Tactics of disdain in Israeli politics - editorial 

Netanyahu's disdain for protesters points to the sad fact that his government is deaf to any criticism.

 Police attempt to push back protesters on Ayalon Highway during judicial reform protests, March 1, 2023. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Police attempt to push back protesters on Ayalon Highway during judicial reform protests, March 1, 2023.

Soon after the November 1 election results became apparent, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu gave a victory speech in which he set a relatively moderate and reconciliatory tone, promising to form a government that would “look after all the citizens of Israel, without exception, because the state is all of ours.”

However, the disdain that Netanyahu and members of his coalition have strewn upon the significant numbers of Israeli citizens who have been out in the streets protesting the government’s planned judicial overhaul, points to the sad fact that his government is deaf to any criticism, and will waste no opportunity to belittle and delegitimize their concerns.

Whether labeling the huge cross-section of almost exclusively law-abiding, peaceful demonstrators “anarchists” or “terrorists”, or claiming that the protests are a thin disguise for the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations that marked his previous term in office, the government has clearly failed to accept that there is widespread opposition to the judicial changes.

The latest attack on the legitimacy of the protest has been directed at IDF reservists. Over the past two weeks, letters from some of the army’s most elite units – including reservists from Flotilla 13 naval commandos, the Air Force’s Shaldag Special Forces unit and the 69th Squadron, whose F-15s bombed the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 – have been sent, announcing that they are refusing to volunteer for extra training in protest against the overhaul.

They are the latest segment of the growing sectors of Israeli society – economists, El Al pilots, hi-tech leaders, doctors and so on – who are laying down the gauntlet against the reforms, saying that they will result in a country with greatly diminished democratic standards.

Politicians diminish the accomplishments of former soldiers opposing reform

Instead of internalizing that these are serious people who have risked their lives for their country, and are not making rash political calculations, the government response has been along the lines of Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi (Likud) who wrote: “The people of Israel will manage without you and you will go to hell.”

Likud-associated pro-Netanyahu radio host Yaakov Bardugo resorted to calling the refusers “pus.”

In response to the issue of El Al pilots refusing to man flights for Netanyahu and his wife to Italy as a form of protest, Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan tweeted that they are not “patriots” and not “Zionists.” “I despise each and every one of them.”

It raises the question of whether the coalition also thinks that bodies outside of Israel who have been warning against the devastating economic and political effects of the judicial reform should also go to hell.

Bodies like internationally respected credit rating agency Moody’s warned on Tuesday that if the proposed judicial reforms are passed, the country’s credit rating outlook may be downgraded from positive to stable and its ability to attract investment could be damaged.

In its statement, Moody’s did not downgrade Israel’s A1 positive credit rating and did not walk back the positive outlook it assigned in April 2022. 

But it did present a dire warning: “If implemented in full, the proposed changes could materially weaken the strength of the judiciary and as such be credit negative. The planned changes could also pose longer-term risks for Israel’s economic prospects, particularly capital inflows into the important high-tech sector.”

It cited reports in Israeli media that some tech companies are considering leaving the country as a sign of a potential problem facing the economy.

As if right on cue, Israeli financial technology firm Riskified announced on Wednesday that it is transferring $500 million out of the country, joining the growing private sector opposition to the judicial plans.

The isolated incidents and warnings have turned into daily occurrences, and combined with the swelling weekly protests on the street, they point to the fact that opposition to judicial overhaul is not marginal, not “Leftist” and those against the plans are not “anarchists.”

This utter disregard and lack of respect for people who are the backbone of Israel indicates that Netanyahu’s election night promise of being a prime minister for all of the country’s citizens was a hollow statement at best.

By denigrating and delegitimizing those warning against the reforms, Netanyahu and his cronies are creating an atmosphere of dangerous anarchy that Israel has never seen.