ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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Op-ed

A last, desperate, long-shot plea: Prime Minister Netanyahu, stop this madness

Your coalition will fracture if you abandon your judicial revolution? Wonderful. Tune out the extremists, assert your Zionism, and reverse the staggering damage you’re inflicting

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting on the state budget, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting on the state budget, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

Dear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this is a plea — a last, long-shot, desperate appeal to your patriotism, to your Zionism, to your concern for your place in history, to your conscience: Stop this madness.

We are now two weeks away from the deadline your government has set itself for the enactment of revolutionary legislation that you put in motion, that you appointed a justice minister and a committee chair to advance, that you built a coalition to vote into law and that you defend almost daily and absurdly as strengthening our democracy — legislation that will, in fact, shatter Israel’s foundational principles, proudly asserted in the Declaration of Independence, as a tolerant Jewish and democratic state committed to equality and personal freedoms.

If you don’t heed President Isaac Herzog’s call to scrap a package of laws that neuters the High Court, the only body capable of defending all and any basic rights from being trampled by your duly elected coalition, we will mark this year’s Passover festival of freedom as a nation with its fundamental freedoms no longer protected from the tyranny of your majority.

There is no acceptable explanation for the path you have chosen to follow since you were elected last November, your betrayal of your promise “to be a prime minister for everyone – for those who voted for me, and for those who did not vote for me.”

You know that this country cannot be sustained if it is not democratic. Some of its best brains will not stay here. The economy will tank. Many taxpayers will not tolerate an increasingly discriminatory burden in which, among other things, they are subsidizing a fast-growing ultra-Orthodox sector that, under your coalition agreements, will be exempted by law from performing military or national service and educated in large part without the core skills to contribute to the workforce, its young males financially incentivized to study Torah full-time.

And perhaps most alarming, you know many citizens will not send their children to serve in the army of an Israel that is not a Jewish democratic state.

The combination of the judicial revolution and the policies that are unfolding and will unfold once the court has been marginalized — the plans for legalized discrimination, for annexation of West Bank territory and widespread settlement expansion, for the assault on non-Orthodox Judaism, et al– are destroying your own stated prime ministerial goals. Ties with the United States, crucial if Israel is to face down the existential threat of a nuclear Iran, are fraying. The Jews of the Diaspora, whom you desire to represent and who want to look to Israel as a source of pride, as a potential home and in some cases an essential refuge, are in ferment — over the threat to democracy, the threat to change the Law of Return, the threat to religious pluralism. Investment in the tech-driven economy you helped nurture and know Israel must sustain is at risk, as overseas confidence in Israel’s rule of law and stability ebbs. Your own oft-declared plans to widen the circle of regional peace, notably to include Saudi Arabia, are evaporating as the Palestinian conflict escalates, and existing partnerships are eroding. President Biden won’t so much as invite you to visit; nor, either, will the leaders of the United Arab Emirates.

Some say you’ve unleashed this revolution to evade your trial. That makes no sense. You could drag it on for years or subvert it with less drastic legislative initiatives.

Others posit that you are intimidated by the extremists — those you have empowered politically, and the toxic commentators on TV, radio and social media, including some very close to home.

I hear that some people who know you well think you have convinced yourself that you are truly King Bibi, a great, historic national figure, wiser and more capable than all.

If so, your rule is manifestly far from absolute — your hands are not, as you promised in post-election US interviews, “on the wheel.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (top photo, center) poses with Israel Bonds members at their conference in Washington on March 12, 2023, as pro-Israel demonstrators (bottom photo) protest outside the hotel. (Top photo: Bezalel Smotrich, via Twitter / Bottom photo: Jacob Magid, Times of Israel)

You had no political alternative to the coalition of right, Jewish supremacist far-right, and non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox allies that you assembled. But neither did they.

And yet you chose to make Bezalel Smotrich the second most powerful figure in your government, emboldened from his joint Finance Ministry and Defense Ministry perch to call two weeks ago for the State of Israel to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara after two Israeli brothers were killed there in a terror attack. You knew the dangers posed by Smotrich’s theocratic agenda, his intolerant views on Arabs, his hostility to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, and more. And predictably, all it took were some brief, considered remarks — three days after the terror attack, and subsequently walked back — to cause inestimable damage to fragile relationships in the region, to ties with Diaspora Jewry, to our standing with the US and other international allies, to Israel’s own sense of self, and, devastatingly, to the unity and cohesion of our people’s army.

By destroying the independence, credibility and capability of our own High Court to investigate alleged crimes by the IDF, your judicial overhaul already threatens to remove our soldiers’ vital protection from international prosecution. When a dominant minister in your government then publicly urges the state to wipe out an entire town, inevitably pilots who routinely risk their lives in the defense of this country are nauseated at the prospect of receiving such an instruction, understandably gather to remind the air force chief that they will not carry out patently illegal orders, and start to worry deeply about their roles in the military arm of such a government. As you heard the chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, publicly state last week: The army’s very capacity to function “depends on the preservation of the IDF as the people’s army in a democratic Jewish state.”

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks at a military ceremony for reservist troops at Tel Aviv University, March 12, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

And so I plead with you, prime minister, stop with the disingenuous nonsense about strengthening democracy, stop denigrating opposition leaders and protesters as anarchists and worse, stop the incitement against those who express their mounting, heartfelt concerns for the country they love — the reservists, and the economists, and the jurists, and the academics, and, yes, the media. Tune out the extremists. Heed the voices of those you’ve hitherto trusted — your own bank chiefs and legal advisers present and past; your own appointees at the helm of our security services; international judicial experts and Zionists of the caliber of Irwin Cotler and Alan Dershowitz; Miriam Adelson, for goodness’ sake.

Stop this madness.

Don’t merely halt the current legislative onslaught. Heed the president and abandon it. And announce the initiation of a deadline-free consultative process for judicial reform. Hell, go for broke: Work for a constitution, with the Declaration of Independence as at least a partial blueprint.

Yes, your coalition will fracture. Speed the day.

Who knows? Benny Gantz and enough others might ride to your rescue. Or not.

But you’ll begin to reverse the staggering damage you’ve inflicted on Israel in the few short weeks of your appalling coalition, 50 (!) of whose ministers and lawmakers on Tuesday demanded that the defense minister release from administrative detention two settler extremists held for their suspected roles in the Huwara vigilante rampage.

You’ll have started to pull us back from the abyss, to safeguard this Israel that simply must continue to fulfill its core purpose as the Jews’ national homeland, as a democratic beacon fully capable of defending itself, and that can only do so in something close to internal harmony.

And we Israelites will still be a free people this Passover.

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