July 20, 2024
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Israel’s Civil War Over Judicial Reform

The Right is unlikely to proceed because Israel is in an unprecedented state of polarization. Everyone is under pressure to take sides.

The first 100 days of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have seen Israel experience massive turmoil.

While the common Israeli saying holds that those who take office have 100 days of grace, this government has not been granted a single day’s grace from those who oppose it. On the other hand, the government itself did not wait long before Justice Minister Yariv Levin launched his legal reform program.

And that is when the snowball started to roll. It quickly picked up speed, growing larger, heavier, and eventually, unstoppable. In politics, even those with access to the best strategic advisers can experience moments in which they simply lose control.

The Netanyahu government lost control very quickly because the legal reform sparked massive resistance. Behind it was all the power, energy and financial resources of its rival camp —the “just not Bibi” camp, which is often called the Center-Left, but is in fact, all about opposing Netanyahu.

In previous rounds of elections, groups of anti-Netanyahu demonstrators raised black flags, telling Netanyahu to “go.”

Now, on Saturday nights, the black flag is replaced with the blue and white flag of Israel, but the protests are ultimately driven by the same message. Millions of shekels are spent on ads to support the protests – on billboards, on social media, and with paid text messages directly to our phones.

The government froze its reform program to allow a dialogue with the opposition, but the protests continue nevertheless. It is therefore clear that legal reform was just a trigger, and it is the Netanyahu haters who continue to fuel the protests against him.

We are in highly unconventional times. Every Saturday night, Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Junction, a major traffic artery, fills with demonstrators, and a small number of them go on to block traffic on the Ayalon Highway, and some of them are arrested. However one looks at it, the goal is to disrupt the routine of people’s lives.

Those who front the protests are not necessarily today’s opposition leaders. They are trying to jump on the bandwagon and take the credit, but those who lead the demonstrations from behind the scenes are politicians from the past. Examples include former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.

They also include Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who tried to face Netanyahu in elections and had to resign at the start of the race.

Israel Has Entered a Quiet Civil War

At the end of the day, there is one camp in Israel that is fighting because it was told there would be a dictatorship, while another camp feels that all these protests are merely Netanyahu hatred and an attempt to overthrow the government. In response to these developments, the right-wing camp has initiated demonstrations in support of legal reform.

Although the ruling coalition has gained 64 seats in the ballot box, those who are in charge in Israel are, in fact, Netanyahu’s opponents: The media, dominated by the Left, the key economic actors, and the national trade union, which disabled international flights as part of the protests.

They have collectively succeeded in applying such a high degree of pressure, that the reform has been halted. There has been no significant breakthrough in talks so far, yet some observers say they are surprised that the negotiations have not yet broken down.

They should not be surprised; the dialogue appears to be, in actuality, an attempt by the government to dissolve its reform initiative. The big question going forward is – what will the Right do?

Will it go all the way with the reform, as it promised? One of its election tickets was to create a balance between the three branches of government.

The Right is unlikely to proceed because Israel is in an unprecedented state of polarization. Everyone is under pressure to take sides, and people are very quickly cataloged. Extremely tense moments occur daily among people in workplaces, among family members and among friends.

It feels like Israeli society has sunk into a kind of quiet civil war. Hence, if the government succeeds in passing even a single clause of its reform, that would be considered a major achievement. The more likely scenario is a dissolution of the initiative.

The fact that the coalition is itself divided, also contributes to the likelihood of that scenario. Some of the coalition’s members think the reform should be pursued to the end, others think it should be softened, and some think it should be dropped altogether.

An attempt to pass the reform without broad consensus stands a good chance of leading to the government’s collapse due to these divisions. If the government drops the reform, the chances that it will fall will decline significantly.

Polls show that support for the government has rapidly lost altitude and its members fear their political fate. That provides enough of a basis for them to remain together, even if some, like Levin, who initiated this snowball in the first place by going for large-scale reform, will be furious to see it dropped.

The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. She is a leading political commentator, communications lecturer and panelist on television current affairs programs, including Channel 13’s daily Israel This Morning show. She is a columnist in Maariv’s weekend edition, and served as senior editor and parliamentary correspondent of Israel Hayom.

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