Is our Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caught between a rock and a hard place? He may have had an inkling that he would face some pushback when the judicial reforms were announced, but I doubt he had a clue that 11 weeks later, hundreds of thousands of embattled Israelis would still be taking to the streets to protest week after week.
But the Israeli public is a resilient, tenacious bunch. Many have served in the army, often risking their lives, which has undoubtedly imbued them with a steely determination lacking in others. Add to that the external threats that are part and parcel of Israel as a whole, and you end up with a fearless society that isn’t afraid to speak up and fight for what they believe in.
And it’s not just external threats that cause Israelis to react, as the last few months have shown.
Indeed, why should it be any different if that threat comes from within?
As we all know, a government cannot govern without the cooperation of those who have not actually voted for it. In any country, there will always be a silent majority who may not support their government’s policies, but they put up with them nonetheless. It’s an unwritten rule if you will.
In Israel, this has been the case for years in relation to the non-religious sector, which has put up with the government’s preferential treatment of the ultra-Orthodox community. A grudging acceptance by the silent majority is all that is needed for a government to govern. Once that disappears, trouble and strife take its place.
One could argue that the Israeli public is now faced not just with the prospect of judicial reforms, but a regime change in which democracy is being eroded to make way for a quasi-dictatorship. And it’s not happening gradually either.
As reported in Friday’s Jerusalem Post, “The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee led by Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman will continue at full pace this week to debate the first part of the government’s judicial reforms, after the coalition rejected President Isaac Herzog’s long-awaited compromise out of hand on Wednesday evening.”
The desperate cries of the people are being ignored at best and held in utter contempt at worst.
Has Netanyahu lost touch with his fellow countrymen or has he been backed into a corner?
Not only did he fail to appreciate the strength of the Israeli public, but it would appear that he also failed to appreciate just how far his coalition partners would go in their quest for power, showing themselves to be every bit as resilient and tenacious as the people they were elected to serve.
In the past, our prime minister has been an advocate for democracy and lauded the system of checks and balances provided by the Supreme Court – the backbone of any strong democratic society – which had been in place for decades.
Now he’s been backed into a corner by those to whom he’s handed over the reins by giving them prominent positions in his government: Itamar Ben-Gvir, national security minister; Bezalel Smotrich, finance minister; MK Simcha Rothman, leader of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; and Justice Minister Yariv Levin. Instead of having his hand on the wheel, he seems to be entirely at their mercy. Otherwise, how else could you explain his absurd, horrifying stance?
Some believe that he’s lost sight of reality as his cognitive function diminishes with the advancing of the years, while others think that his own personal woes (his court case and a desire to save his skin and stay out of prison) are to blame.
It’s hard to believe, however, that he would sacrifice the country he has served for decades – for personal gain. Not only is he leading the country into the abyss, but sure as night follows day, his reputation will also be left in tatters if this chaos is allowed to continue.
Instead of being remembered as one of Israel’s great leaders, (he strengthened the economy, was influential in making Israel a hi-tech heavyweight and the shekel became one of the world’s strongest currencies, to name but a few of his achievements), he’ll go down in history as a tin-pot dictator.
AND YET, despite the backlash to the reforms from all sectors of society, including President Isaac Herzog, foreign leaders, business leaders, and IDF reservists who are threatening not to serve, Netanyahu is not moved. If anything, he seems to be oblivious to the ticking time bomb on his doorstep, as he flies off to various destinations, ostensibly to discuss the more pressing matter of Iran.
Without the support and backing of the IDF, and the air force in particular, however, there’s precious little he can do in that regard. Israel is on the verge of a major constitutional crisis and all the signs indicate that the one person who could stop it, Netanyahu, is either powerless or unwilling to do so. Under his watch, his coalition is destroying the country.
Having been voted into power, they believe that they can do whatever they please while brandishing those who oppose their policies as anarchists and terrorists.
As journalist Ori Lewis stated, they are “blinkered and clueless about how the world works. Given their parliamentary majority, they think they can do just about anything, totally oblivious to the very real possibility that they are about to bring the house down on us all.”
“[They are all] blinkered and clueless about how the world works. Given their parliamentary majority, they think they can do just about anything, totally oblivious to the very real possibility that they are about to bring the house down on us all.”Ori Lewis
So, while Netanyahu may not have foreseen what would happen when he surrounded himself with extreme right-wing coalition partners, one would like to think that he is, in some small way, starting to regret this decision.
“Who will blink first?” is the big question.
Both sides are entrenched. The protesters, whose numbers are growing significantly, are fighting to preserve the Israel that they know and love – a free, democratic, tolerant society where people can live as they please, free from the constraints of a quasi-dictator interfering in their lives.
Dan Halutz, the former IDF chief of staff, described the protests as a “war of liberation for the State of Israel… and just like we won in the Independence War, you will win in the second war of liberation,” he told protesters in Haifa on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, the coalition government is equally strident in its desire to change the democratic face of Israel and implement its own agenda. Democracy brought them to power and it is this power that could ultimately destroy Israel as we know it.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”Lord Acton
As Lord Acton, the 19th-century British historian said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Israel where she works at The Jerusalem Post.