Putting the Democratic Cart Before the Horse

Democracy — a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Most democracies work this way: The country goes to the polls and elects a leader, who then conducts foreign and domestic policy in accordance with the will of the people, usually for four years.

Until now, Israel has had difficulty with the notion of a government serving for an entire four-year term and has held elections every two–three years. But of late, it’s been struggling with the notion that you have to wait to get to elected before you’re entitled to set policy.

And so we learned this week that Isaac Herzog, the head of the Zionist Union party, met secretly with PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas on the eve of last year’s elections and agreed to make unprecedented concessions.

He agreed to cede 100 percent of the land of Yehudah and Shomron, with 4 percent in land swaps. He also agreed to divide Yerushalayim, including the Old City (don’t worry, he held on to the Kosel, shrewd negotiator that he is), and to grant a symbolic “right of return” for Palestinian refugees with financial compensation for the majority.

And to show his seriousness, he signed a secret letter of understanding committing his “government” to the agreement.

Even more astounding than the news that Herzog made concessions he had no right to make was the fact that he didn’t even bother to deny it. He explained that his contacts with Abbas were aimed at “reaching an understanding that would have prevented the wave of terror which I saw coming.” He also threw in a gratuitous comment about “this radical right-wing government’s abandonment of the regional conference plan… bringing upon us a new war.”

Herzog is certainly entitled to criticize the government and try to bring it down. That’s his job as head of the opposition. But to negotiate with Abbas and agree to things that can later be used against Israel by the Arabs or the Europeans or Washington to force dangerous concessions, against the will of the Israeli public — that’s subversive.

Herzog isn’t the only one having a hard time grasping the basic tenets of democracy. Ehud Barak, a former prime minister, revealed similar difficulties last week.

Barak, who thought highly enough of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to serve as his defense minister for four years and only stepped down because he knew he and his splinter party didn’t have a chance of being elected in 2013, has suddenly discovered that his ex-boss is a dangerous man who magnifies threats from terror groups and others, like Iran.

Israel faces no “existential threat,” says Barak, and it isn’t the Palestinians who are blocking progress in the peace talks but Netanyahu who has a “covert agenda” to make a two-state solution untenable, turning Israel into an apartheid state that will be ostracized by the West and by Jews around the world.

But wait, there’s more. Citing the increased willingness of the Israeli public to voice criticism of the court and to protest the incitement in the media against the right and the religious, Barak reasons that the freedom of the courts and of expression are under threat. From there, it’s a just hop, skip and jump to his outrageous conclusion that “only a blind person or a sheep, an ignoramus or someone jaded, can’t see the erosion of democracy and the budding fascism.”

His solution for this dire situation? If the government doesn’t “come to its senses” — i.e., carry out the agenda of the radical left — “it will be incumbent upon all of us, yes, all of us, to get up from our seats, comfortable ones and uncomfortable ones, and bring it down via popular protest and via the ballot box before it’s too late.”

What does that mean? Herzog, at least, is the leader of the opposition. He can file no-confidence motions in an attempt to bring down the government and force new elections, and that’s legitimate. What exactly is Barak proposing? A popular uprising to overturn the results of democratically held elections?

Just because Barak and Herzog and the leftist media are unhappy with the results of the last elections, and the ones before that, and the ones before that, doesn’t mean they’re allowed to ignore them. If the coalition has voted to restore a small part of the yeshivah budgets, which we hope will ultimately be fully restored, and then some; if funding is restored to Jews living in Yehudah and Shomron; if efforts are underway to try and preserve the status of the Kosel; all these reflect the will of the people. The threat to democracy is not in a government doing what it was elected to do, but in not doing what it was elected to do.

In its hysteria, the left is not only shaking the foundations of democracy in Israel, but undermining its international standing and making it more difficult to fight off BDS, Iran and other threats. In making incessant, unfounded claims that the government is extreme right wing, anti-democracy, fascist and all the rest, it is ensuring that the West will pressure Israel to make the concessions to get the peace process back on track, not PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who everyone knows is the recalcitrant party.

There is a role for the opposition in a democracy. It’s to bring down the government, not harm the country. n