Note from the Editor: The Open Letter to Congress (also published in the Times of Israel by (ret.) Ambassador Tova Herzl) can be found at the end of the article.
I joined some 30 veterans of the Israeli Foreign Service who wrote last week to members of the United States Congress regarding the duplicity of PM Netanyahu and his so-called judicial reform. In this, we joined ranks with many groups of protesters.
Since our letter was published in the Times of Israel, we have been asked why we addressed a foreign legislature over the head of our own government.
Wasn’t this an unusual step, contesting the very mission that defined us as Israeli diplomats?
The primary and correct answer is that this was indeed irregular but that the situation in Israel is also highly irregular. In fact, Netanyahu constantly does precisely that, so why can’t we?
The difference is that we do not use half-truths and lies as he does. He is bypassing the Israeli media, speaking only to the American media, which is not always knowledgeable of facts and implications.
Thus, he claims that the obliteration of the Reasonableness Doctrine is a negligible modification. But without a constitution, this doctrine is almost the only remedy the court has to block unreasonable governmental actions.
There are some 150 similar laws in the pipeline, so we, the signatories of this veteran diplomats’ letter, aspire to set the record straight and inform our friends abroad about the nature of these changes.
Given the shared values of our Special Relations with America, we felt it was essential to re-place truth and accuracy where they belong – even in politics.
In the above video, President Biden delivered remarks upon arriving in Israel a year ago (July 13, 2022) and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting Israel through continued defense agreements and deepening cooperation on science and innovation.
Our initiative attempts to foster the political, economic, spiritual, and human sustainability of this amazing, miraculous enterprise called Israel.
According to the Brundtland Report, “Our Common Future,” sustainability consists of fulfilling the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations while ensuring a balance between economic growth, environmental care, and social well-being. One could add to this lean definition the stability of a country’s political systems that, with the benefit of future generations in mind, should be changed only through gradual and consensual processes.
This was not the case in Israel, where until the last elections (in November 2022), our main challenges had to do with “trivial” matters such as the nuclearization of Iran, terrorism, the economy, or the cost of living. References to the judicial system were rare and muted, and the Israeli public was surprised by an onslaught of legislative proposals directly after the formation of the new coalition.
So we wrote this letter. It is important that our friends in Congress, Israel’s staunchest base of support, know that while Israel’s PM lacks integrity, Israel as a whole keeps true to her values.
When asked what happened to the beautiful Israel that everyone knew and loved, Netanyahu looked straight into the camera and answered without blinking that his legal reform was nothing but a minor cosmetic amendment, after which Israel would be even better looking and with a robust economy.
Well, No. Not if one asks “the few”; the celebrated fighter pilots, the reserve soldiers, almost every former leader of the defense establishment, or the innovators and scientists who created the Start-Up Nation.
Attempts to control all aspects of life are not unusual in dictatorships, including in nascent ones. Indeed, Netanyahu’s statements are reminiscent of some old Soviet jokes, according to which when a party official gives a speech about the excellent state of the Soviet Union in every realm, Ivan gets up and asks: If it’s so good, then why is it so bad? This is what half a million Israelis who take to the streets every weekend ask.
The public understands now that Netanyahu cannot be trusted when he promises that his reform will be frozen after the subsequent correction. After passing the reasonableness doctrine, he mumbled that this would be the last move before the reform was frozen.
However, now he speaks of the needed change in the Judges’ Selecting Committee. Who, pray, is on trial for corruption and related charges and is therefore dependent on judges? Winnie the Pooh?
Once again, we are reassured that this will be the very last “correction” to be followed by freezing the legal reform. However, as they say in the US, cheat me once — shame on you; cheat me twice — shame on me…
Currently, our country could be in danger if our enemies interpret our social and political debate as an opportunity to attack Israel when her illustrious pilots refrain from volunteering to serve in an emerging dictatorship and her start-up corporations dock in foreign ports.
No less dangerous is the potential waning of U.S. political and strategic support as well as other international consequences.
We, diplomats, officers, scientists, and intellectuals, have sworn to do everything possible to ensure the sustainability of our country.
That is why it is important for us to make it clear to our friends in the US Congress and elsewhere that we are here and that we will also pass Netanyahu (as a popular Israeli song says: “We survived Pharaoh / We will get through this too”). Israel will flourish, and Zion shall be redeemed in judgment, as the Prophet Isaiah said. So do not give up on Israel, as we shall overcome!
OPEN LETTER TO US CONGRESS:
Honorable Senators and Members of the US House of Representatives,
We, the undersigned former Israeli ambassadors and senior career diplomats, are writing to you with heavy hearts to share our views on the judicial overhaul that our government is attempting to pass. Unfortunately, the prime minister seldom speaks directly to the Israeli public and prefers an intensive media blitz directed at the American public, primarily at American lawmakers. Therefore, we feel obliged to write and set the record straight regarding the situation and the prime minister’s credibility.
Many of the undersigned served in Israel’s missions in the United States and are personally aware that the special relationship between our countries is based on shared values. We are cognizant of the role that Congress has played and continues to play in maintaining and promoting this relationship, and we sincerely appreciate the support we have received from you in times of need, be it military, economic, diplomatic, or other. It is against this background that we write today.
After the elections in November 2022, Benjamin Netanyahu formed a coalition from 64 of 120 Knesset members. While the coalition won by 0.6% of the popular vote, it is unquestionably a lawfully elected government, expected both to promote its component parties’ agendas and to serve the entire populace.
However, since its inauguration in December, the government’s primary focus has been on enacting speedy legislation designed to control the judiciary and other gatekeepers, thus undermining the separation of powers, effectively overturning our political system, and threatening our democracy. This goal was hardly mentioned before the elections, and the Israeli public was largely unaware of it.
Israeli democracy took a blow last week when the Knesset voted on the Reasonableness Doctrine. This is despite promises made by the prime minister, including to President Biden and international credit agencies, that legislation of this sort would only pass with broad support. The vote took place in the face of dire warnings about the consequences of its passage from many who urged delay or attempted to broker a compromise. Please note that this is the first of more than 100 proposed laws. Some have already begun their passage toward approval. Were they all to pass, there would be severe restrictions on personal freedoms, the media, equality, and other such outcomes.
Unlike the United States, where separate ballots are cast for president, Senate, and House, Israel has a unicameral parliamentary system. We cast a single vote for lists, making up the government, or forming the opposition. Hence, while we formally have three powers, the executive branch and the parliamentary majority are virtually identical. Unlike you, we have no constitution, no federal system, and no term limits. As a result, the sole check on government and other official powers lies within the judicial system.
Imagine that a law in your country, even an Article of the Constitution, could be changed by a simple majority in one sitting, and you will understand why we are apprehensive about implications to our shared democratic values. We worry too about the practical outcomes, from discouraging investors, through facilitating unsuitable appointments and corruption, to holding legislation and judgment hostage to extremists. This could destroy any chance for peace and pose a real threat to all that was built here against all odds during these past 75 years.
We do not object to finessing the system — none is perfect. However, the prime minister reassures the international media that the recent vote was trivial, that it would strengthen Israeli democracy, and that it reflects the popular will. Formerly a staunch defender of an independent judiciary, he fails to acknowledge that he is an interested party, given his current trial for corruption and related charges. Throughout this time, he has not given any interviews to the mainstream Israeli media, which would undoubtedly call out his comments for what they are.
His misleading statements belittle the concerns of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets since the introduction of what is being promoted as “reform,” but is really a thorough regime change. His positions ignore thousands of volunteer military reservists who have announced that they will refrain from serving in a dictatorship. They ignore warning signs surrounding hi-tech, Israel’s engine of growth, and so on. It is inconceivable but true: our government is placing the coalition’s survival ahead of the people’s security and well-being.
We urge you to look again at the prime minister’s words. We also urge you to look at what our public opinion polls are increasingly saying about ongoing attempts to abruptly and unilaterally force this extreme challenge to Israel’s democratic DNA. Please hear almost all past leaders of Israel’s defense establishment and former senior judges, former and current economists and business people, academics, doctors, lawyers, political scientists, historians, and many others, including us, who have devoted our lives to the service of our beloved country.
Thank you for your attention,
Dan Ashbel, Arie Avidor, Opher Aviran, Arthur Avnon, Gadi Baltianski, Eli Ben Tura, Barukh Binah, Ehud Moshe Eitam, Rafael Eldad, Erella Hadar, Eran Etzion, Raphael Gamzou, Avi Gil, Dori Goren, Tova Herzl, Jeremy Issacharoff, Arthur Koll, Alon Liel, Shmuel Meirom, Simon Roded, Mario Joel Salpak, Tamar Samash, Daniel Shek, Itzhak Shelef, Aviv Shir-On, Mark Sofer, Nadav Tamir, Shemi Tzur, David Walzer.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Joe Biden in earlier times when the latter was Vice President (March 2016). Source: Wikipedia Commons.