Netanyahu, Prime Minister for life?

- by Yahav Zohar - Is Netanyahu using Coronavirus as cover for a Coup?
Israelis protest against Bibi
In 1968, a few months after the Israeli army had conquered the West Bank and Gaza and once it became clear the government intended to keep these territories under military rule, Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote a now famous op ed, predicting that maintaining military government of Palestinians would eventually turn Israel into a secret-police state that would restrict speech and political organization of its own citizens and reach “legendary” levels of corruption. So far, Leibowitz’s predictions have come only partly true. While the military government and more recently its subcontractor, the Palestinian Authority, have become deeply corrupt and oppressive, government in the rest of Israel has remained fundamentally democratic, with a working system of checks and balances. To rule Palestinians that enjoy virtually no civil rights, Israel developed its General Security Service (GSS), an extensive and powerful secret police.The GSS controls permits and therefore Palestinians’ access to employment and to travel, operates a huge network of informants and collaborators and has access to their every phone call, email, social media post and physical movement through a sophisticated technological system that Israel co-developed with the US. Palestinians under Israeli military government proved the perfect lab rats to develop and test these systems on, as they never had any civil rights or legal protections. The systems that were developed here were used by the US in Latin America in the so called war on drugs and later extended to the US itself and around the world in the context of the so called war on terror. Often on Green Olive Tours we talk with our clients from Europe and the US about the threat of these systems, which are brought in under the guise of war on terror but may soon compromise all our civil liberties and privacy. Few of us expected that Israeli citizen Jews, the people whose supremacist status this system was developed to protect, would be the next ones targeted. While the General Security Service and its systems of surveillance are a very real thing for Palestinians, for most Israelis they have only been until very recently an abstraction, something happening to others. Last week, as Coronavirus brought about a gradual lockdown, thousands of Israelis began getting text messages of a new kind. The location of their cellular phone corresponded with that of a known Coronavirus patient. They had been in the same place at the same time for 15 minutes or more some time in the last 2 weeks.They must now go into quarantine. The government granted the General Security Service the mandate to surveill Israelis to identify those who had been in contact with known patients and the GSS responded by showing us they had effectively been tracking us all along. They have access to where, and therefore with whom we’ve all been and they can pull out apparently any movement any time. In other countries this might have been met with more protest but Israelis did not seem too upset. This was no time for privacy. And anyway, people were paying attention to other things, the spread of the virus and our priminster’s desperate maneuvers to remain in power. You see, Israel is still more or less a working democracy for its citizens, but like many democracies it has suffered a downturn recently. In the last year we have had three general elections, and still there is no clear winner. Netanyahu has failed to win a majority and his opponents have failed to form a coalition. The standoff has created a partial government shutdown and Netanyahu still holds post as interim prime minister. After the last round of elections, on March 2d, Netanyahu was quick to declare victory, but as the smoke cleared it emerged we were at the same standoff. Now things were closing in on Netanyahu: his trial on charges of corruption and fraud was set to begin March 17th and though his opponents still seemed unable to form a coalition, they would have the majority for a bill that would prevent a man charged with crimes to form a government and thus effectively depose him. Netanyahu’s lawyers sought to postpone the trial but on March 10th the court rejected their request and reaffirmed the trial would open in a week. There was reason to think Netanyahu might be soon ousted after more than 10 years in power. And then came Coronavirus. On election day there were12 known cases in Israel, two weeks later there were 100. On March 15th the minister of justice, a Netanyahu appointee, shut down the court system as part of the general lockdown and blocked the opening of the trial. The next day the government approved restrictions allowing gatherings of no more than 10 people and allowing mass surveillance of Israeli citizens. Most recently the chairman of the Knesset, a Netanyahu ally, has been ordered by the supreme court to Conduct a vote electing a new chairman by tomorrow, the 26th. The minister of justice published a post saying the chairman should defy the supreme court. Israeli author and historian Yuval Noah Harrari (author of Sapiens) published a rare political post: “Israel has just been the site of a non democratic takeover of government… Netanyahu is not a democratically elected leader. He just lost the last elections and his opponents hold most of the seats in the parliament… Under the guise of fighting Coronavirus Netanyahu has shut down the parliament, ordered people to stay home and is publishing whatever emergency decree he likes. That’s called dictatorship.” It remains to be seen how this will play out. Netanyahu is desperate to hold on to power, and has access to a system of secret police and emergency law that could easily be turned against political opposition in an emergency like this one.
__________ - Yahav Zohar is based in Jerusalem, is a Partner of the Green Olive Collective, and Senior Tour Guide at Green Olive Tours. Read his profile here > >

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