Yesterday the Israeli parliament passed a controversial judicial reform bill that turned six months of protests into a frenzy last night. Depending on which side of Israeli politics you sit on, the reform either strengthens the Israeli government or is the beginning of the end of the democratic country.
Since Israel is the cornerstone of every aspect of our Middle East Foreign Policy, massive unrest in our biggest ally in the region is cause for concern. Dig a bit deeper into this story, and what is happening in Israel now and what could happen in the future may prove to be a sign of things to come in our own country.
Like anything in the Middle East and particularly Israel, the issue is complicated, but lucky for you, dear reader, you have me to peel this onion. First, let’s talk about some basics of Israeli governance.
The ongoing Protests across Israel against the Judicial Reform and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appear to have reached a “Fever Pitch” with it beginning to look like how things did in March when it was Agreed upon that the Judicial Reform would be Delayed. pic.twitter.com/SDxSrsj9hr
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) July 24, 2023
Not quite like us
The way the government of Israel operates, in a nutshell, is with a Prime Minister who governs the parliament known as The Knesset through a majority coalition. This makes the Prime Minister and his party the overall “bosses” of the executive and legislative branches.
The judicial branch of the Israeli government adjudicates what is known as the “reasonableness” of actions made by parliament. Unlike our country, Israel doesn’t have a constitution, so defining “reasonableness” is challenging, to say the least – which is the crux of the majority’s argument for the judicial reform.
Before this reform passed, the courts could overturn policies if the Israeli government couldn’t prove that the basis behind the policies was rooted in some standard of fairness. Clear as mud?
Yeah, I thought so too. Those who are for this reform claim that it properly balances power within the government.
The idea is instead of unelected judges making unilateral decisions to shoot down policies put forth by elected officials, those who were put into office by the majority will have more power. Those opposed to the reform argue that the voices of the minority will be squashed, allowing for corruption and a state that elevates Jews over all others.
A car drove through a crowd of judicial reform protesters in Israel. 3 injured. pic.twitter.com/15lBLt7dvf
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) July 24, 2023
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Taking to the streets
These judicial reforms have been in negotiation for months, with protests accompanying the negotiations. With the opposition party walking out of the Knesset before the vote, the reforms passed with the majority party as the only reform supporters.
Protests erupted into the largest the nation has seen, with the main road to parliament blocked, causing the usual chaos and mayhem. Additionally, the Histadrut, the primary workers’ union in the country, kicked off talks to initiate a strike, and the medical workers union is also planning a 24-hour strike.
But what has many in the region salivating and Western leaders worried is the thousands of military reservists who declared they will refuse to serve now that this reform has gone through. The Israeli military and, in particular the Israeli Air Force, relies heavily on reservists, so to have a nation’s military taking a knee due to political maneuvers doesn’t send a good sign in a region not known for stability in the first place.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded with reservists to:
“Leave army service out of the political debate.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters:
“There is a threat. This is a serious threat. It’s never happened before and we are going into a civil war now.”
No doubt welcome news for Iran and others watching closely on Al Jazeera.
Protesters blocked highways in Israel after the controversial judicial reform bill passed. Demonstrators remain in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv at this hour. pic.twitter.com/17cN8X1KMM
— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) July 24, 2023
Pot meet kettle
President Joe Biden said of the judicial reform:
“Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this – the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus.”
Whether one agrees with Israel’s decision to move forward with an element of judicial reform, its duly elected government had the right to do so. And while a broader consensus would have been better (all in Israel agree), democracies everywhere are managing their affairs with…
— David M Friedman (@DavidM_Friedman) July 25, 2023
Not bad advice Joe; too bad you don’t follow it yourself. The White House put out official statements after yesterday’s vote to include:
“It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority.”
And my personal favorite:
“As a lifelong friend of Israel, President Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible.”
Big words coming from an administration that has consistently pushed to change the nature of our own government with no regard for consensus from the other half of the country.
Not all that different
Just like an Us Weekly magazine cover, what is happening in Israel proves that most political leaders are “Just Like Us.” It’s no coincidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on trial for various corruption charges ranging from bribery to fraud.
The PM and his party seem to be bending the judicial branch to meet their immediate needs. As the head of the opposition party, Yair Lapid, said, this move is:
“The abolition of checks and balances, the abolition of the separation of authorities, the abolition of the gatekeepers, the abolition of the entire immune mechanism of Israeli democracy.”
Mr. Lapid’s party argues that this reform will usher in the appointment of corrupt officials. The protestors that agree argue that this is the beginning of the end for Israeli democracy.
Chair of the political science department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem Gideon Rahat says:
“This is a clash between the Israelis and the Jews. It’s a clash between a more civil identity and a more religious identity.”
Again, they aren’t that dissimilar from us. We are currently in a clash between a more civil identity and a more ideologically radical left identity.
Keep an eye on what goes on in the heart of the Middle East; it may be a precursor to what we experience here in the land of the free.
This is the surest way to make sure judicial reform passes in Israel https://t.co/49ICDsuuv4
— Joel Pollak (@joelpollak) July 24, 2023
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