Orwellian dystopia descends on the Jewish state
If the so-called “champions of democracy” succeed in obstructing the judicial reforms, democratic rule will be replaced by mob rule, and Israel will teeter on the brink of an Orwellian dystopia.
“The starkest indicators [of erosion of democracy], which presumably underlie the country’s downgrading in international democracy ratings, involve elite decisions about rejecting election results.”– James Druckman, professor of political science, Northwestern University, “Misperceptions, Competition, and Support for Democracy”.
If the copiously funded mob succeeds in compelling the Israeli government to back away from its much-needed policy of reigning in the rampant legal establishment in general and the unbridled judiciary in particular, it will be the end of an era in Israel.
For if they succeed, democratic rule will have been replaced by mob rule. A highly motivated and abundantly financed minority will impose its will on the elected majority and compel it to abandon a policy which it pledged to implement in the elections. In this regard, the accumulating signs of the government buckling under the relentless pressure of increasingly raucous and unruly street demonstrations are profoundly perturbing.
There are at least two remarkable aspects of the ongoing protests. One is just how manifestly ludicrous their professed motivation is; the other is how astonishingly effective their well-oiled, well-executed, and well-funded promotional campaign has been in hoodwinking well-off, well-educated echelons in Israeli society.
As for the alleged motivation – defence of democracy from descent into dictatorship – the demonstrators have yet to present a persuasive causal chain linking the proposed changes in the judicial system to the demise of democracy in Israel. Indeed, it’s highly unlikely that they – or anyone else – could.
After all, it’s plainly absurd to claim that a system in which a dozen or so unelected and unaccountable officials have the ultimate authority on matters of vital importance is more democratic than one in which that authority is vested in the hands of 61 (or more) elected parliamentarians, regularly answerable to the public.
Descent into dystopia?
So, are the opponents of judicial reform claiming that, if it is implemented, Israel will metamorphise into a “dictatorial democracy”, or is that a “democratic dictatorship”? Indeed, the allegation is no less oxymoronic than “tolerant tyranny” or “treacherously trustworthy”.
Disturbingly, the opposition’s calculated abuse of language is strongly reminiscent of the abuse of language chillingly depicted in Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. In it, Big Brother, the totalitarian regime, imposed the use of a contrived language, NewSpeak, “designed to diminish the range of thought”. Typical of the elements employed in NewSpeak is the juxtaposition of diametric opposites as in the official motto of the totalitarian regime: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”
In a perturbingly similar vein, the promoters of the anti-reform protests are in effect asserting that “democracy is dictatorship”, when decisions are shifted to accountable, democratically elected forums from unaccountable, unelected ones.
Thus, although the opponents of judicial reform are in the opposition, their modus operandi is to impose a dystopian aura on the dispute over those reforms, in which truth is cast to the wind, precluding any chance of sincere dialogue to reduce acrimony and reach consensual resolution.
Brazen, blatant hypocrisy
Of course, the claim that the implementation of the proposed judicial reforms will imperil Israeli democracy is clearly the pinnacle of hypocrisy. After all, those who today vociferously oppose the reforms, previously endorsed precisely the same measures.
Arguably, the most brazen, blatant display of barefaced double standards behind the anti-reform demonstrators is that of Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition. On 27 February 2023, during a plenary debate on judicial reform, Lapid railed: “Stop this insane legislation.”
However, in a 2016 address to Kohelet Policy Forum, the organisation that played a pivotal role in the formulation of the proposed judicial reforms, Lapid laid out his views on the legal system, which almost mirrored those reforms put forward by today’s coalition.
“I have opposed, and I still oppose, judicial activism of the sort introduced by [former Supreme Court President] Justice Aharon Barak. I don’t think it’s right that everything is justiciable. I don’t think it’s right for the Supreme Court to change fundamental things in accordance with what it refers to as the judgment of ‘the reasonable person’. That’s an amorphous and completely subjective definition that the Knesset never introduced to the legal code. It’s not right in my mind that the separation of powers, the sacrosanct foundation of the democratic method, should be breached by one branch of government placing itself above the others.”
No accommodation possible
From the foregoing analysis, one thing should be depressingly clear: there can be no consensual resolution to the ongoing clash because the clash itself isn’t just contrived, but in fact is the objective of the demonstrators rather than a means to achieve an end.
Paradoxically, there can be no consensual resolution to the dispute because there’s no real substantive difference on the issues in dispute, as evidenced by prior support for the reforms by those who now oppose it.
This absence of real substantive difference is underscored by the fact that, although opponents of the reforms almost uniformly concede that the judicial system does need some form of overhaul, they assiduously refrain from stipulating what measures they have in mind, thus averting any chance of comparing what the differences are between their proposals and that of the current coalition.
Democratic rule replaced by mob rule
It should thus be clear that the ongoing dispute, allegedly about a substantive difference of opinion, is nothing but a façade, a stage prop in a visceral fight for control of the reins of power in which there’s no place for any rational debate. Nothing will be acceptable other than abject surrender.
This is why the government must not, and cannot, back away from the reform proposal. If it does, there will be no point to any elections in future. Indeed, every time the elected government decides on something to which the opposition disapproves, they will take to the street until it yields to the opposition’s demands, and democratic rule will have been replaced by mob rule.
- Dr Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He’s the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.