The greatest danger to Israeli democracy emanates from those masquerading as its champions. — Distorting Democracy, July 28, 2011.
Thy destroyers and thy demolishers shall emerge from within thee. — Isaiah 49:17.
For months, Israeli society has been wracked by large-scale demonstrations with frenzied participants, purportedly protesting the incumbent coalition’s intention to implement a sorely needed reform of Israel’s judicial system.
Deluge of Orwellian gobbledygook
Allegedly, what has aroused the passions of the protestors is the patently ludicrous—indeed, self-contradictory—belief that Israeli democracy will somehow be imperiled by the government’s initiative.
As the proposed initiative entails moving crucial decisions from the auspices of a restricted group of unelected officials, unaccountable to the public, to the auspices of a broader assembly of elected representatives, directly accountable to the public, the claim that this would be detrimental to democracy is—at best—implausible.
Given the disingenuous foundation on which the demonstrations are based, it is hardly surprising that virtually all the criticism hurled by opponents of the judicial reform is ill-founded or unfounded. Indeed, virtually every reproach launched at the proposed changes to the legal system is either a blatant untruth, a brazen half-truth or a bare-faced distortion of the truth.
Typical of the deluge of Orwellian gobbledygook opposing the proposed judicial reform is a recent video by virulent anti-Netanyahu activist Mika Almog, granddaughter of the late Shimon Peres.
The video, admittedly polished and professionally produced, was in large measure a rehash of Almog’s invective from earlier tirades against previous Netanyahu governments (see for example here and here) updated to castigate the judicial reform, the grievance du jour of the Bibi-phobic protestors.
Defending democracy against the demos?
Almog’s video starts off with an anguished appeal to overseas Jewry to rally around an effort to protect Israeli democracy against Israel’s democratically elected government. Indeed, any which way you slice it, Almog is urging the Jewish Diaspora to pit itself against the Israeli electorate. It is a call to defend democracy against the demos.
She then goes on—her voice trembling with emotion—to inform her viewers that Israel’s proposed judicial reform represents an “unprecedented” threat not only to Israel as a country, but to Israel as a haven for the Jewish people as a whole. It will “gut Israeli democracy by attacking its gatekeepers.” But anyone who bothers to delve into previous diatribes by Almog will discover that she warned of precisely the same dangers years before the judicial reform was conceived.
Indeed, almost half a decade ago, she warned: “We have a prime minister [Netanyahu] who, over the last decade, has been systematically gutting Israeli democracy and repeatedly attacking its gatekeepers”—almost a verbatim rendition of the text in her latest video. Elsewhere, she regurgitated the self-same allegations, accusing Netanyahu of being a “would-be tyrant who attacks [Israel’s] gatekeepers” and of “gutting our democracy.”
So much for the threat being “unprecedented” and “unimaginable.” Indeed, Almog seems to have identified what, in her eyes, was a similar peril well before the “heinous” judicial reform appeared on the political horizon—only now the “villains” are “extreme religious nationalists” rather than the “odious” Bibi. Of course, the bearded Jew is always a convenient bogeyman to instill fear and hatred.
A fiendish scheme?
Using her “extensive legal background”—acquired during her career in acting and satire—Almog easily sees through the claim that the judicial reform, composed by numerous legal experts, is designed to improve Israel’s defective legal system. Rather, she insists it is a fiendish scheme to “gut Israeli democracy.”
She attempts to dismiss the claims that the changes proposed would institute processes that are common in other democracies, including the U.S. According to Almog, judges are appointed by politicians in the U.S. without impairing its democratic status, since as she “sagely” points out, “in the U.S. the president is elected separately from Congress; the legislative is bicameral; there is a constitution and a Bill of Rights and it’s a federal system so that citizens basic rights are protected by law regardless of the composition of the Court.”
This is a statement that is so misleading it is difficult to know where to start.
Take, for example, Almog’s claim that in the U.S., citizens’ rights are not impacted by the composition of the Courts. I wonder how she would go about explaining how female reproduction rights were unaffected by the composition of the courts when, in 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade verdict, which granted women a constitutional right to an abortion.
Pakistan as a political paragon?
Just how rights in the U.S. can be affected by the composition of the court was reflected when Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, pronounced that the 1973 Roe ruling and repeated subsequent high court decisions reaffirming it “must be overruled.” According to Alito, they were “egregiously wrong,” the arguments “exceptionally weak” and so “damaging” that they amounted to “an abuse of judicial authority.” Indeed, underscoring just how silly Almog’s claims are, all the justices who supported overturning Roe v. Wade were Republican appointees, while those opposing it were Democratic appointees.
So perhaps Almog would be well advised to go “back to the drawing board.”
As for how the political structure of the U.S. allegedly preserves civil liberties despite political appointments of the judiciary, Almog might be surprised to learn that Pakistan, just like the U.S., also has a president elected separately from parliament, a bicameral legislature, a federal system of government and a constitution that purports to ensure civil rights. Yet Pakistan is only in the 102nd place in the 2023 Democratic Index Rankings (out of a total of 164 counties). Significantly—and inconveniently for Almog—the US ranks 26th, below Israel in the 23rd place. (This finding is not a quirk of this particular ranking system. Indeed, very similar results emerged from an alternative 2023 assessment, with Israel surpassing the U.S. democracy score and Pakistan—despite its president, bicameral legislature, federal system, and constitution—ranking far lower than both.)
A constitution can only reflect societal values—not create them
This raises another point that seems to have escaped Almog. The existence of a constitution is no guarantee of individual rights or civil liberties. A short meander through Google would have informed her that countries such as the USSR (and later, the Russian Federation), North Korea and Upper Volta (later Burkina Faso) all boast constitutions that include(d) an array of human rights. Yet one can hardly suppress the suspicion that Almog is unlikely to brandish any of these states as a model democracy for Israel to emulate. Indeed, it should be clear to any serious student of political science that an authentically substantive constitution cannot create societal values. To the contrary, it can only reflect them. For if it does not, it will remain nothing more than a worthless piece of paper, bearing meaningless words and empty promises.
Just how irrelevant the text of a constitution can be when it does not rest on values a society embodies is vividly portrayed by the 1991 Rwandan Constitution, formulated just three years prior to the brutal genocide that ripped through that luckless country. It read: “The National Council for Development, meeting as Constituent Assembly … faithful to democratic principles and concerned about ensuring the protection of human rights and promoting respect for fundamental freedoms, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights … does establish and adopt this Constitution for the Republic of Rwanda.”
Of course, the terrible carnage that followed soon after the instatement of the constitution served to underscore the distance that can separate noble words and benign intentions from the gory realities in several “constitutional democracies.”
Ignorance vs. deceit
While some of Almog’s grave misrepresentations may be ascribed to her ignorance, others are nothing but bare-faced lies, clearly aimed at exploiting the lack of knowledge of much of her foreign audience.
For example, in an unabashed attempt to besmirch the current coalition, she falsely claimed that “Netanyahu fired Minister of Defense Gallant for doing his job and warning that the judicial coup would significantly hurt Israel’s ability to defend itself.” That, of course, is entirely fallacious. Netanyahu decided to fire Gallant not because of what he said but when he said it—while Netanyahu was abroad, despite an earlier agreement to wait for his return—see here and here. Indeed, it was the fact that Gallant took advantage of Netanyahu’s absence to speak out against government policy—together with his less than resolute response to the threat of desertion by IDF reservists—that undermined faith in him and prompted the initial decision to dismiss him.
Another blatant lie that Almog chose to propagate was her version of the decision to set up a National Guard. According to her “the Israeli government just approved the creation of armed militias under the command of Itamar Ben-Gvir [the new Minister of National Security].”
Facts vs. falsehoods
In reality, it was the previous government that approved the establishment of such an entity—in the wake of grave shortcomings in law-and-order enforcement during the May 2021 rioting by Israeli Arabs across the country. Indeed, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and former Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev (who failed to be reelected as an MK for his drastically reduced Labor Party) initiated the formation of a national guard as a new law enforcement body—see here, here, here, here, and here.
Ignoring the widely accepted assessment of inadequate police performance in the May 2021 riots and its dire need for additional resources to meet similar challenges in the future, Almog brusquely rejects any such change. Haughtily, she declares: “This has nothing to do with protecting us. The IDF, the police, Shin Bet, the Mossad, have all had us covered for 75 years.” This leaves us to wonder just how she envisages employing the IDF, with its armored corps, heavy artillery and supersonic fighter jets to quell civil unrest by Israeli Arabs, and what role she sees the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence service, having in regaining and retaining law and order.
Ominously she warns: “These are Revolutionary Guards, and their sole purpose is to intimidate us.” Clearly, Almog has no clue what she is on about.
After all, the envisaged Guard is planned to be composed largely of reservists and volunteers to be deployed against large outbursts of civil unrest (as in May 2022) and to reign in the rampant agricultural crime and protection rackets that the police seem incapable of confronting and curtailing. This is, of course, a far cry from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to which she surreptitiously alludes—with its own regular army, air force, navy, clandestine units operating at home and abroad and tentacles pervading all sectors of society.
Indeed an unprecedented and unimaginable danger
Of course, I could go on and on refuting every malicious claim, rebutting every mendacious accusation and rectifying every misleading distortion that riddles Almog’s shrill rant—but we have to draw the line somewhere…
However, on one issue I find I am compelled to agree with Almog.
Israel and its democracy are indeed facing an unprecedented and unimaginable threat.
However, it comes not from the judicial reform and the current coalition, but precisely from those of the same political ilk as Almog, who refuse to accept the results of democratic elections and the consequences of those elections. It comes from people like Almog who challenge the legitimacy of a duly elected government and its right to implement policy. It originates from those who, like Almog, rather than resign themselves to the loss of power, chose to denounce, degrade and disparage their own country, and paint it in the most deplorable and derogatory hues.
Indeed, one can almost hear Israel’s most vehement enemies joyfully rubbing their hands with glee as she and her quasi-patriotic co-ideologues make their case for them, presenting the Jewish state as a racist, retrograde country, unworthy of support, defense or allegiance.
That is the real source of the terrible threat to Israel as the homeland of Jewish people: A threat, until recently, both unprecedented and unimaginable.
Dr. 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
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