Lapid: A Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben Gvir government would be the “end of democracy”

Seven days before the election, Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned on Tuesday that Israeli democracy would be seriously threatened if his political rivals came to power and launched a comprehensive program of judicial reforms.

Speaking at a conference organized by the Movement for Quality Government in Tel Aviv, Lapid said that today “the end of democracy is no longer an imminent threat”, but rather “the election promise”. of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right HaTzionout HaDatit party.

Netanyahu retaliated by accusing Lapid of adopting a series of anti-democratic measures, while the leader of the HaTzionut HaDatit party, Bezalel Smotrich, decreed that he respects democracy.

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Smotrich recently unveiled his sweeping judicial reform agenda, which would allow politicians to veto Supreme Court decisions on legislation, change the way judges are selected, divide the powers of the attorney general and abolish the offense of “fraud and breach of trust” – a charge that forms the basis of three of the four ongoing corruption trials against Netanyahu.

Likud said abolishing the law would not retroactively affect Netanyahu’s cases, although the legal implications for ongoing cases are still unclear.

Although judicial reform was one of the most concrete political debates ahead of Israel’s fifth national poll in 43 months, it has not moved the debate forward, and polls predict a potential stalemate between the current Netanyahu-led blocs and Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

The HaTzionout HaDatit-Otzma Yehudit alliance, buoyed by the popularity of Itamar Ben Gvir, Smotrich’s far-right ally, has surged since Israel’s last elections in March 2021, and is currently the third largest part of the country.

Although Ben Gvir and Smotrich have tempered their sometimes fiery language in recent months, Lapid said their alliance’s agenda remains extreme.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit political party visits Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar, October 6, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

“So this is the program they put out – to have a dark, racist, extremist country here, with no legal restrictions whatsoever,” Lapid said. “Smotrich has already announced that he wants to be Minister of Defense, and Ben Gvir, Minister of Internal Security” responsible for the police and internal security.

“Those who persist in not taking them seriously are ignoring them. They mean every word they say,” he added.

“If that were to happen, God forbid, I don’t know exactly what will happen to Israel, but it will no longer be the only democracy in the Middle East. It will no longer be a democracy at all,” he continued, in one of his most fiery speeches of this election campaign.

Lapid A Netanyahu Smotrich Ben Gvir government would be the end of

Opposition leader and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at an Israel Makers Association conference in Tel Aviv on October 19, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Attacking Lapid, Netanyahu said that “Lapid behaves like a dictator in his own party,” which, unlike Likud, does not hold primaries. He also criticized Lapid’s Yesh Atid party for attacking the right-wing Channel 14 and for allying with the HaMahan HaMamlahti party, which recently presented a political program calling for warrantless searches on suspicion of major crimes.

“He addressed the Arab population today and tried to incite them against me,” he added of Lapid’s intervention in Nazareth.

Smotrich said Tuesday, at the Sderot Conference on Society and Education in Beersheba, in unrelated comments, that he respects democracy, and, as proof, referred to his reaction to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal, in 2005, of its settlements and its forces in the Gaza Strip.

“We have respected democracy over the years, and only a few years ago we accepted it as part of the expulsion of Gush Katif, even though, in our opinion, it was a mistake rude,” he said.

Smotrich, suspected at the time of organizing violent protests against the disengagement from Gaza, was arrested by the Shin Bet internal security agency in 2005 but was released without being charged.

According to Lapid, women’s rights, LGBT rights and a free and fair justice system are among the key freedoms that will be threatened if the far right were to take power this fall.

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HaTzionut HaDatit party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich presenting his party’s ‘Law and Justice’ program during a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni /Flash90)

Predicting that the gender glass ceiling will return, “stronger than ever”, the Prime Minister said that if such an ideology took hold it could lead to the loss of women’s rights over their bodies, as well as a lower representation in positions of power.

LGBT communities, he added, could lose recognition and find it difficult to start a family.

And on the legal side, Lapid said the process of judicial reform described by Smotrich could lead to “the mistrial of Netanyahu.” »

In Beersheba, Smotrich reaffirmed his position that judicial reform was needed to rebalance power between government and judges.

Smotrich said that “without a fundamental overhaul of the justice system and a change in the balance between the government and the justice system, we have no right to exist as a coalition. »

“People will not forgive those who deliberately try to prevent us from making changes to the justice system,” he added.

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Lapid: A Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben Gvir government would be the “end of democracy”

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