It is election day here in Israel. As I walk out for my morning coffee, a large banner of the Blue and White party – the main rivals to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party – has been torn down in Dizengoff Square, and flaps about in the road, waiting for the bin men to come and clear it up.
But the mess here will take more than the street cleaners to sort out. Netanyahu has three major court hearings for fraud and bribery hanging over his head. And many of the better informed Tel Avivians I speak to speculate that it won’t be today’s ballot that brings him down, but the courts, who resume their pursuit of Netanyahu in two weeks time.
In the USA, in the UK, and now here in Israel, progressives are putting their faith in the law rather than in elections to remove the sitting incumbent. And this is a dangerous moment for democracy. Not that our political leaders should be above the law. But the way this clash is inevitably going to be cast is that it is the law versus democracy. Or, more darkly, that the rule of law is really the rule of lawyers – and the wealthy activists that have access to them. In which case the “enemies of the people” line will not prove to be a one-off Daily Mail special – but a prediction as to the future of a political division that will cut to the core of democratic decision-making. This is the mess that will take decades to clear up.
Partly, this split has been years in the making, forged by mountains of evidence that the law exists for the wealthy in a way that it does not for the poor. “One of the major obstacles in accessing justice is the cost of legal advice and representation” rightly claimed a UN Report about access to justice earlier this year.
It was a statement of the obvious, of course. In the UK, cuts in ‘legal aid’ have made the law the preserve of the wealthy. And under such circumstances, it is little wonder that ordinary voters will see the law not as their friend and protector, but as something done to them by an establishment that seeks to overturn the democratic will of the majority.