, the fix is in.
Netanyahu met with Herzog on Wednesday. And although Netanyahu is legally prevented from dealing with the details of the judicial reform because of his supposed conflict of interests (care of the AG), the two probably discussed the situation and the need to reach a compromise – since Netanyahu is not prevented from discussing a compromise (also care of the AG).
In Rome, following Herzog’s speech, Netanyahu announced: “In the days of controversy and debate within the State of Israel, we must remember that we are members of one nation, one past, and a common future. We can and should resolve these disputes, first of all by calming the spirits, and secondly also by the effort to reach understandings and agreements. In this sense, I welcome all initiatives, including the president’s.”
Which means that, at this point, the only way for Minister Levin and his allies in Religious Zionism to continue pushing their vital legislation is to continue pushing forward, so that by March 27, the end of the Knesset’s winter session, all or at least part of their legislation becomes law.
In the words of the immortal Meir Ariel: “We overcame the Pharaoh, we’ll overcome this one, too.”