The coalition has won this battle. Now, it must realize that half the country feels as if it lost. The government needs to mollify those feelings.
Now that the Knesset passed the contentious law to curb the courts’ ability to strike down government and ministerial actions as unreasonable, three things are needed to enable this country to return to normalcy.
The coalition needs to show magnanimity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to demonstrate leadership, and the Opposition and protest movement leaders must exhibit responsibility.
In this case, each of these three actors will need to rise above themselves because, during the judicial overhaul saga, none of them have exhibited those traits up until now—one of the reasons that the country is currently in the state that it is.
First, to the magnanimity.
The coalition won this round. The Opposition and the protest movement rolled out all the big guns to prevent the coalition from passing this part of the judicial reform plan—the minor part of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s original four-point plan—but failed to stop it.
Reserve pilots by the hundreds said they would refuse to fly, reserve soldiers by the thousands said they would refuse to serve, doctors went on strike, and some threatened to leave the country, malls closed, leading businesses threatened work stoppages, and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in angry, noisy protests.
But it didn’t stop the legislation from going through. The coalition did not blink; the warnings of a coming apocalypse did not make an impression.
In the sea of words spoken Monday by politicians, protestors, and pundits, seven, in particular, stand out, and Finance Minister Bezalele Smotrich said them at about noon when there were last-minute negotiations in the Knesset over a possible compromise solution.
“What will be?” a Channel 12 reporter shouted at Smotrich.
“We will vote against refusal to serve,” he replied.
It was as if the coalition and Opposition were voting on different issues.
The Opposition was voting on whether the courts could continue to render actions by the government and ministers as unreasonable, while the coalition—to a large extent—was voting on whether the government or a few thousand reservists in critical positions would determine the country’s policy.
Smotrich’s response could not have been clearer: “We will vote against the refusal to serve.”
In other words, the protest—at least the leverage the movement’s leaders hoped to apply through threats by reservists not to serve—had a boomerang effect. The Opposition hoped that this would force the coalition to change course, but it made the coalition more determined to pass the resolution to prove that it—not the reservists or the leaders of the protests—has the authority to determine this country’s policy.
What should the government do now that it has won?
Now that it has succeeded, now that the coalition won this battle, and now that it has shown that it will not be threatened into backing off from a key decision, it is time for it to show magnanimity in victory. It won, but now it must realize that half the country feels as if it lost.
And since it is one country, the government needs to mollify those feelings.
The problem is this government has not demonstrated a great aptitude for magnanimity in victory in the past. Had this been the case, Levin would not—just a week after the government was sworn into office—have introduced sweeping judicial reform, changing this country’s balance of power.
Had magnanimity been in this government’s toolbox, it would not have pressed forward with a plan that half the country objected to simply because it could; because it had the Knesset numbers to do so.
Magnanimity in victory in the current scenario means the government saying the following: we passed this legislation but will now declare a moratorium on any further judicial reform without first coming to a consensual agreement.
This act of magnanimity would not only help significantly lower tensions and enable the country to return to normalcy, but it would also fulfill what Netanyahu conveyed to US President Joe Biden in their recent conversation: that the reasonableness clause would pass the Knesset but that any future judicial reform would be achieved through consensus.
The second thing that needs to be done is for Netanyahu to take control of his party and coalition.
According to numerous reports, the prime minister was interested in softening the reasonableness standard clause and would have liked to see a last-minute compromise. He was stymied, however, by Levin and Otzma Yehudit party head Itamar Ben-Gvir, who were adamantly opposed, with Ben-Gvir reportedly threatening to leave the government if the bill was watered down.
Netanyahu told worried international interlocutors before the government was sworn at the end of December that they had nothing to worry about, that this was his government, that Ben-Gvir came to work for him, not the other way around, and that he would have two hands on the steering wheel.
Monday’s vote in the Knesset shows the degree to which that is not true, that he is not in control of his party or coalition.
Ben Gvir told reporters after the vote, “With God’s help, this is only the beginning.”
Yet Likud MK Elui Dallal tweeted, “From this moment on, dialogue and reaching a wide consensus.”
So what will it be? Is this only the beginning of a broader judicial overhaul, or will any more judicial reform only be passed after dialogue and with a wide consensus?
This is where Netanyahu needs to demonstrate leadership. This is where he needs to take the wheel firmly with two hands and decide what it will be. This is where he will need to navigate.
On Monday, Netanyahu appeared in the Knesset as a weak premier being led against his desire to compromise by the Levin-Ben-Gvir camp in his coalition. To prevent the chasm in the country from widening, he now must lead and not, as it appeared on Monday, be led.
And the opposition and protest movement must now show responsibility.
First of all, the Opposition needs to enter into negotiations with the government over any further legislation. Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid miscalculated when they walked out of the talks at the president’s residence a month ago, believing that this—plus the massive demonstrations and the pilots and reservists protests—would force the government to back down.
They now need to reassess their tactics because that did not work. They tried to bend the coalition to their will over the reasonableness clause, but the government withstood the pressure.
They now need to demonstrate national responsibility and stand up to the hard-core “Kaplan Force” leaders of the protest movement who will not entertain any compromise over the judicial reform and be willing to negotiate with the government over any further action.
The leaders of the protest movement, some of whom seemed to have become intoxicated with the demonstrations and the power it affords them, put out a statement as negotiations to find a compromise were ongoing Monday, saying that they would not agree to any compromise, only a complete burying of the judicial reform.
The judicial reform train has now left the station, and the protest leaders need to decide whether they ineffectually want to continue running after it—exhausting themselves and the nation in the process—or try a different approach to move the train in a different direction.
At this point, does calling on reservists to tell their officers they will not be showing up for duty accomplish anything?
Lapid, in a statement he gave after the vote, demonstrated responsibility by calling on the reservists and pilots to wait before deciding whether to go through with their threats not to serve until after the Supreme Court renders a decision on the matter.
But then he made another comment that is a recipe for continued national paralysis. “The future,” he said, “belongs to those who don’t give in.”
Sometimes, perhaps. At other times, however, all sides must give in a bit. This is one of those times.
One of the mantras of the protest leaders, one of their talking points against compromise, is that “you don’t compromise on democracy.” What they need to realize, however, is that compromise is actually what makes democracies function.
By Herb Keinon/JPost.com