Dispute over judicial reform: the situation in Israel is becoming increasingly dramatic
Israel’s right-wing religious government wants to push through a highly controversial judicial reform with all its might. Angry mass protests break out after the dismissal of a critical minister.
The situation in Israel has deteriorated dramatically with the dismissal of Defense Minister Joav Galant for criticizing a highly controversial judicial reform. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the streets of the coastal city of Tel Aviv on Monday night to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision.
In view of the precarious situation, the head of the right-wing religious government held an emergency consultation on how to proceed. According to media reports, the army was put on increased alert because of the chaotic developments.
Netanyahu had dismissed Galant, who belongs to his right-wing conservative Likud party, because of his call to halt judicial reform. There have been violent protests for months against the reform, which aims to curtail the influence of the Supreme Court and strengthen the government’s position of power at the expense of the independent judiciary.
The plans have also triggered considerable criticism internationally, even the USA, as the most important ally, expressed “deeply concern” in a statement: In view of the planned “fundamental changes to a democratic system”, the White House “emphatically called on the Israeli leadership to do so as soon as possible find a compromise”.
Violent protests across the country
Former Defense Minister Galant called on the government to engage in dialogue with critics on Saturday evening. He warned that national security is at stake. For weeks there has been talk of growing resentment in the military, and numerous reservists did not show up for duty in protest against the reform.
The anger of many people, who fear for democracy in Israel, is breaking out in the streets. After 200,000 people had already flocked there on Saturday, countless demonstrators with Israeli flags blocked the central road to Jerusalem on Sunday evening in Tel Aviv and set tires on fire. The police used cavalry squadrons and water cannons against the crowd, from which stones were thrown at the emergency services. In Jerusalem, angry people broke through a roadblock next to Netanyahu’s apartment building, where the head of the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet arrived for talks that night.
Support also seems to be crumbling in Netanyahu’s own party: According to Israeli media reports, several Likud politicians are now campaigning to stop the judicial reform. According to the Haaretz newspaper, influential party figures are calling for the resignation of Defense Minister Yariv Levin, who has tied his political fate to the reform.
In a joint statement, opposition politicians Jair Lapid and Benny Gantz called on Netanyahu’s party colleagues “not to participate in the destruction of national security”. The head of government “crossed a red line”.
Vote on Monday?
Netanyahu’s coalition, which has been in office for three months – the furthest right the country has ever had – actually wanted to implement core elements of the reform in the coming days. Recent events have made it unclear whether the vote on a law that would give government politicians more influence in the appointment of judges will take place today as planned.
The government accuses the Supreme Court of improper interference in political decisions. In the future, parliament should be able to overturn decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority, and the prime minister should be better protected against removal from office. Critics see the separation of powers in danger, some even warn against the creeping introduction of a dictatorship.
Israeli universities announced on Sunday evening a temporary teaching freeze in protest against Galant’s dismissal and the reform plans. Several mayors went on hunger strike, demanding an immediate containment of the national crisis. The trade union confederation (Histadrut) has scheduled a press conference for today, apparently to announce a general strike.
Warning from security experts
Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel was in the greatest danger since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Arab states had surprisingly attacked Israel on the holiest Jewish holiday.
Bennett called on Netanyahu to reverse Galant’s sacking, suspend reform and engage in dialogue with opponents. He warned the demonstrators not to use violence and to prevent bloodshed. “We are brothers,” wrote Bennett.
Security experts warn that the country’s enemies – above all Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and militant Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip – could seize the opportunity to launch attacks on the domestically weakened state of Israel.