INTO THE FRAY: Democracy devoid of the demos?

For your perusal, my latest INTO THE FRAY column

Democracy devoid of the demos?  

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Former Justice Minister, ‘Tommy’ Lapid: “…the legal system in Israel is being undermined by an over-zealous State Prosecutor’s Office, that is losing esteem and credibility with each additional trial…”

It appears this week on the following sites (in alphabetical order):


Several short excerpts: 

They who sow the wind will reap the stormHosea 8:7. 

[There is a] dangerous symbiosis between elements in the police Major Crimes Unit, the State Prosecutor’s Office and the media.—citation from Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s Press Conference- Oct. 29, 2019.

This week was a tumultuous one for Israel’s legal establishment—and rightly so.

Perversion of the democratic process

For almost a decade, I have underscored repeatedly that certain sectors of Israeli civil society have, time and again, (mis)used their unelected positions of influence and authority, to dominate the political discourse—and…to determine political outcomes. More often than not, these were outcomes that not only did not conform to voter preferences as reflected in the election results—but starkly contradicted them!

“A dangerous symbiosis”

At a press conference on Tuesday (Oct. 29, 2019), [Justice Minister] Ohana severely condemned the “dangerous symbiosis between elements in the police Major Crimes Unit, the State Prosecutor’s Office and the media

Israel’s Major Crime Unit Headquarters

Significantly, he began his address with a quotation (see below for the somewhat surprising source): “I know the State Prosecutor Office well. There are many diligent prosecutors who serve in it and who carry out their duties faithfully, day after day in court, at times against dangerous criminals and organized crime gangs. But there is also a different kind of Prosecutor’s Office—a Prosecutor’s Office within the Prosecutor’s Office”…

“If that is not extortion, I do not know what is…”

Still adhering to the quotation, Ohana continued: “Any expression of doubt, any word of criticism is immediately rejected. A pack of complicit journalists and biased pundits always rush to the defense of the Prosecutors Office and portrays the expressions of doubt as heretical opposition to the rule of law.”

The quotation ended in a dour tone: “When necessary, in order to get rid of a Minister of Justice, of whom the legal Establishment did not approve, old charges were reopened, details leaked to certain people in the media…. All this was done so that the politicians, who were marked, will remember that there is always a sword suspended above their head… If that is not extortion, I do not know what extortion is.”

Ohana finally revealed who had authored these words: Reuven Rivlin, then (2004) Speaker of the Knesset, today President of Israel…

Yair Lapid: Only to change feet?

In response to Ohana’s censure, Yair Lapid, one of the heads of the Blue & White faction, responded with an irate tweet:On the wall of the Ministry of Justice there is a picture of my father [Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, who served briefly as Justice Minister in Ariel Sharon’s government (2003-2004)]. If pictures could feel shame, it would be ashamed of his successor [Amir Ohana]…

Regrettably, it seems that lately, Lapid jnr. only opens his mouth to change feet.

For shortly after his disapproving tweet, the Web was abuzz with tart retorts, showing that…his father had expressed very similar sentiments to those of Ohana regarding the State Prosecutor’s Office—indeed, if anything, even harsher…

“ ‘A terror unit’ within the State Prosecutor’s Office”

Thus, on primetime TV, Lapid snr., railed against the State Prosecutor’s Office:

…In the Prosecutor’s office there is a band of young “hungry” lawyers that put pressure on the older ones. I call them the “terror unit” within the Prosecutor’s Office.” …He then presented his grave assessment: “… a Commission of Inquiry must be set up to examine what is going on in the Prosecutors Office.”

When legality loses its legitimacy

Israel’s Supreme Court, Jerusalem

However, the State Prosecutor’s Office is not the only sector of the Israeli legal system that is facing a crisis of confidence. I have written several times, in some detail, on the steep erosion of public faith in the judiciary, including in the High Court, reflected in a comprehensive ongoing study at Haifa University—see for example here and here…The legal establishment will ignore these warning signs at its peril.

The backdrop for Netanyahu indictments

This crisis of public confidence is, in many ways, the backdrop to the prospective indictments of Prime Minister Netanyahu. After all, to anyone but a rabid “Bibiphobe”, they appear transparently contrived… see here, here, here and here—creating a deep sense of unease that Israel’s legal establishment is being exploited for patent political ends…depleting the influence of the demos in Israeli democracy.

Reaping the storm

…there are testing times ahead for Israeli society. Beset by harrowing external threats and what is liable to be unprecedented domestic tumult, there are unlikely to be any positive outcomes that emerge from the endeavor to prosecute Netanyahu.

If he is not indicted, or indicted and acquitted, it will be a massive blow to the credibility of the nation’s law enforcement.

If he is convicted and forced out of office, many will see this as naked politicization of law enforcement in the country, in effect, a legalistic coup d’état, designed to annul the outcome of elections—and will deal a mortal blow to their faith in the democratic process.
Either way, there will be no winners—and the real casualty will be the public’s belief in the institutions of state in Israel—just when that belief may be sorely needed.

Indeed, we may soon find that those who tried to sow a legalistic wind will reap a storm far beyond anything they imagined.

As usual your talkbacks/comments/critiques welcome,

Best wishes,


Martin Sherman is the founder & executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies


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