Sometimes we come face-to-face with a difficult truth stated so brazenly and unapologetically that it is impossible to ignore, avoid or dismiss it.
Israel’s current crisis over judicial reform has unleashed opposition not just to reform, not just to the current coalition, but to the very idea of the sovereignty of a democratically elected government.
This was clearly stated in a recent interview, in which Kobi Richter, a retired Israeli business leader, expressed his conviction that thanks to the opposition of the military and the business elite, the government, which he claims is not in charge to begin with, will be toppled.
The interview can be accessed here.
Richter’s message is jaw-dropping for many reasons. For one, he is positively salivating over the coming destruction of the Israeli economy as the catalyst for removing the “blemish” that is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
For another, Richter displays profound ignorance of what a democratic society actually is. The fact that he refers to unnamed democracies that have ended up as dictatorships or autocracies leaves one wondering what countries he is talking about.
Simply stated, there has not been a conga line of failed democracies—except those with rigged elections or Potemkin-like institutions—that have morphed into autocracies.
The great irony is that Richter is seeking to do just that here in Israel: He wants to turn a vibrant democracy into an autocratic plutocracy. He is confident that it can be done because genuine power and therefore legitimacy is coming from the military and big business. They are in control, not the government. Therefore, it’s a foregone conclusion that the government will eventually fall.
Of course, Richter doesn’t talk about what happens when the government falls. Will there be another election in which the people’s will, as in a true democracy, decides who will lead the country? Or does the election have validity only if the right people are elected?
For anyone who cherishes the idea and reality of democracy, Richter’s statement is chilling. It echoes the arrogance of Ehud Barak, who recently said that bringing the country to its knees is desirable because the people will then turn to him for leadership and guidance.
What we are seeing is the decoupling of elites from their country and their countrymen. The belief that with money comes power and with power comes control is the stuff of military coups, banana republics and kleptocracies.
Indeed, Richter is implicitly endorsing the weaponization of the military, which should frighten every Israeli, regardless of political affiliation.
What the people of Israel must understand is that for many of those who are providing the financial, strategic and logistical backing for the protests, the campaign against judicial reform is a convenient ruse, a pretext for a far more insidious agenda: Not just the overthrow of the duly elected government, but its replacement with one that passes elite muster, popular sentiment be damned.
When Richter says that the government is not really in control of the country, not really running things, what he is really saying is that the will of the people is a quaint but meaningless concept.
Richter and those like him pose a challenge not just to those who are shocked by his sinister agenda, but also to those who share his disdain for judicial reform and the existing government.
Those who say that they don’t recognize the current government as the Israel they knew must ask themselves if what they really want is a Barak/Richter-style elitist plutocracy. Because if you think that the Israel you knew is no longer existent, what Barak/Richter want to implement will resemble a secular version of the mullahs’ Iranian regime.
Ultimately, people of good will must regard Richter’s remarks as a wakeup call. His remarks should prompt them to ask what we really want as a society. The current protests have brought the nation to the brink, and a great many on both sides of the issue want to pull back from it.
Richter clearly wants to win, to rid the country of a leader he despises. Presumably, he will also want to have influence, if not outright control, over who the successor will be. His concern for the ideals and the practicalities of a democracy and his concern for the social fabric of Israeli society are likely nil.
Fortunately, while most of us are Richter’s deplorables, he seriously misreads and underestimates the strength and resolve of the Israeli citizenry. I believe that most Israelis, political preferences notwithstanding, want the people to be sovereign and the country to come together.
The growing movement calling for reservists to serve their country regardless of politics is a good example of this. So are the grassroots dialogue and discussion tents that are cropping up nationwide designed for people to disagree but reach an understanding of where the other person is coming from.
A democratic nation must tolerate the seditious rantings of a Barak or a Richter. But a healthy democratic society also sees them for what they are and rejects them with the contempt they deserve.