Delay in Israeli judicial reform bill fails to calm mass protests and fears of authoritarianism
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to delay his push to overhaul and weaken Israel's judiciary until the next parliamentary session, following unprecedented mass protests. On Monday, Netanyahu declared the news when a widespread strike paralyzed most of Israel. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister from the far-right, expressed his willingness to postpone the voting process while remaining optimistic about the bill's passage in the upcoming month. The judicial overhaul would give Netanyahu and his coalition of ultra-Orthodox and nationalist settler parties more power to pick judges and override Supreme Court decisions.
The crisis of Israeli democracy is far from over. The proposal has the potential to lead to radical legal adjustments, including the prohibition of Arab political parties, an idea previously put forth by Israel's far-right. According to Shibley Telhami, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, parliament could override the Supreme Court's decision on the legality of the change with a simple majority. In addition, the judicial reform would provide a direct advantage to Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges in three cases.
Despite the delay, the ambitions of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition to chip away at liberal values have not been quelled. The likelihood of the protestors staying on the streets until the downfall of the government is high. Allies should also pay attention because, during a time when the transatlantic community is encountering unprecedented difficulties, the Middle East's sole stable democracy going rogue is the least desirable thing. In contemporary geopolitics, where a clear separation exists between democracies and authoritarian regimes and there is a worldwide struggle for principles, liberal democracies must support pro-democracy movements whenever the values they share are being threatened. It is imperative that Israel is informed by the United States and its allies that any erosion of democratic values will not be accepted, especially from those who are considered their closest allies.
A dilemma is currently being faced by Netanyahu. The legislation is evidently unable to progress. He can attempt to negotiate a more agreeable version of judicial reform in a few weeks, although it may be a diluted version. However, certain individuals within his administration and political supporters may express their discontent and opposition to the choice, feeling neglected.
At present, Netanyahu has yielded to both external and internal Likud pressure and consented to the suspension of the judicial overhaul legislation, possibly until July. The government should strive to reach a compromise with the opposition in order to institute Israel's liberal values, which are rooted in the Declaration of Independence and established legal principles, into the constitution. This compromise legislation should also ensure that both the judiciary and legislature are held accountable by instituting a system of checks and balances. Consequently, the crisis will have been transformed into a chance.
For several weeks, individuals have been protesting on the streets of Tel Aviv, echoing the slogan “demokratia” and calling for the termination of the Netanyahu government. The largest revolution in Israel's history has brought together numerous Israelis from diverse backgrounds. The government is being accused of corruption, racism, and autocracy, and those making the accusations are demonstrating steadfastness. The demonstrators perceive this as an assault by an autocratic administration determined to annihilate its citizens, and are likening it to the Arab world's endeavor in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War to launch an attack on Israel.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, an extremist minister of national security, was convinced by Netanyahu to postpone a potentially hazardous situation for a month. However, this delay came with a condition that the government must pass a legislation, which would empower Netanyahu to create a National Guard under his leadership. Appointing a convicted terrorist supporter, who once displayed the picture of a mass murderer in his home, to lead a new paramilitary unit does not indicate that Israel has moved away from being an authoritarian state. In addition, Netanyahu has consented to the establishment of a fresh security unit that will answer to Ben-Gvir. However, certain professionals are apprehensive about the possibility of the force being deployed against demonstrators during the next voting session of the Knesset on the judicial reform.
In Israel, the right-wing, especially those with a religious affiliation, consider the judiciary to be a stronghold of liberalism and secularism amidst a country that is becoming more conservative and religious. By disempowering the judiciary, the aim is to pave the way for further legislative changes that contradict the liberal principles enshrined in Israel's basic laws, which are the nearest equivalent to a constitution in the country. Right-wingers consider themselves as the guardians of democracy, advocating for the desires of the masses above the unselected judiciary.
Right-wing individuals see the judicial overhaul as a means of restricting the ability of an independent judiciary to enforce checks and balances against the dominance of the majority. Advocates of the proposed law, including some who are not considered extremists, argue that the Israeli legal system possesses excessive autonomy and that the Supreme Court frequently obstructs the desires of the populace as conveyed by their chosen officials.
Despite the delay, the ambitions of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition to chip away at liberal values have not been quelled. The likelihood of the protestors staying on the streets until the downfall of the government is high. Allies should also pay attention because, during a time when the transatlantic community is encountering unprecedented difficulties, the Middle East's sole stable democracy going rogue is the least desirable thing. In contemporary geopolitics, where a clear separation exists between democracies and authoritarian regimes and there is a worldwide struggle for principles, liberal democracies must support pro-democracy movements whenever the values they share are being threatened.
0. “Palestinians to Pay the Price as Netanyahu Pauses Judicial Overhaul While Further Empowering Far Right” Democracy Now!, 28 Mar. 2023, https://www.democracynow.org/2023/3/28/israel_judicial_reform
1. “Netanyahu Blinked, but Israel's Existential Crisis Remains” New York Magazine, 28 Mar. 2023, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2023/03/netanyahu-blinked-but-israels-existential-crisis-remains.html
2. “Israel’s protests show that Netanyahu finally went too far” Vox.com, 27 Mar. 2023, https://www.vox.com/2023/3/27/23658430/israel-protests-netanyahu-judicial-overhaul-general-strike-democracy
3. “Netanyahu Is Beholden to the Israeli Far-Right on the Judicial Overhaul Plan” TIME, 27 Mar. 2023, https://time.com/6266434/israel-protests-netanyahu-far-right
4. “Experts react: Netanyahu just delayed his judicial overhaul after mass protests. What's next for Israel's democracy?” Atlantic Council, 27 Mar. 2023, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/experts-react-netanyahu-just-delayed-his-judicial-overhaul-after-mass-protests-whats-next-for-israels-democracy/
5. “Israel delays controversial judicial reform bill until next session amid protests” ABC News, 27 Mar. 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/International/israels-airport-departures-suspended-amid-public-outcry-prime/story?id=98144543