The speech that incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave in the Knesset made the magnitude of the threat clear. “Losing an election isn’t the end of democracy, it’s the essence of democracy,” he preached to opposition members. “A democratic system of government is tested first and foremost by the losing side’s willingness to accept the majority’s decision. In a proper democracy, people respect the rules of the game.” Netanyahu thereby knowingly distorted the definition of democracy and reduced it to its thinnest shell – a system of elections and majority rule. He threw substantive democracy, with its liberal values, first and foremost protections for minority rights, into the trash can.
To implement his warped view of democracy, Netanyahu is planning to destroy the very rules of the game that he’s telling others to abide by. To achieve this supreme goal, he appointed his subcontractor for demolition, Yariv Levin, as justice minister. His job will be to destroy the rule of law and its institutions, and with them, the entire system. Doing so will entail passing a law to let the Knesset override Supreme Court rulings, splitting the attorney general’s job into two and making ministry legal advisers political appointees who serve at the minister’s pleasure.
Destroying the legal system will be the first step on the way to realizing the rest of the anti-democratic vision, which also includes de facto annexation of the West Bank. This will be done in part by appointing a high commissioner of the occupation, Bezalel Smotrich, who announced that his goal is “regularizing and strengthening our hold on our homeland.” In tandem, Itamar Ben-Gvir will set the area on fire by turning the Border Police into a private ultranationalist militia. Other members of the most religious government in Israel’s history will destroy what remains of the pillars of liberalism and our freedoms. Arabs, women, leftist organizations and even the media will be among the government’s targets.
Contrary to what Netanyahu told the Knesset, democracy isn’t just majority rule. Fighting a government like this one, which is emptying democracy of all its values, isn’t sedition, as he charged; it’s a duty incumbent on both the opposition and civil society. This is their great time of trial.