Public diplomacy minister: Media, academia, security brass working against gov’t

Likud’s Galit Distel Atbaryan claims senior officials in position of power are promoting anti-government resistance, hampering state’s ability to function

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan at a Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan at a Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In rhetoric reminiscent of “deep state” claims, Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan charged Thursday that senior figures in the media, academia, and security forces were driving opposition against the government, hampering the state’s ability to function.

In an interview with Army Radio, Distel Atbaryan also alleged that the ruling coalition, whose term has been marked by an ongoing national crisis since entering power in late December, has not been given fair treatment compared to previous governments.

The country has seen months of unprecedented mass protests against the government’s plans to drastically overhaul the judiciary, which critics warn will downgrade Israel’s democratic character by removing checks and balances to the parliamentary majority’s power. Among those who have spoken out against the proposed legislation are serving and former senior state officials, as well as jurists, economists, journalists, academics, and various other public figures.

“The media, academia, senior figures in the police, senior figures in the army, senior officials in every acute place of power are quite simply creating opposition to this government on every possible level,” said Distel Atbaryan, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“What has happened to this government from the moment it was established has never happened before to any other government,” she asserted. “There are things happening here that make it difficult for the state to operate.”

“The previous government got a year and a half of a grace period; we didn’t even get 100 hours,” she lamented.

Israelis who oppose the government’s planned judicial overhaul protest outside a Mimouna event attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau and his wife Sara, in Hadera on April 12, 2023. (Flash90)

She accused the media of attacking Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai for working with the government.

“As soon as you align yourself with the right, or act properly under a right-wing prime minister, you are on the receiving end [of abuse],” she said.

Distel Atbaryan also explained why her ministry, established when the coalition was formed at the beginning of the year, has not yet been fully formed, saying that the funds needed to do so will only become available from June 1 when the new national budget comes into effect.

The Public Diplomacy Ministry is intended to promote Israel’s positive image abroad and fight anti-Israel positions. Amid the current crisis, Distel Atbaryan sought to use her office to internally promote the image of the judicial overhaul, leading critics to term her “the propaganda minister.” That attempt was blocked by legal officials.

The minister’s remarks came after Netanyahu himself attacked critics of the judicial overhaul as undermining the country, and after another cabinet minister accused security chiefs of acting in rebellion against the government.

Netanyahu on Monday, in a speech to the nation, panned the mass protests, asserting that warnings by some army reservists that they might refuse service if his government moves forward with the legislation package projected weakness to Israel’s enemies, and said opposition leaders were also contributing to such views.

A day earlier, Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, accused top security officials of “rebelling” against the government and preventing it from fulfilling its commitments.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 10, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Mass protests against the government’s judicial overhaul plan have been ongoing for 14 weeks, continuing even after Netanyahu announced a pause in the legislation last month to allow for talks with the opposition. Protest leaders claim Netanyahu is merely trying to calm the protests before going back to advancing the legislation.

Pushback against the government caused thousands of IDF reservists to say they would not turn up for service if the overhaul plan was implemented, sparking fierce backlash from the government and accusations of betrayal by right-wing figures. The IDF chief and the defense minister have warned that pushing through the legislation without broad consensus could cause a massive internal rift in Israeli society.

The judicial overhaul proposals by Netanyahu’s coalition aim to weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as give the government near-total control over the appointment of judges.

Critics say the plans will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

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