Why this Israeli election is different

Beyond labels, there seem to be two main issues at play in these elections — issues that have been dividing Israeli society for at least four years. The first issue is Netanyahu himself. The prime minister faces indictment in three different corruption and breach of public trust cases in the coming year. These investigations have been ongoing throughout his entire previous term. The public is essentially split on Netanyahu. Clearly a talented and experienced politician, Netanyahu has led a campaign to sow public mistrust of the press (all biased leftists), the judicial system (activists leftists), and even the police (out to get him). That the attorney general and former police chief were his own appointments is of little consequence. By bypassing the mainstream press and making deft use of social media, Netanyahu has managed to galvanize half of the public behind him against these institutions. Public trust in the press, judiciary, and police has never been lower. Recall that elections were originally scheduled for November. Netanyahu pushed for early elections, seeking to upend the timing of potential indictments and bring public counter-pressure to the impending hearings…

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But there is a larger issue at stake, one that perhaps is drawing the new division between Israel’s left and right: What does it means to be a representative democracy? Does being a democracy mean that the government should reflect the will of the majority of voters or does being a democracy mean safeguarding freedom of press, an independent judiciary, rule of law, and respect for individual and minority rights? The current forces of the new right, including the aptly named New Right party and rising stars within the Likud, are pushing for major reforms to rein in the judicial activism of the Supreme Court and a greater democratic say in appointing its justices as well as lower-court judges. They also want to give the Knesset the ability to overturn the Court’s decisions with a special majority. Taken together with the unprecedented attacks on the press and the integrity of the police, we can see a clear and new fault-line. The more liberal old guard of the Likud, most of which has been slowly pushed out of the party by the more populist new guard, is uncomfortable with this development. Indeed, one of its most prominent members endorsed the Blue and White party last week.

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