Who will step up and lead Israel out of the self-destructive loop it has entered is a question many Israelis have been asking themselves over the last few weeks.
Who will emerge as the proverbial “adult in the room” who will take the responsible step to keep the judicial overhaul plan from further damaging the country’s solidarity, security and economy?
Many initially thought that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself would be the person to fill this role. After all, after the election he told everyone concerned about the possible composition of his government that he would have two hands firmly on the wheel.
Surely he would not let Justice Minister Yariv Levin steamroll through his proposed dramatic changes over the screams and protests of half the country. Surely he would step in to moderate the plan before high-tech companies pulled money out of the country, and before reserve pilots stopped showing up for weekly training.
Yet he didn’t.
Surely National Unity Party head Benny Gantz, who ran a previous election campaign around the slogan “Israel above all else” would step up and negotiate with the coalition over the reforms. Surely he would do so -- even if lambasted by others in the opposition -- to save the country from the trauma of “national days of disruption” and altercations between protestors and those who oppose them.
Yet he didn’t.
Surely, then, President Isaac Herzog, who told the nation that the current situation was keeping him up at night, would be able to come up with some compromise that would magically put this traumatic dispute in the nation’s rearview mirror and allow the country to carry on with business as usual.
Yet he didn’t. He tried to broach a compromise that all would accept, but it failed.
So who is left?
To whom should the nation turn its expectant eyes? Who is going to lead Israel out of this current mess? Might some veteran MKs inside the Likud threaten not to vote for the reform to tamp it down? Perhaps MKs Yuli Edelstein, Danny Danon or David Bitan? Or maybe ministers Avi Dichter, Nir Barkat, Gila Gamliel or Yisrael Katz?
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant's potential to make change
Say hello to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
On Sunday, the media reported that Netanyahu told his cabinet that Gallant had threatened to resign if the reform was not softened. According to these reports, Gallant has warned Netanyahu over the last few weeks that threats by reservists -- from pilots to paratroopers -- not to show up for their reserve duty could severely harm the army’s operational capabilities. He indicated that he would resign rather than oversee the rupturing of the military.
He addressed the impact Monday night of the reservists’ unwillingness to show up for reserve duty, saying: “Calls for insubordination are dangerous and the phenomenon of widespread insubordination may harm the IDF’s ability to carry out its missions.”
That Gallant is the one who issued a threat to Netanyahu to calm things down came as a surprise to some who believed that he would not be the first to lead a vocal opposition to the plan inside the Likud because he would not want to jeopardize his august position.
Last week, in an apparent sign of displeasure with the reforms and the way they were being pushed through, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein did not show up for a vote on the first reading of the Knesset override clause and on legislation preventing the suspension of the prime minister for anything but physical or mental incapacity. Edelstein, however, could take such a step because by doing so he was not risking a ministerial position.
Gallant, the conventional wisdom held, would be more reluctant to come out openly against the reforms or in favor of slowing them down because he had a lot to lose, as do other ministers like Katz, Dichter, Barkat and Gamliel.
It took Gallant until March 5, nearly two months after Levin first unveiled his plan, for him to publicly address the issue, saying in a video that “Israel faces serious challenges,” and that “any call to refuse to serve is harmful to the IDF’s operational ability to carry out its missions.”
Then he went silent again.
In the meantime, however, the calls for reservists to stay home have only increased, and have moved from mere calls to real action. In addition, Gallant continues to come under pressure to take a stand -- as have other ministers -- from people in his social circle.
A former commander of the Shayetet 13, Gallant went kayaking in the Mediterranean two weeks ago and when he emerged at Kibbutz Sdot Yam he was greeted by naval reservists who turned their backs on him when he passed and shouted epithets in his direction.
Galant’s threat to resign could lead other ministers to similarly take more active steps to slow down the reform. On Monday it was reported that Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) who has also been the target of protests by former colleagues, was quoted as saying at the Likud faction meeting that it was “not right” for the coalition to choose the head of the executive, legislature and judiciary.
And on Tuesday, Brakat, the economy minister, said that he would honor the Supreme Court’s decision if it struck down legislation altering how judges are selected. On Monday, Levin said he would not accept such a move by the court and that if the court tried to intervene it would constitute “the crossing of every red line.”
Barkat said that while he supports the “softened” reform regarding how judges are selected, if the court would strike them down he would respect that decision and “not lend my voice and support to chaos in which the citizens of Israel will lose confidence in the government and justice systems simultaneously,”
Since Levin unveiled his plan in January and unleashed unprecedented domestic turmoil, there has been speculation about when voices inside the Likud faction would be raised saying that the government was moving too far, too fast without the support of the public. Those voices are starting to be heard three months later, and if at some point they become a critical mass that will force the coalition to backtrack on the depth of the reform, then the turning point may well have come over the weekend when Gallant warned Netanyahu of the damage to the military and threatened to resign.