Looking back over the past four months, it is astounding to observe how quickly and in how many fields Israel has sustained damage due to the actions of the Netanyahu government.
Currently, negotiations are ongoing between representatives of the Israeli coalition government and the opposition under the banner of searching for a compromise to the judicial reform initiative and exiting this unprecedented internal crisis.
However, any serious attempt to reevaluate the balance of power between the three branches of government would, if done correctly, involve a lengthy process lasting a year or two. It would have to involve jurists from across the board, experts from a wide spectrum of views, representatives of civil society, Jews and Arabs, trade unionists and employers – in short, it would be an enormous endeavor. This isn’t something that can be seriously concluded in a matter of weeks.
Looking back, the question of how Israel reached this crisis point in the space of just four months must be asked. Economically, Israel went from being a powerful tech-based start-up nation with a booming economy revered around the world, to a country whose economic officials warn of billions of shekels in losses.
The people issuing these warnings are Benjamin Netanyahu appointees, such as Bank of Israel (BOI) governor Prof. Amir Yaron and former Bank of Israel governor Karnit Flug, as well as the world-renowned economist Jacob Frenkel, also a former governor of the BOI.
The economic consensus is clear: if the judicial reform goes ahead, Israel’s outlook will be catastrophic.
Investors see that the government is trying to rob the judiciary of its independence and from there, financial damage is quick to follow. Even if the political crisis fades and the judicial changes are stopped in their tracks, the economic damage could be long-lasting, as investors may be wary of betting on Israel.
Politically, Israel was considered to be the United States’ strongest ally and derived much of its power from this alliance. Now, President Joe Biden has explicitly informed the world that Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwelcome in Washington.
Warnings about common values have been issued by other senior American administration officials, such as the secretary of state and the secretary of defense.
And what of the flagship achievement of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain? Suddenly, a cold breeze is blowing in Israel’s direction from the Gulf. The damaged Israeli-American alliance is part of the reason. Netanyahu’s vision of on-boarding Saudi Arabia to the Abraham Accords will have to wait.
On recent visits to European capitals, the Israeli premier was pummeled with criticism over the judicial reform crisis, albeit the style was less abrasive than Biden’s.
It’s not only relations with the US administration that are on the ropes. So, too, are relations between the Israeli government and American Jewry. On the domestic front, several crises threaten to snowball into an avalanche. Reservists from prized army and air force units have announced they will not volunteer if the reform goes ahead and Israel is turned into a dictatorship.
All of this has eroded Israeli deterrence and challenged its security establishment, according to none other than Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, whom Netanyahu initially fired for warning of the dangers posed by the domestic crisis but backtracked on his decision under pressure.
INCREDIBLY, THIS can all be traced back to a single attempt to implement an extreme move to undermine the judiciary’s independence.
Israel has always known bitter disputes over policies and ideologies. Whether it was about reparations from Germany, or land and peace, Israelis have always argued intensely, but almost everyone was united around core democratic values and accepting the decisions of the courts.
In fact, the judicial reform initiative has, until now, been a marginal issue. While Justice Minister Yariv Levin has held strong views on the matter for many years, until the formation of this government, Netanyahu did not take it very seriously. Levin himself admitted in April that had the reform passed as initially presented, Israel could not fit the definition of a democratic state.
The damage hasn’t stopped at national interests – it has harmed Netanyahu politically. A series of polls have shown that the Likud party is losing altitude quickly.
What has caused Netanyahu to embark on such a destructive path?
The answer can only be the attempt to weaken the legal system due to Netanyahu’s criminal trial. Although Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty, he probably does not have an interest in seeing his trial play out and seeing whether he is convicted or not.
Netanyahu loves his country – he served in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando force and fought bravely – but he loves himself more. As a result, until now, Netanyahu has rejected any plea bargain arrangement, which would have likely meant an end to his political career, as he seeks to punish the system that dared prosecute him.
In this manner, everyone perceived by Netanyahu as a threat has been tagged as a leftist or someone who has betrayed the national interest. This includes the police and its former commissioner, the religious settler Roni Alsheikh; the yeshiva graduate and former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, and the religious former attorney-general and Netanyahu appointee Avichai Mandelblit.
Suddenly, all of the above-mentioned and others are labeled by the Netanyahu lie machine as leftists seeking to harm the state. The worst part is that a swath of the public believes this.
As a result, in the Netanyahu narrative, the courts are now presented as a danger to democracy and to the security that frames publicly appointed politicians.
The time is ripe for Netanyahu to face the challenges over his conduct from within the Likud. The Likud was once a party that wasn’t afraid to criticize its leader. This was true during the days of Menachem Begin, whose peace deal with Egypt faced multiple challenges from within the party, and through to the era of prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who was challenged by senior Likud figures Ariel Sharon and David Levy at the time.
It would be appropriate for some of the Likud’s 31 Knesset members today to speak up and tell Netanyahu that he cannot continue harming the country in this way.
The writer is a publishing expert with the MirYam Institute. He was the deputy prime minister and intelligence minister from 2009-2013 and justice minister from 1988-1992, among other positions.