A battle for the soul of Israel

2 min

66 shares, 127 points

Benjamin Netanyahu bowed to public pressure on Monday and delayed the contentious judicial reform he and his extremist partners have championed. With Israel paralysed by mass protests and strikes, he acknowledged the risk of civil war. The crisis is not over, however. The Israeli prime minister’s language made clear he intends his decision as a tactical pause to quiet the civil disobedience. Netanyahu is buying time.

The threat to Israeli democracy will not disappear as long as the far right remains dominant in the government. Netanyahu will need a more permanent retreat from the policies and politicians that plunged Israel into its most dangerous domestic crisis since its foundation 75 years ago.

Rather than reach out to his critics, Netanyahu blamed an “extreme” minority for the months-long protests that have highlighted the huge opposition to his plans. Yet it is he and his ultranationalist allies who are imperilling the nation.

Israel’s troubles began when Netanyahu late last year masterminded an election victory for an alliance that thrust the most extreme rightwing fringes into the mainstream. To regain power after 18 months in opposition, he built a coalition that relies on religious Zionists and ultraorthodox parties. He awarded top cabinet posts to anti-Arab ultranationalists bent on annexing occupied Palestinian territory.

A key theme that unites the coalition is a shared desire to rein in the powers of the judiciary — a critical pillar of democracy in a nation that has no written constitution or upper house. Reforms proposed by the government include enabling MPs to override High Court rulings with a simple majority and granting politicians control over appointing judges. These would weaken some of the few checks on the executive and severely undermine the democratic foundations of the Jewish state. All this comes as Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, fraud and breach of trust.

The hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets fear a power grab in the form of a legislative coup. Bankers, tech workers, teachers, students, legal experts and security officials are united in their opposition. In an extraordinary act of civil disobedience, hundreds of military reservists, including intelligence units and pilots, have refused to train.

Defence minister Yoav Gallant, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, was so alarmed by the threat to Israel’s security apparatus that on Saturday he publicly urged the government to halt the reforms. Rather than heed his ally’s warning, Netanyahu sacked him, suggesting the premier was willing to put his own interests above the state’s. Only when the largest trade union threatened a general strike did he relent.

The irony is that Jewish Israelis are having to confront the contradictions of their democracy. For Palestinians of Israeli citizenship who face institutionalised discrimination on a daily basis, Israel’s claims to being a democratic state have always rung hollow. That is even more true of Palestinians struggling in the occupied territories.

They fear the government’s drive to accelerate the creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank. This month, MPs amended a law that ordered four Jewish settlements in the territory to be dismantled. And one of the coalition’s first moves was to legalise nine settler “outposts” that even Israeli law deemed illegal. Weakening the judiciary would strengthen those expansionist goals.

Israelis who have taken to the streets against the reforms are to be saluted. But the battle is much bigger: it is about the soul of the Jewish state. Netanyahu and his cohorts cannot be allowed to win. A withdrawal of his ill-conceived judicial reforms should be only a start.

Source: Financial Times

Like it? Share with your friends!

66 shares, 127 points

What's Your Reaction?

Cute Cute
Fun Fun
Hate Hate
Confused Confused
Fail Fail
Geeky Geeky
Love Love
Choose A Format
Personality quiz
Series of questions that intends to reveal something about the personality
Trivia quiz
Series of questions with right and wrong answers that intends to check knowledge
Voting to make decisions or determine opinions
Formatted Text with Embeds and Visuals
The Classic Internet Listicles
The Classic Internet Countdowns
Open List
Submit your own item and vote up for the best submission
Ranked List
Upvote or downvote to decide the best list item
Upload your own images to make custom memes
Youtube, Vimeo or Vine Embeds
Soundcloud or Mixcloud Embeds
Photo or GIF
GIF format