President Isaac Herzog has put forward an important proposal to help Israel reach a compromise amid the government’s controversial judicial reform and continued protests.
The president stepped up at the right moment to make an impassioned plea to the citizens of Israel. He said that there is proof Israel’s enemies believe the country is fraying and that there is also concern that the continued battle could lead to a civil war.
“It is precisely now, in the State of Israel’s 75th year of independence, that the abyss is within touching distance. Today, I say to you what I told them: civil war is a red line! I will not allow it to happen! At any price,” he said.
Unfortunately though, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government almost immediately ejected this sound and worthy proposal. While this is disappointing, it is not completely unexpected. Since the beginning, the coalition has not shown room for flexibility. It has steamrolled ahead with its legislative agenda and has refused to stop advancing the laws despite repeated requests that it stop – even if just for a few days – to sit and dialogue with the opposition.
The coalition's intentions
This has all been telling and it speaks volumes about the coalition’s true intentions, which is to get as many of these laws passed without taking the opposition’s concerns into consideration.
If, for example, the coalition really cared about passing laws that would last it would work on these bills with the opposition. That way it would ensure that the bills are not overturned if there is one day a change in government in Jerusalem. That is how laws that legislators really want to see last are passed.
The coalition didn’t do this for two reasons. The first is due to hubris that Justice Minister Yariv Levin and other members of the government have and their feeling that the Center-Left will never return to power. Based on the polls of the last few weeks they seem to have misread the impact the protests would have on the Israeli electorate.
The second reason is a simple lack of care. They do not want to take other sides into consideration and only care about their own view and opinion. This is a level of arrogance that has brought Israel to the terrible situation that it finds itself in today.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the government have not been keen to listen to this warning. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir slammed the president’s proposal and representatives of the government said that it is a complete cancellation of the “necessary changes” they want to make to the judicial system claiming that it “is one-sided, biased and unacceptable. The proposal ignores the root problems presented by the president in his first speech and even exacerbates them.”
The coalition seems to ignore that Israel is at an unprecedented point in its history. While the ruling parties claim that there was an election last year and they have a mandate to make changes, they should remember that all successful democracies work best when they have the consent of the governed and don’t trample the views of the minority.
A democracy in which every election results in the ruling party trampling the opposition and making sweeping changes to historic institutions is not a democracy that will endure.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu refuses to step in to calm the waters and seek a compromise. This is a monumental tragedy and as Herzog rightly said, the recent terrorist incident in the North shows that Israel’s enemies are sensing our country is vulnerable. We must not empower those enemies.
Israel can overcome the current crisis if both sides show reasonableness. This means that Netanyahu must begin to show leadership and meet with the opposition and rein in the increasing extremism of his coalition partners. He has empowered the shrill voices of contempt within the coalition who have disregarded the need for checks on their power and prefer to bulldoze these reforms through without the necessary push-and-pull that makes democracies functional.
The important proposal by the president was not made in haste. It came after months of a rising crescendo of voices across society, and warnings from Israel’s friends abroad. The rapidity with which the president’s proposal was rejected is a stain on this government. There is still time for them to open their hearts to compromise and to do the right thing. That is their duty.