Analysis from Israel

An Iranian op-ed writer recently urged his country to emulate Israel. Of course the “Zionist regime” is illegitimate, wrote Seyed Ammar Kalantari, but the fact that “this small group of around seven million people who only about 60 years ago moved to this small spot from all sorts of different cultures and nationalities” has managed to survive, despite repeated attacks by Palestinians and various Arab armies, shows it must be doing something right. That something, Kalantari argued, is Israel’s willingness to criticize its leaders.

What makes this remarkable isn’t just that Israel is being touted as a shining example in the very country whose leader regularly pledges to annihilate it as “a cancerous tumor.” It’s that the article appeared on a website closely affiliated with Mohsen Rezaee, a former Revolutionary Guards commander who now serves as secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key organ of the regime. It’s one of numerous recent reminders that most Iranians are vastly more open-minded than the thugs who run their country.

Just this week, a leading Iranian opposition cleric publicly urged the regime to “do everything to prevent a Zionist attack on Iran, because if that happens, Iran will be severely damaged, even if the Zionist regime is damaged even more.” The regime “must not act as warmongers,” warned Ayatollah Yousef Sanei: “The country is currently facing a unique situation, and the most important thing to do is to shut the mouth of the Zionist regime with our thoughts, our pens and an effort to take the right actions.” While Sanei didn’t specify said “right actions,” the meaning seems clear: steps to allay international, and especially Israeli, concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

In fact, an online poll published in June found that a decisive majority of Iranians – 63 percent – favor giving up uranium enrichment in exchange for an end to sanctions. And another poll, published in May, found that Iranians are much more supportive of basic liberal values than, say, Egyptians, Jordanians and Moroccans, or even residents of some Asian and eastern European democracies. Fully 94% of respondents, for instance, deemed “freedom to choose” an important value, and 71% deemed tolerance important.

All this shows what an incredible opportunity was wasted when U.S. President Barack Obama failed to support the Green Revolution in 2009, preferring instead to pursue negotiations with the mullahs: In Iran – unlike, say, Egypt – a successful revolution might well have produced a better government rather than a worse one, because most Iranians would genuinely rather build a decent society at home than foment mayhem abroad.

Today, however, this very decency is frequently used as an argument against attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities: An attack, we are told, will cause ordinary Iranians to rally round the mullahs, thereby setting the prospect of regime change back decades.

Personally, I think the data indicates that any such effect would be short-lived. People who value freedom of choice and tolerance aren’t likely to become permanent mullah-lovers, nor will opposition leaders long laud the regime for provoking the very attack they warned against.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an additional argument: the Ugandan precedent. Yoweri Museveni, who became Uganda’s president after Idi Amin’s downfall, told him that Israel’s 1976 Entebbe raid “strengthened Amin’s rivals because it revealed how vulnerable his regime was,” Netanyahu related this month.

There’s no way to know for sure who’s right. But we do know the Green Revolution failed primarily because the regime’s brute-force tactics eventually convinced the demonstrators it was too strong to be toppled. Thus showing that the regime isn’t as powerful as it seems may actually be the very spark needed to finally send the mullahs toppling.

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Israel’s constitutional crisis has been postponed, not resolved

After years of leftists crying wolf about democracy being endangered, Israel finally experienced a real constitutional crisis last week. That crisis was temporarily frozen by the decision to form a unity government, but it will come roaring back once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

It began with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to let the newly elected Knesset vote to replace him as speaker and culminated in two interventions by the High Court of Justice. I’m one of very few people on my side of the political spectrum who considers the court’s initial intervention justifiable. But its second was an unprecedented usurpation of the prerogatives of another branch of government, in flagrant violation of legislation that the court itself deems constitutional.

Edelstein’s refusal, despite its terrible optics, stemmed from a genuine constitutional concern, and was consequently backed even by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who had opposed Edelstein many times before and would do so again later in this saga. The problem was that neither political bloc could form a government on its own, yet the proposed new speaker came from the faction of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party that adamantly opposed a unity government. Thus whether a unity government was formed or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government continued, the new speaker would be in the opposition.

But as Yinon told the court, speakers have always come from the governing coalition because an opposition speaker can effectively stymie all government work. And once elected, he would be virtually impossible to oust, since 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members must vote to do so. An opposition speaker would thus “hurt democracy,” warned Yinon. “We’re planting a bug in the system, and this, too, undermines our constitutional fabric.” That’s why Edelstein wanted to wait, as Knesset bylaws permit, until a government was formed and could choose its own speaker.

Yet despite this genuine and serious concern, the fact remains that a newly elected majority was being barred from exercising its power. Moreover, it had no parliamentary way of solving the problem because only the speaker can convene parliament and schedule a vote. Thus if you believe majorities should be allowed to govern, the court was right to intervene by ordering Edelstein to hold the vote.

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