Opponents of judicial reform are not defending liberal democracy, but Orwellian dystopia.

Israeli demonstrators protest against judicial reform in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90
Israeli demonstrators protest against judicial reform in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

“Deceivers are the most dangerous members of society. They trifle with the best affections of our nature, and violate the most sacred obligations.” — George Crabbe, English poet, surgeon and clergyman (1754-1832)

“When one with honeyed words but evil mind; Persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.” ― Euripides, ancient Greek playwright and poet (c. 480-c. 406 BCE)

As Machiavellian demonstrations, malevolently crafted and mendaciously choreographed, rage across Israel, one thing is becoming ominously clear: The bellows of “demokratia!” from the protesters have been increasingly exposed as hollow and hypocritical.

Indeed, virtually every aspect of the protester’s vociferous grievances can be shown to be false and self-contradictory.

Enhancing democracy

For example, the protesters claim that the reforms imperil Israel’s democracy. Yet they have never presented a logical chain of cause and effect showing how the reforms will do so.

Nor can they. After all, the reforms are intended to transfer power from unelected, unaccountable forums to elected, accountable forums. This is eminently democratic.

The claim that, if politicians appoint judges, the judges will be subject to the will of their appointors is also clearly untrue.

After all, it was two government appointees—Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh—who concocted the indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This blatantly contradicts the protesters’ claims.

Minority “rights” trump majority decisions?

Opponents of the reforms have a perverse view of democracy. They seem to believe that because democracy entails preserving minority rights, those rights should take precedence over majority decisions.

After all, the reforms are more procedural than substantive, in that they do not infringe the rights of any political or ethnic group. Any benefits they bestow on election winners would accrue to the reforms’ opponents if they could win elections by persuading voters. Apparently, the opponents do not believe this is feasible. Hence their apoplectic response.

Thus, opponents cannot legitimately claim that they are defending “minority rights.” To the contrary, they seek to impose minority preferences on a democratically elected majority. This, in and of itself, is a brazen violation of democratic norms.

Selective concern

Moreover, the opponents’ concern for democratic governance is very selective.

When the previous coalition led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid was spawned by a shameless violation of all hitherto accepted democratic norms, nary a peep of protest was sounded by those who today purport to be “guardians of democracy.”

Somehow, these guardians managed to ignore that this was a coalition headed by a prime minister who: a) won barely 5% of the overall vote, b) brazenly betrayed his supporters and c) formed a government dependent on the approval of the Islamist Shura Council and the support of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate the Ra’am Party. Indeed, Bennett’s own Yamina Party had tried to disqualify Ra’am from running in the elections on the grounds that its members supported terror.

Nor did opponents of the reforms express any concern when then-caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid bypassed Knesset approval and conceded Israeli control over potentially rich marine gas fields to Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon.

The reason given was that the concession would pacify Hezbollah, which was swiftly exposed as false. Today, an increasingly aggressive Hezbollah is spoiling for a fight. This raises troubling questions about the prudence of Lapid’s move and the real motivations behind it.

Indeed, one of Lapid’s most perverse criticisms of the reforms is that the reforms have the support of the haredi parties, whose members he berates for not serving in the IDF. Yet Lapid himself has proved incapable of giving a credible account of where he served in the military, and it was certainly not in combat.

A sense of entitlement, not patriotism

No less deceptive is the terminology adopted by reform opponents in general. They have rejected the term “reform” and label it a “revolution,” as if a policy adopted by a democratically elected government can be termed a “revolution,” which is a term usually reserved for a challenge to an incumbent government.

But perhaps the adoption of the word “revolution” is revealing. It exposes the opposition leaders’ underlying motivation. It indicates that they believe they are the genuine ordained leaders of the country. The incumbent government is just a motley collection of impudent usurpers, swept into power by unworthy “plebs.”

Thus, they see the reforms as a move to diminish the stature of their true source of power—the judiciary—which has offset their failure at the ballot box and allowed their credo to dominate government policy. To them, judicial reform is a challenge to the established order and the true ruling class. Hence, it is a “revolution.”

It seems, then, that a sense of entitlement, not patriotism, drives the demonstrations. This reflects a selective loyalty to Israel in which borderline sedition is preferable to accepting the victory of political rivals.

A countervailing battle cry

Opponents of the current coalition have created a dystopian reality. Like “Newspeak” in George Orwell’s novel 1984, they manipulate language to serve their purposes. Words take on their opposite meanings. In the emerging Israeli dystopia, “dictatorship” is “democracy,” “revolution” is “government policy,” “entitlement” is “patriotism” and “sedition” is “loyalty.”

Thus, it should be clear that opponents of judicial reform are not defending liberal democracy, but promoting an Orwellian dystopia.

Paradoxically, it is this grim reality that gives the government and its supporters a tool to counter the cries of “demokratia!” They should respond with a countervailing call: “Stop dystopia!”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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