President Biden wields the term “democracy” as a euphemism for the left’s will to power. When you consider that Biden has sought to stigmatize and humiliate Prime Minister Netanyahu over his desire to limit the self-delegated power of Israel’s Supreme Court, this all makes perfect sense:
In his New York Times opinion piece titled “The U.S. Reassessment of Netanyahu’s Government Has Begun,” Thomas Friedman wrote that he likes to say of his job that he is “a translator from English to English”: He takes complex things and renders them understandable. Israel, he explained, is turning its back on the shared values which have underpinned the friendship between the American superpower and the Jewish state. As Friedman explains it, the judicial reform proposed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition poses a grave threat to democracy because it would “change the long-established balance of power between the government and the Supreme Court, the only independent check on political power.”
It turns out that translating from English to English may not be the most useful skill when you need to understand something that is happening in Hebrew. Friedman is right that Israel’s democracy is in danger, but Netanyahu’s government is not the source of peril. The real danger comes from the court itself, which is now asserting a made-up “right” to remove a sitting prime minister—that is, to nullify the results of a legal election and eclipse Israel’s democratic politics and institutions through its own self-perpetuating fiat. The protest movement that arose to defend the court’s power (and its backers among the country’s economic and military elite) are together attempting to block the redemocratization of Israeli politics, as the reforms intended to do.
This is not some innovative hypothesis. If you read Hebrew, you can hear some protesters and their backers in the country’s establishments announcing their intentions more or less explicitly: Democracy is the very thing they are out to prevent. The movement’s ideologues are longtime staunch opponents of the democratic form of government who have devoted whole academic careers to opposing it; their political leaders in parliament and outside it use the term “democracy” in a deliberately deceptive way, as they sometimes admit; and their street-level ringleaders more or less openly confess disdain for the mass of enfranchised citizens. Most poignantly, when it comes to the rebelling IDF reservists—virtually all of them from elite unites, mostly in the air force—they don’t even bother with lip service to the idea of majoritarian decision-making. Rather, they express open contempt for the majority of Israel’s citizens, peppered with thinly veiled references to ethnicity, religiosity, and class.
Gadi Taub’s Tablet column is headlined “Israel’s elites are revolting against democracy” — or, as I would put it to universalize the proposition, the elites are revolting.