In early January, the new Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, presented a draft reform, the essence of which is to weaken the judiciary and deprive the highest judicial authority of the ability to overturn laws. The idea caused discontent among a significant part of society, and protests began in the country. On March 11, the opposition announced the largest action in the history of the country: 500,000 people took to the streets of Israeli cities, about half in Tel Aviv. A few days later, the Knesset passed on first reading a bill allowing Parliament to override a High Court of Justice veto.
Israeli journalist Pavel Vigdorchik told The Insider that opponents of the reform regard it more as a coup. If it is put into practice, the government will gain power over the Supreme Court, and thus the system of checks and balances will be destroyed, and the current government and the coalition with the majority in parliament will be left without any control.
“Judicial reform fundamentally changes the relationship between the branches of government. Israel is a parliamentary republic, so the legislative and executive powers are essentially one, and they are headed by the prime minister. The judiciary is called upon to restrain this power, which in the 1990s gained preponderance over the legislative power as a result of the adoption of the concept of universal jurisdiction. Everything falls under the jurisdiction of the judiciary. Most Israelis are in favor of re-balancing this system in order to restore balance to these branches of government, but the initiatives that the current government is pursuing are too radical, which has caused a split in society.”
The coalition of opponents of Netanyahu is heterogeneous, the most radical part of it speaks of the “occupation of Israel” and demands the removal of the government.
“The peculiarity of these protests is that they involve a significant number of those who voted for the current coalition and support judicial reform, but they are taken aback by the scale and speed of change. Israel defines itself as a Jewish democratic state, and it has split into supporters of the Jewish and supporters of the democratic state. Supporters of a democratic state come to the square, which is typical for Israel: mass demonstrations are always arranged by opponents of the authorities. There were similar protests in the 1950s when they signed an agreement with Germany on reparations, and when there were Norwegian agreements in the 1990s, there was a big wave against high prices in 2012. This is typical for Israel.
One can also think of the mass demonstrations against the Lebanese war in 1982, but I don't think there has ever been such bitterness. People argue bitterly about whether reform is needed. And in general - whether it is a reform or a coup. A lot of facts are involved, but emotions. Supporters of secular and democratic Israel see this judicial reform as a sign that supporters of the more religious part of Israeli society are determined to take some kind of revenge for the defeat in the previous elections.
The Israeli press reported instances in which police violently dispersed demonstrators, used stun grenades and water cannons, and arrested protesters for disturbing the peace.
“The police have been instructed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a far-right politician, to be as tough as possible on the demonstrators. This caused discontent within the police itself. The Inspector General of Police, apparently in agreement with the minister, removed Amihai Eshed, the police chief of Tel Aviv, where mass demonstrations are taking place, and this caused great discontent among both the public and the police generals.
Ashed was suspended for not being tough enough on the demonstrators. He was a supporter of dialogue and giving the demonstrators the opportunity to block a very important highway [the Ayalon Highway] that runs through the whole of Tel Aviv. He was for it, the minister was against it, the inspector general was against it.”
In February, Netanyahu tried to appoint his close supporter Yossi Sheli as head of the Central Bureau of Statistics (CSB), which is responsible for all official statistics in the country, although he does not have the competence and experience for such a job. This attempt failed. On March 14, the public broadcaster CANN-11 reported that the prime minister had demanded that the CSB freeze all competitions for filling vacancies until the head of the bureau was appointed.
“Netanyahu is trying to place his supporters in both key and secondary posts. The attempt to appoint the head of the CSB is typical. There is an even more dangerous moment in these unrest, and it concerns the army. Many Israeli officers, pilots and reconnaissance officers say they refuse to participate in reservist training. They say that they will reluctantly continue to fulfill their duties as reservists, but they vehemently oppose this reform. A few days ago, the new Chief of the General Staff made a very unsuccessful speech, declaring that it is better to have a rigid government that ensures order than anarchy. He was forced to quickly take back his words, but this is a real violation of the taboo. For the first time in history, the Chief of the General Staff spoke so clearly on this issue. What is happening in the army raises big questions, because at some stage it will begin to affect combat readiness in the face of a possible military confrontation with Iran.
We are already seeing several repercussions of these unrest in other areas. A quiet outflow of capital begins, because capital loves peace. It is not so important for him whether the dictatorship in the country or democracy, although he prefers democracy, but calmness is most important. In addition, as a result of all these actions, Israel's position in the international arena worsened, and there was a chill with the UAE. It's hard to say how connected this is, but we see that a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran is starting, which is very bad for Israel.
Ways to resolve the crisis
Under Israeli law , the Bench of the Supreme Court also sits as the High Court of Justice, and in that capacity acts as the first and last instance. The bill, passed on first reading, effectively nullifies the veto power of the High Court of Justice, which acts as a constitutional court and can overturn laws passed by Parliament. According to the document, the parliament will be able to override the veto of the court by a simple majority.
“In theory, an appeal against this law will now be filed, and the High Court of Justice will satisfy it, and we will find ourselves in a situation of paralysis. Both sides are teetering on the brink of a legal nuclear war that they can arrange for each other. This is a real threat, because both sides are ready to paralyze the legal life of Israel. Obviously a way out is needed. Netanyahu is non-confrontational, a seasoned politician and prefers to make things better than start revolutions. It is obvious that he is looking for a way out, because he himself is under investigation , and the legal adviser of the government has forbidden him to participate in the discussion of this reform. He is forced to work behind the scenes. It is clear to everyone that in fact he is participating, but he cannot officially make any decisions.
There is also a compromise program proposed by former Justice Minister Daniel Friedman and Professor Yuval Elbashan, which, however, is rejected by the opposition. There is a program prepared by President Yitzhak Herzog and it should be made public in the coming days. In this case, it will be more difficult for the opposition to say “no”. This is the initiative of a person who serves as a symbol of the state. In addition, he was a very famous lawyer and had a successful private practice before going into politics.
The current coalition, like a mad printer, issues more and more new laws that change the situation. The opposition is urging her to stop in order to give these initiatives a chance. At the same time, she has already rejected some of the initiatives. And here the question arises, who is leading whom - the politicians of the protesters, or is it the protests that are forcing politicians to take a more intransigent position.