Israel in a Flux!
March 18, 2023 | Expert Insights
With a majority coalition in power, it was assumed that Israel could look forward to a period of relatively stable political scenario. However, the nature of the coalition, one that has a distinct right-wing orientation, has created the very instability that it was expected to dispel!
The protests, ongoing since January, have been some of the largest in the country's history drawing out a wide range of people, including former Prime Ministers and other well-known figures.
At the centre of the impasse lies the ruling coalition's efforts to curb the judiciary's powers. Moderates fear, not unjustifiably, this would open the doors to an unchecked majoritarian rule.
In the absence of a constitution, written or otherwise, the independent judiciary uses the basic laws in Israel to thwart the overbearing moves of a resurgent executive. This has been especially noteworthy in the past when the ruling elites have been found to function beyond the pale of law. The current coalition in power seeks to 'correct' this by passing regulations that would erode the independence of the judiciary. The proposed changes would make it easier for the government to reject the court's decisions and would give lawmakers and their appointees effective power over the committee of nine individuals that appoints judges. This would essentially give the government complete control over the judiciary (by appointing suitably pliant judges) and would make it easier for them to pass convenient laws.
One of the most concerning aspects of Netanyahu's government is the rise of Jewish supremacist policies and the increasing power of Israeli settlers. Many Israelis are concerned that these policies will lead to the annexation of the occupied West Bank and the erasure of Palestinian villages that have lived here for centuries.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich recently called for eradicating a Palestinian village, while National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is a long-time inciter of violence against Palestinians. Many Israelis are concerned that these extremist ministers will lead the country into an even more dangerous phase of violence and repression.
The situation is also complicated by the already abysmal situation for Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank. Israeli settlers who advocate for Jewish supremacist policies now hold powerful ministerial roles and are making moves to annex the occupied West Bank, and this has also sparked outrage among the protesters. The crisis in Israel is not just about the proposals to overhaul the judiciary but is also built on decades of right-wing policies promulgated by Netanyahu. The crisis is inseparable from the erosion of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. Netanyahu and his allies are pursuing a shock doctrine that amounts to crippling the Israeli governance system and a total reordering of the Israeli occupation. Former Israeli leaders have warned of fascism taking over the country, and their voices are growing louder. The situation in Israel is a crisis for democracy, and the protests show no signs of abating anytime soon.
The issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has been a contentious one for many years. The Israeli government has been building settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank since 1967, after the Six-Day War. The international community considers these settlements illegal under international law, as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilians into the territory it occupies. The settlements have grown in number and size over the years and now house over 600,000 Israelis. They are heavily subsidised by the Israeli government and are often located strategically to ensure Israeli control over key areas of the West Bank. This has made the creation of a viable Palestinian state increasingly difficult, as the settlements have fragmented the West Bank into isolated enclaves.
In recent years, there has been a rise in Jewish extremist groups in Israel who advocate for the expansion of settlements and the imposition of Jewish law on all of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. These groups often espouse racist and supremacist views and have been linked to numerous attacks on Palestinians, including the burning of Palestinian homes and mosques. Netanyahu and his allies have courted these groups in order to shore up their political base and have pursued policies that have further entrenched the occupation and eroded Palestinian rights. This includes the passage of a controversial law in 2018 that declared Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people, effectively enshrining discrimination against non-Jewish citizens into law.
The proposed court reform has worried the Biden administration. U.S. backing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been reaffirmed. Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, has urged the Israeli government to follow the rule of law and democratic norms and to implement court reforms transparently and inclusively. Israel must protect its citizens, including Palestinians, according to the US.
- The protesters are justified in trying to retain the democratic values of Israel, which make this beleaguered nation an oasis of democracy in the Middle East. The changes being pushed by the right-wing government are challenging the very idea of Israel, which can be a Zionist state and a democracy at the same time. Changing the very fundamentals of its national fabric is bound to send ripples across the region.
- This crisis is not likely to get over soon. A citizenry that has boldly taken up arms at a moment's notice to defend their very survival, time and again, is unlikely to be cowed down by a bunch of right-wing extremists which electoral politics have propelled to seats of power. The country is at a crossroads, and the decisions that are made in the coming months will have far-reaching consequences.
- While the protests have shown that there is still hope for democracy in Israel, it will take a concerted effort from all Israelis to ensure their country remains a beacon of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Friends of Israel, including its influential benefactors, must chip in to prevent the weakening of democratic institutions in the holy land.