Yuli’s choice: 6 things to know for March 24
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Yuli’s choice: 6 things to know for March 24

With Israel on the edge of the end of democracy, maybe sort of, all eyes are on whether the Knesset speaker will save the country or his boss

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. Speakerboxxed: Nobody wants a pseudo-constitutional crisis, but at least it’s given Israelis (and Israeli journalists) a break from nonstop depressing coronavirus updates. Then again, the court having to tell Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein to relinquish power, and allies of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu telling him to ignore the bench, means the very fate of Israeli democracy is at stake — according to both sides — so that’s kind of a real bummer.

  • ToI editor David Horovitz writes that “if Israel had been threatened by some kind of attempted political coup, our fractious democracy as usual had now been restored,” crediting the court with doing so. But he frets over what it means that Edelstein’s allies were urging him to ignore the court for supposedly not having the right to intervene in parliamentary sausage-making, a claim that Edelstein later echoed before being shot down in a final court decision.
  • “Israel’s democratic crisis — playing out in parallel to the coronavirus battle — far from being resolved, appears to be deepening,” he says.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth calls the donnybrook an “unprecedented confrontation” between the Knesset speaker and the High Court.
  • The paper’s Tova Tzimuki writes that such a clash was apparently inevitable, though she chides the court for seemingly playing into Netanyahu and Co.’s hands with a “strong-armed mistake.”
  • “Now the nation’s citizens, isolated at home, are stuck watching the depressing scenes of a head-on clash between the court and legislature. If no elegant solution is found, this could be the first time that the Knesset speaker does not comply with a court order — and even then nothing will happen to him. What happens next is already told in the annals of failed democracies,” she sighs.
  • Army Radio calls Supreme Court President Esther Hayut’s broadside against Edelstein, in which she accused him of undermining democracy, a “harsh attack.”
  • Perhaps realizing it may be playing a losing hand, pro-Likud Israel Hayom somewhat downplays the “drama,” in its words, but still devotes some decent real estate to the kerfuffle after its 14-page coronavirus package.
  • “This is a mark of disgrace for Israeli democracy,” writes commentator Yaakov Bardugo, referring to the court’s meddling in what he says is the business of the Knesset.

2. Sons of anarchy: Anarchy appears to be all the rage, or at least slinging accusations of it.

  • “This is a sort of anarchy,” Blue and White MK Yoav Segalowicz tells Army Radio, accusing Likud of “hijacking the Knesset.”
  • On Tuesday morning, Yariv Levin, one of the ministers who had been egging Edelstein on, accuses the court of “leading us into anarchy. It’s acting like it owns the state.”
  • “Five judges chosen in a crony-ish way without any oversight behind closed doors and off the beaten path are sitting and thinking they can be managers over everything,” he tells Kan Radio, getting pretty close to deep state territory.
  • Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi calls Edelstein’s actions (or lack thereof) “inconceivable chutzpah.”
  • “Edelstein’s actions are anarchy in the making, because if we don’t appoint a referee for a soccer game, someone can come along and say the team that scored nil won against the team that scored five goals. Why not? This is what the Knesset speaker is proposing, and he is the president pro-tempore.”

3. From refusenik to refuser: Edelstein himself is regarded as something of a shlemiel-shlemazel mix, spilling the soup on himself in hopes he’ll be left alone as others around him start pulling out knives.

  • “Edelstein is humiliating himself, while Netanyahu allows his cronies to run amok against the High Court,” writes Yossi Verter in Haaretz, writing that the speaker will seemingly end his seven years at the helm on a particularly sour note.
  • “Edelstein was stuck between war and humiliation,” writes Yedioth Sima Kadmon. “He chose humiliation.”
  • Channel 12’s Dana Weiss recalls all the times Edelstein was seen as the adult in the room, fighting to remain above petty political squabbles, and sees his current dilemma as “the bottom.”
  • “Will we discover that after all these years in which he sold us on his dignity and paved the path to the presidency, will he, who tasted the bitter taste of the Soviet regime and was a symbol of Zionist courage, at the moment of truth be recorded as the one who trampled democracy for his own narrow interests,” she writes of the former refusenik who spent three years in a gulag for teaching Hebrew.

4. Unity, despite it all? Edelstein’s excuse for not pushing ahead with the Arrangements Committee vote was that it would make it more difficult to reach a unity deal, but Yedioth reports that the move may do the opposite.

  • “The estimation is that this will speed up contacts within the next 48 hours,” it reports, without any explanation or sourcing.
  • Fat chance, predicts Walla’s Tal Shalev: “The behavior and actions of Netanyahu, Edelstein and friends does not telegraph compromise or joining together; on the contrary, the strong-arm games in the Knesset and the court’s aggressiveness have just strengthened the hardliners in the cockpit, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, and are minimizing Gantz’s maneuverability.”
  • Then again, on Tuesday afternoon, Netanyahu tweets at Gantz (though not @gantz): “We both know the gaps between us are small and we can overcome them and create a government. Let’s meet now and we’ll form a government today. I’m waiting for you.”
  • All that’s missing are doodly hearts.

5. Cordon blew: Meanwhile, that little ol’ bug called the novel coronavirus is still raging, bringing with it reports of stricter and stricter lockdowns to come.

  • Micky Rosenfeld tells The Times of Israel: “We are fully prepared for a full closure across Israel, with officers in streets to prevent people from going outside. If necessary the IDF will add extra manpower.”
  • According to reports Monday by Channel 12 and later by many other media outlets, Israel will later Tuesday impose a stricter lockdown, closing all shops but supermarkets and pharmacies and not allowing people to go more than a few hundred meters from their homes.
  • With no sourcing, and an opaque power struggle between health officials, finance people and others, there’s no telling what will actually be announced until it is actually announced, and there is no telling if what is announced will actually be carried out.
  • Indeed by Tuesday, Channel 12 reports that Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov is putting heavy pressure on the government to impose a full lockdown and quit messing around.
  • “Thus a row between government minister and the prime minister and the Health Ministry head has grown even worse, with a telephone vote on the new measures, planned for this afternoon, being pushed off.”
  • Walla News quotes Health Ministry deputy head Itamar Grotto saying that he would prefer a full closure “but then we will need to supply everyone with meals ready to eat,” and expressing trust that the government will make the right decision.
  • Laying out the expected announcement, he says people won’t be able to leave their homes, except that they will be able to take runs on a one-kilometer radius and even walk the dog. But he says the details are still being worked out by the government and professionals.

6. Eat, pray, die: According to Kan news Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is pushing for ritual baths to remain open, telling Netanyahu that he does not understand why one is allowed to take Fido for a walk but not go for a dip in a ritual bath where the water is shared by many people.

  • “What can you do, the virus doesn’t respect religion,” Netanyahu told him, to which he responded, “So if it doesn’t we will.”
  • COVID-19 may not respect religion, but it sure does love hanging out in synagogue, according to an epidemiological study released by the Health Ministry Tuesday on where people contracted infections.
  • Putting together the numbers of synagogues and yeshivas, The Marker reports that 29 percent of infections came from those places.
  • “As of now, despite all the restrictions on public movement, up to ten people are allowed to pray in synagogues, and at religious rites such as weddings or funerals, up to 20 are allowed,” the paper notes.
  • Posting the graph showing all the places where people catch the virus on Twitter, former journalist Oded Kramer writes that “it’s so mindblowing, I was sure it was a fake anti-religious story. It’s not. It’s real data and we don’t talk about it enough to my mind and the health minister does not understand, in my opinion.”
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