Israel will need to undergo period of reckoning, consider how to move forward - editorial

Netanyahu's move sparked mass protests across the country in which protesters took to the streets in unprecedented fashion overnight.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 12, 2023. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 12, 2023.

The Days of Disruption and Paralysis morphed into something very different on Monday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant the night before.

Netanyahu’s dismissal of Gallant was irresponsible, dangerous and raises serious questions about the prime minister’s state of mind. Gallant was not fired for something he did, but rather, for something he said, and for daring to voice opposition to the continued legislative action on the law that would change the makeup of the committee that selects and appoints Supreme Court justices. It was an opposition based on the acute security threats Israel is facing in light of the divisions in society that have been created by the legislation.

Netanyahu’s irresponsible move sparked massive unrest and thousands of protesters took to the streets across the country in unprecedented fashion overnight. The Ayalon Highway was blocked from late Sunday night until Monday morning.

Nationwide strike

On Monday, Arnon Bar-David, the head of the Histadrut Labor Federation, announced a far-reaching labor strike as part of the opposition to the government’s proposed judicial reform. The Histadrut was swiftly joined by the nation’s healthcare providers, universities, local governments, and some major business owners, including at least two major shopping mall chains, among others.

 Thousands march in protest of the judicial reform in Tel Aviv, March 23, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Thousands march in protest of the judicial reform in Tel Aviv, March 23, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Significantly, minutes after Bar David’s declaration, the Israel Airports Authority closed Ben-Gurion Airport to departures, in effect grinding civilian air traffic to a halt.

During his press conference, Bar-David pleaded, “I call on the prime minister: Stop the legislation before it’s too late.

“We built the country together, we fought corona together, we fought together with you to save the State of Israel. For what? We have a mission to stop this wave of legislation. We will win and stop this wave. And we will return the State of Israel to sanity,” he said.

“It is impossible to polarize this nation anymore,” Bar-David said. “We must return to sanity.... We see, and do not believe, where we have come to. Where are we leading our beloved State of Israel? To the abyss? So before we fall into the abyss, today all of us will stop our descent!”

Netanyahu’s actions over the last few months have been reckless, and he has shown a complete disregard for the safety and security of this country.

He initiated a controversial legislative slate that split the nation and continued to advance it despite warnings from everyone – his security chiefs, his economic experts, heads of allied states and members of his own cabinet.

But Netanyahu ignored them all and plowed ahead, creating the situation that has paralyzed the country. It is okay to disagree and argue over the type of changes that are needed and how they should be legislated, but the way this was advanced was just wrong.

That is the lesson that needs to be learned from what has happened in Israel over the last three months.

The protesters showed that a leader – no matter how powerful – cannot get away with what he or she wants to do when those desires come up against fierce public resistance. Even Justice Minister Yariv Levin seemed to understand that he went too far when he announced on Monday that he would accept the prime minister’s decision to stop the legislation if that was what Netanyahu decided.

It is hard to overstate the damage that has been caused to Israel in recent months. The shekel has been weakened, trust in the tech sector has declined and many IDF reservists have stopped volunteering for service.

All of this was ignored because Israel has a prime minister who cares first and foremost about his own future and less about the future and sustainability of the nation.

He finally began to make the right decision when he announced a delay on Monday to advancing the legislation. Better late than never.

It is important because next week, Jewish families will come together to mark Passover. They will recite the Hagaddah and of the path to freedom of the ancient Israelites from Egypt to the Land of Israel.

Israel will now need to undergo a period of reckoning and consider how to move forward from the fissure that has crippled this country. It will not be easy.