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Ex-justice minister says Israel faces worse threat to democracy than US

Citing the recent storming of the US capitol by right-wing activists, former Israeli justice minister Avi Nissenkorn on Friday said the events proved that democracy is “fragile,” and warned that Israel’s democracy was in an even more precarious condition than the US.

“The protesters’ attempt to take over the Capitol shows the extent to which democracy is a fragile thing,” Nissenkorn, who resigned in late December after quitting Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, told Channel 12 News.

“What we thought up until a few years ago — that it was set in stone — that’s not how things are. In Israel the democracy is much younger and much more fragile than in the US.”

Asked if he believed Israel could see similar scenes to the chaotic ones that unfolded in Washington on Wednesday, Nissenkorn said his concerns were over far more fundamental, “pervasive changes” to the democratic system in the country.

“We could see worse things [here]. We could see a situation where the entire democratic system is undermined,” he said. “That’s much worse [than riots]. You can’t fix deep-seated changes for years.”

Critics have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of eroding democratic institutions through repeated attacks on the legitimacy of the courts, the prosecution and the police as he has faced investigations and now a trial over corruption allegations.

Nissenkorn said he’d experienced efforts to undermine democracy during his time in office, citing “an effort to change how the safekeepers of the democratic system are chosen, pressures on the attorney general, pressures on the Supreme Court, efforts to form an investigative committee against judges, calls to legislate the French Law [to protect the prime minister from prosecution]… We are in a situation where the entire system is being tested.”

He asserted that if he hadn’t been there to counter such efforts, “we’d be under a different type of regime now.”

Nissenkorn said Netanyahu “is corrupting the political system, without a doubt.” He said trust in the justice system had been damaged because “When you incite over a period of years, unfortunately it takes hold.

“It’s not normal that in Israel the prosecutor in the Netanyahu cases has bodyguards, that Mandelblit has bodyguards.”

Departing from Blue and White, Nissenkorn has joined with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party, The Israelis, and will run for the Knesset on that platform in the next election.

He heavily criticized Gantz as he resigned, accusing him of managing talks behind his back with Netanyahu that would have severely harmed the rule of law and voided the justice minister’s powers. In a Facebook post, Nissenkorn laid into Gantz’s conduct as the latter attempted to salvage the coalition with Netanyahu in recent weeks — an effort that ultimately failed, with the government collapsing and new elections being called for March.

The potential agreements between the parties “were no less than insane,” Nissenkorn said.

“It would have politicized the selection process of the state attorney and attorney general and allowed Netanyahu’s emissaries a veto in appointing Supreme Court justices, a loophole that would have superceded the powers of the justice minister.”

“The very negotiation over the safeguards [of democracy] undermines basic democratic principles, as well the values for which we were elected to serve the people of Israel,” he said.

Gantz, meanwhile, has accused his erstwhile ally of stabbing him in the back.

“It was I who brought him in, got him to join, consulted with him, worked with him as a partner, got his opinion 99 percent of the time, and eventually he found himself some other platform with which he thinks he will go further. I doubt it,” Gantz said.

Blue and White, which has 14 MKs in the outgoing coalition, has seen an exodus of lawmakers since the Knesset dissolved last week over the failure to pass a new budget, with the party flailing in the polls, projected to win 4-5 seats, and Gantz facing questions over his leadership.

Netanyahu and Gantz reached a coalition agreement last year that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November of 2021, but a loophole in the deal saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Israel is consequently now gearing up for its fourth election in two years after the Knesset dissolved.

Despite reported calls from within his party to step down, Gantz announced that he will continue to lead the ailing Blue and White, claiming the party “saved the country” and set the course for the end of Netanyahu’s rule.

Header: Thousands of demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )

Source: TOI