Israel no closer to unity one week on from mass judicial protests
Last week, much of Jerusalem ground to a halt as the city became the scene of mass protest.
An array of demonstrators and strikers from across the country, many of whom hold differing political views, were united in opposition to controversial judicial reforms proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which could concentrate political power in the hands of his cabinet.
They formed a crowd of about 100,000 outside the country’s parliament, in opposition to the first round of voting on the government’s judicial overhaul.
Inside parliament, a number of politicians were removed from the room as scuffles broke out.
One week on, the streets are quieter and parliament is only slightly calmer. But the challenges facing Mr Netanyahu as a result of his reform package are mounting.
Protest numbers are high, but they alone do not reveal the broadening base of Israelis now willing to take to the streets.
For the second day running, crowds in the West Bank settlement of Efrat gathered in protest. Almost half its residents voted for the extreme-right Religious Zionism party, now coalition members, in the last elections, and about 20 per cent for Mr Netanyahu’s party, Likud.
The starkest sign of discontent might have been at home but old friends abroad are also raising the alarm. On Thursday, US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said the Biden administration had told Mr Netanyahu to “pump the brakes. Slow down, try to get a consensus [and] bring the parties together.”
In response, Israeli Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli on Sunday said: “I say to the American ambassador, put the brakes on yourself and mind your own business.”
The spat comes after a string of international criticism of the overhaul, including from the US, Israel’s most important ally.
The world of academia, tech and finance are also sounding the alarm. This month, 56 leading American economists signed an open letter to Mr Netanyahu criticising the proposals. Alan Auerbach, one of the signatories, told The National that “countries that erode the rule of law are not treated well by the world economy”.
“It sends a bad economic signal that a government led by a Prime Minister who is already under indictment and having problems with the legal system would pursue such reforms,” Mr Auerbach said, referring to continuing corruption cases against Mr Netanyahu.
The coalition chairman of the Netanyahu government submitted a bill on Sunday that would effectively prevent the country’s attorney general from declaring the Prime Minister unfit for office.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all for Mr Netanyahu is not growing opposition, but mounting calls for dialogue and compromise. A recent poll by Israel’s Channel 12 found only one in four Israelis supported the proposed legislation, and the country’s President Isaac Herzog continues to plea for dialogue.
Proposed reforms include an “override clause” that would allow parliament to relegislate by simple parliamentary majority any laws that Israel’s Supreme Court strikes down.
Other proposals include giving the administration control over the selection of judges and allowing ministers to select their own legal advisers.