Making order of the facts - opinion

Perhaps the main question is whether the opposition and the protest movement should be much more forthcoming in efforts to reach a compromise with the government over the judicial reform. 

 ANTI-JUDICIAL REFORM demonstrators march in Kiryat Shmona, last week. (photo credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)
ANTI-JUDICIAL REFORM demonstrators march in Kiryat Shmona, last week.
(photo credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)

In recent weeks, I have found that the conversation usually goes astray after acquaintances who support the government and its judicial reform ask me whether I participate in the demonstrations. I explain that in principle, I support them, but because I am uncomfortable in large crowds and due to my age, I do not actually participate in them.

What do I mean by “goes astray?” I mean that my acquaintances start attacking me about the demonstrators’ or the opposition leaders’ actions or comments that they find objectionable. We somehow never get to the main issue, which is why the reform is considered by so many to be dangerous to democracy, and what can be done to change this situation before it explodes in our faces.

On Friday, for example, one of my acquaintances attacked me because, according to him, last Tuesday during the “Day of Disruption,” the participants in the obstruction of traffic on the Kiryat Shmona (in the North) main street. They were all kibbutzniks and moshavniks, and not local residents, thus giving the false impression that the locals are opponents of the legal reform in Kiryat Shmona. He went on to accuse the demonstrators (he said “you”) of racism against the Mizrahim, who constitute a majority of the inhabitants of Kiryat Shmona.

I answered that the idea of the “Day of Disruption” was to protest all over the country against the approval, in its first reading last Monday, of the bill to abolish the claim of unreasonableness against unreasonable administrative decisions by the government by the courts. It was not to prove that Kiryat Shmona and other right-wing towns and cities in Israel oppose the government’s policy.

I added that undoubtedly, the situation has given rise to manifestations of mutual Ashkenazi-Mizrahi acrimony, but that is not what the whole crisis is about. It is just a manifestation of one of many unresolved problems that exist in Israeli society. 

 Protestors against the Judicial reform in Tel Aviv on July 15, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Protestors against the Judicial reform in Tel Aviv on July 15, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

I also pointed out that in reaction to the blocking of the main street in Kiryat Shmona, supporters of Otzma Yehudit in the town took revenge by blocking the entrance to several kibbutzim in the vicinity, and hurled racist statements against the “privileged Ashkenazim,” but not a word about the reform.

Focusing on the debate surrounding Israeli judicial reform

THE FOCUS at the moment should be on the question of whether or not the government’s reform is just an innocent plan to improve the performance of the Israeli democracy (as it claims), or is a malicious plan to bring an end to Israel’s liberal democracy and institute an illiberal democracy in its place.

Government supporters argue that the opposition is not really concerned with democracy but with having lost its predominance – and still refuses to accept the results of the last elections.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in this line of argumentation. First, there is no doubt that the legislative program that Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented on January 4 does not tally with the principles of liberal democracy. It enables the introduction of an irreversible illiberal system of government, which could easily turn into an authoritarian system, and even a dictatorship, should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu choose such a path. 

In addition, the opposition accepted the election results. But it argues that these results do not include the right to change Israel’s system of government and bring upon the State of Israel the collapse of all the basic premises that have stood behind its policies in numerous fields until recently.

Let us not forget that it was Netanyahu who refused to accept the results of the elections to the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th Knessets. The results indicated that the only sort of government that can lead to stability in the current electoral reality, is an authentic national unity government – not the fraudulent variety formed in May 2020 with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

The results of the elections to the 25th Knesset made possible the formation of an all-Right government, in which three extreme-Right, racist, and anti-democratic parties, Religious Zionist, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam – that Netanyahu manipulated into running together – call the shots.

However, eight months after the election results, all current opinion polls show that, should elections be held today, the coalition would lose around 10 Knesset seats, and that the current opposition, without the United Arab List, would garner a clear majority.

Let us also not forget that after the formation of the “government of change” following the elections to the 24th Knesset, Netanyahu and the Jewish opposition parties rejected the legitimacy of the results. They argued that then-prime minister Naftali Bennett’s government was formed on the basis of right-wing votes for Bennett’s party Yamina by voters who wanted it to join a government led by Netanyahu – and that a prime minister whose party holds only six or seven Knesset seats is not legitimate.

The fact that opinion polls indicate that if elections were held today the coalition parties would lose some 10 seats suggests that as many as 400,000 who voted for them last November today object to the government’s policies and/or performance, and would not vote for it. Therefore, the first argument is double-edged. Perhaps Yamina led some of its voters astray back in 2021 – but the Likud and its partners also led many of their voters astray last November.

As to Yamina’s six seats in the 24th Knesset, the Israeli system of government requires a prime minister to receive a vote of confidence for his government when it is formed – not to stand at the head of a large party. Bennett’s government received the support of a majority of the MKs when it was formed. 

Nevertheless, the Jewish opposition in the course of the 24th Knesset did everything in its power to obstruct the smooth workings of the Knesset, boycotted committees formed by the coalition, and refused to establish committees that the opposition traditionally chairs or enable the formation of the Knesset Ethics Committee.

I DO NOT deny that the policy choices of the current opposition and of the protest movement are not always to my liking. Perhaps the main question is whether the opposition and the protest movement should be much more forthcoming in efforts to reach a compromise with the government over the legal reform. 

But there are several reasons why this is easier said than done. The main ones are that Levin and his ideological supporters openly declare that they reject any but purely cosmetic changes to their draft laws. It is doubtful whether Netanyahu will be able, or willing, to overrule them when push comes to shove.

Coalition spokespeople argue that the opposition proved that it had no intention of reaching a compromise at the negotiation table under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog. The truth is that the members of the opposition have only one basic condition: that a compromise should be comprehensive and not piecemeal, since they do not trust the government to continue the negotiations after the simpler issues are resolved. 

It was the government that refused to accept this condition. In addition, the makeup of the government negotiating team indicated that the government did not really mean business.

The bottom line is that what is missing is trust.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge last year.