Is Benjamin Netanyahu weakening Israeli democracy?



He contributed to democratic fatigue

Beligh Nabli

Research Director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris)

The Israeli governmental instability has first of all structural causes. Governments fall because coalitions do not hold, and this is primarily due to the voting system (list proportional) of the members of the Knesset. It is very difficult, even for a party that is hegemonic, to have the majority of seats. The Likud, which came first in the election on Tuesday, March 23, is forced to forge alliances with other parties, and sometimes even, as in the previous government, with its main opponent.

The other problem with Israeli democracy is the fragmentation of the party system. Israel lived until the 1970s and 1980s with a bipolar and bipartisan system – Likud versus Labor – but it was shattered. Likud continues to embody a right-wing nationalism with a liberal tendency, but the Labor Party has collapsed and no longer embodies the opposition to it. The voices are now scattered towards a multitude of opposition parties from the right, the far right and the left.

Netanyahu is partly to blame because he polarizes and therefore weakens the political system. If he himself is weakened by a lawsuit for corruption – like the one that opened against him and will resume as of April 5 – then the whole system is weakened, because he is in a way the leader of it. orchestra.

By his omnipresence for twenty years, Benjamin Netanyahu has changed Israeli political life. It was he who introduced the methods of communication and even aggressive marketing, learned in his youth in the United States. Even if he is far from being the only Israeli politician to be worried about the justice system, he also embodies a form of “judicialization” and ethical drift in a Hebrew state which was nevertheless built with a very high moral ambition. .

All these elements – the multiplication of the polls, the fragmentation of parties, and the presence of candidates accused of corruption – contribute to Israeli democratic fatigue. In a way, the Hebrew state has played the role of laboratory for illiberal democracies: it is an exceptional case of a democratic state in which free elections are held, but which is also in a colonial situation in the Palestinian Territories. The outgoing Prime Minister has accentuated this dimension by his speeches questioning the Arab minority, by his attacks on press pluralism, and his very friendly relations with the leaders of Hungary, Poland or with Donald Trump, are another illustration of this. The hysterization of political life, aggressiveness in speech are all signs of a sick democracy. It should be understood that after these elections, Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing at the same time the formation of his government and his trial. “For corruption”.

Collected by Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner

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What he does is not prohibited by law, just against the norms

Denis charbit

Professor in the Department of Sociology and Political Science of the Open University of Israel

The crumbling of the political landscape in Israel is a reality that goes beyond Benjamin Netanyahu. If he had come out on top, Yaïr Lapid would also have been forced to make alliances. This time, Netanyahu even framed things in advance. Usually, small parties wait for the election results to reach the highest bidder. During the election campaign, “Bibi” (the nickname of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Editor’s note) forced his allies to sign an agreement under which they will not nominate another prime minister than him. It’s a little “mafia” way of doing politics, typical of the character. What he does is not prohibited by law, just against the norms. Those who vote for him are also aware of this. Recently, I spoke with one of his constituents who told me: “Of course Netanyahu is a liar and a thief. But he does the job. “

At 71, he held 71 meetings during the campaign and said he had called the Pfizer laboratory several times, including at 3 a.m., for the Israelis to have their vaccines. Result: restaurants, theaters and stadiums reopened ten days before the elections. To be strong, you have to know how to violate the norms: the Israelis know this and, in a way, are grateful to Netanyahu for acknowledging it.

If he manages to constitute a majority, the risk is that he will transform Israeli democracy into an illiberal democracy, on the model of Hungary or Brazil. Israeli democracy has a structural weakness, it is its lack of a constitution. Everything is based on laws that a simple relative majority in the Knesset can change. Until now, Benjamin Netanyahu has never had a sufficient majority to attack the High Court of Justice, his real pet peeve and that of his far-right or religious allies. In particular, he would like the Knesset to appoint the judges.

In each of its coalitions there was always a party to its left for which respect for the prerogatives of the Supreme Court was a sine qua non. This is one of the merits of the Bleu-Blanc party in the last government. The risk today would be to have a government without any party serving as a safeguard, or that one party would impose a reform of the justice system on it.

Accused of corruption, Netanyahu also dreams of passing a law preventing, as in France, the prosecution of a sitting minister. But it would not be retroactive. In this case, his trial has opened and is expected to continue three days a week. Maybe I am naive but, in case “Bibi” tries to escape justice, I think we will find a few deputies, including in his camp, to say: vsa, no. “

Collected by Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner

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