It's time for Israel's explosive politics to calm down - editorial

The controversial new government has been the source of rising tensions from all sides of the political party. With the way things are heading, Israelis need to calm down.

 Israeli Prime Minister and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on January 2, 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli Prime Minister and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on January 2, 2023.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Even in ‘normal’ times – not that there have been many of those in the last 74 years – Israel always seems to be one step away from boiling over. We’re loud, impulsive, passionate and in-your-face about everything: family, driving, sports… and politics.

The installation of the new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and the measures, promises and bills that members of the coalition have introduced in its first month – have instilled a fear in the well-more than half of the country’s citizenry that didn’t vote for them.

That’s manifested itself in some dangerous bravado on both sides of the political spectrum. One would have thought that the assassination of an Israeli prime minister and the incitement of words that preceded it would have taught us all a very costly lesson in how rhetoric, venom and ideology can manifest itself in unspeakable violence.

But a look at what’s been happening in the country over the last few days indicates that we’re headed down the same chilling tracks that will lead to bloodshed between brothers.

Calls for uprising

Former Meretz MK and IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan called for “large-scale civil uprising” to protest the Netanyahu government’s moves against the judiciary.

 Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan at the Knesset plenum (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan at the Knesset plenum (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Writing on Twitter, Golan called for “no more polite demonstrations after Shabbat [Saturday night], no more runaway posts in the evening, and no more lamentation and crying. Only actions. Only results. Businesses will be shut down, services will be shut down, roads will be blocked, and those who pretend to rule through corrupt, hedonistic, extremist and dark people will discover that the people are the sovereign.”

National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz also fanned the flames by warning Netanyahu at a party faction meeting on Monday that if the government continued its current direction, “you will be responsible for the civil war brewing in Israeli society.”

On the Right, Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel, in an interview with KAN News, called for the arrest of Golan and Gantz, as well as opposition leader Yair Lapid for committing treason against Israel.

“If they were calling for demonstrations, I would allow them the right. But they are talking in terms of me being an enemy: They are calling for war.”

Zvika Fogel

“If they were calling for demonstrations, I would allow them the right. But they are talking in terms of me being an enemy: They are calling for war.” This constitutes “treason against the motherland” and is a valid “reason for arrest,” Fogel said.

On Tuesday, a driver from the settlement of Elad came close to hitting demonstrators who were protesting against the government’s planned judicial reforms in Beersheba. The driver shouted: “Anarchists, you ruined the state,” one of the protesters told Walla.

Also on Tuesday, Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern said he had received death threats after criticizing the new government’s planned judicial reforms in an interview on KAN Reshet Bet.

Clearly, the pressure level all around is rising and the question only remains when it will overflow.

Calming the tension

President Isaac Herzog wisely appealed to Knesset members and the general public to “lower the temperature.”

“This is a sensitive and explosive time in Israeli public life... I appeal to you, elected representatives and citizens from across the public and political spectrum: Exercise restraint and act responsibly. We need to calm things down…” Herzog said in a Twitter post on Tuesday.

Those sentiments were echoed by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called on “all sides, from Right to Left, to calm down. There is significance to words and we are getting into dangerous territory. Even in time periods of deep disagreement, the role of public leaders is to preserve the unity of the nation,” he tweeted.

Whether anyone will heed the appeals may become clear on Saturday night, when a call for a massive demonstration in Tel Aviv against the new government’s policies has been issued.

Saying that “the law enforcement against the Left should be the same as it is against the Right,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has directed the Israel Police to arrest protesters at the rally who block roads or riot.

Let’s hope that Herzog and Gallant’s appeals will get through and that political violence will not rear its head – not on Saturday night and not at any time in the future.

The test of any democracy is how it handles dissension among its citizens. The test for Israel has arrived.