The politics of protesting unelected politicians

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The big story in Israel over the past several weeks has been the protests outside the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, which have grown in size and bitterness over the past month.

For the past nine months, every Saturday night protesters have gathered outside Mandelblit’s apartment building in Petah Tikva to demand that he indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.The protesters have not been specific about the particular transgression Netanyahu should be indicted for. One memorable banner made the point succinctly, declaring, “Bibi is guilty until proven guilty!”

The anti-Mandelbit protests are led by the high-profile far-left political strategist Eldad Yaniv and by Meni Naftali. Naftali has been leading a well-funded public and legal campaign against Sara Netanyahu since he was fired as manager of the prime minister’s official residence in 2014. The protests are also the brainchild of Raviv Drucker who doubles as an “objective” journalist on Channel 10 and a New Israel Fund sponsored far-left political activist.

Mandelblit is overseeing two criminal investigations against Netanyahu. The first involves the question of whether or not Netanyahu received more gifts than he should have from his personal friends.

The other investigation concerns conversations Netanyahu had in 2014 with his nemesis, Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes. Netanyahu recorded these discussions with Mozes of a hypothetical deal, never executed, whereby Mozes would attenuate his newspaper’s war against Netanyahu in exchange for reduced circulation of Yediot’s chief competitor, Israel Hayom.

If Mandelblit decides to indict Netanyahu in either of the probes, the leftist establishment, including the media, will demand that Netanyahu resign in keeping with a non-binding Supreme Court decision from 1993 which insists that indicted politicians must resign.

If Netanyahu resigns, his governing coalition will fall apart and early elections will be called.

This past Saturday night, while Yaniv and Naftali and their comrades protested outside of Mandelblit’s residence for the 40th time, in Jerusalem, another group of protesters set up shop outside the home of Supreme Court President Miriam Naor.

The protesters in Jerusalem demanded that Naor stop stalling the court’s hearings regarding a petition by regarding illegal migrants from Africa.

Media coverage of both the longstanding protests outside of Mandelblit’s home and the protest Saturday night outside Naor’s home has been dominated by three issues. First, there is the question of the protesters’ behavior.

For instance, since last Saturday night the discussion of the anti-Mandelblit protests has been dominated by a video of Avraham Porat, one of Naftali’s long-time fundraisers, verbally assaulting an ultra-Orthodox man who questioned the demonstrators’ decision to begin their event before the end of Shabbat. Porat was videoed hurling a full-blown antisemitic diatribe at the man. Porat demanded that he “take the rug off your head” (meaning his kippa) and shave off his beard.

The second issue is whether the protests outside of Mandelblit’s house, and to a lesser degree the protests outside of Naor’s home, are politically or ideologically motivated.

In the case of Mandelblit, the protesters insist that they are motivated simply by concern over corruption. They wish to unseat Netanyahu because in their opinion he is corrupt.

The fact that the same protesters, or similarly funded ones, were not manning the barricades outside of Mandelblit’s predecessors’ homes to demand the indictment of Netanyahu’s predecessors from Shimon Peres to Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert demonstrates fairly clearly that despite their protestations to the contrary, politics is the anti-Mandelblit protesters’ primary motivation.

As for Naor, the issue of ideology is cut-and-dried. Supreme Court justices, including Naor herself, have repeatedly made clear through both their public pronouncements and their rulings that the majority of justices are ideologically aligned with the far Left. And whereas residents of Tel Aviv are not organically tied to the political Right, activist Supreme Court justices have placed them firmly in the right-wing camp by operating hand in glove with far-left NGOs, supported by the US-based New Israel Fund and other groups, to prevent successive governments from removing the illegal migrants from south Tel Aviv specifically and from Israel more generally.

As to the specific protesters outside Naor’s home last Saturday, nearly two years ago radical leftist NGOs petitioned the Court asking it to overturn a law enabling the government to deport illegal migrants to willing third countries and incarcerate them until expulsion.

Naor’s court issued an injunction barring the government from enforcing the law until court issued its decision and then sat on the petition and did nothing. The protesters demanded that the court issue a ruling.

Monday, two days after the protest, the court suddenly rendered its verdict. In a decision thin on legal arguments, the court ruled that while the government can transfer the migrants to third countries, they can only do so if the illegal migrants agree to go. Moreover, the government can only incarcerate illegal migrants for 60 days, meaning that if the migrants refuse to leave Israel for a third country, they will effectively to remain in the country indefinitely after a two month period of incarceration.

This then brings us to the final question that has dominated discussion of the protests against Mandelblit, and since last Saturday night, against Naor, outside their private homes. Should protesters congregate outside the home of unelected officials in an attempt to influence their actions just as activists demonstrate outside the homes of politicians?

The answers commentators have provided to the question have predictably aligned with their own political sympathies. Commentators on the Left side with the protesters outside Mandelblit’s home and oppose the protest outside Naor’s home. Commentators on the Right adopt the opposite position. But both positions miss the basic reality that protesters have intuitively acted upon.

Today, Supreme Court justices and the state prosecutors led by the attorney general are the most powerful political actors in Israel. Indeed, to the extent that protests outside the homes of public officials have any impact on their behavior, it makes more sense for citizens to protest outside the homes of justices and the attorney general than it makes to protest outside the homes of politicians.

By conducting criminal probes against the sitting prime minister which revolve around issues of personal behavior that bear no connection to Israel’s national security or interests, Mandelblit has made himself the most powerful political force in the country. And he has also made himself a reasonable target for a political campaign. In other words, he brought it on himself.

If he wants the protesters to go away, he should stop seizing political power. He should announce that he is suspending the criminal probes against Netanyahu and any criminal probes against any other currently sitting elected officials that are now underway. He should also stipulate that he will not conduct any further criminal probes of sitting politicians for the duration of their tenure in office unless they are suspected of treason or other security-related offenses.

This then brings us to the Supreme Court.

In 1992 the Supreme Court seized the power of the Knesset to make laws by arrogating to itself the right to overturn them. It subsequently seized the power of the government to execute laws and determine Israel’s national policies by granting itself the power to arbitrarily decide that government decisions and policies are illegal.

In other words, for a generation the court has been acting as a judicial tyranny.

In response to the court’s decision Monday, the residents of South Tel Aviv announced that they would maintain and expand their demonstrations outside Naor’s home until the Supreme Court cancels its decision and allows the government to govern. Their decision was the most reasonable response to the verdict.

Like Mandelblit with his political probes, Naor and her fellow radicals brought the public’s scrutiny and fury on themselves. Until they stop behaving like judicial dictators, they should expect for the public to demonstrate against them.

The reason then that the demonstrations against Mandelblit on the one hand and Naor on the other are reasonable and should be expected to continue is that due to the tyrannical power the legal system exerts over the government and Knesset, Israel’s viability as a representative democracy has been weakened. Until we restore our system of government and restore the balance of power between the branches of government, the public is right to treat our justices and prosecutors as politicians.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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