The situation in Israel is coming to a head: the expulsion of the minister triggers new protests
Situation in Israel is coming to a head
Minister expulsion triggers new protests
03/27/2023, 05:40 am
Israel’s right-wing religious government wants to push through a highly controversial judicial reform with all its might. Angry mass protests break out after the dismissal of a critical minister. Will reform be put on hold given the country’s unprecedented division?
With the dismissal of Defense Minister Joav Galant for criticizing a highly controversial judicial reform, the situation in Israel is becoming increasingly dramatic. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the streets of the coastal city of Tel Aviv to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision. In view of the precarious situation, the head of the right-wing religious government held an emergency consultation on how to proceed. According to media reports, the army was put on increased alert because of the chaotic developments.
The anger of many people, who fear for democracy in Israel, is breaking out in the streets. After 200,000 people had already flocked there on Saturday, countless demonstrators with Israeli flags blocked the central road to Jerusalem on Sunday evening in Tel Aviv and set tires on fire. The police used cavalry squadrons and water cannons against the crowd, from which stones were thrown at the emergency services. In Jerusalem, angry people broke through a roadblock next to Netanyahu’s apartment building, where the head of the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet arrived for talks that night.
Netanyahu had dismissed Galant, who belongs to his right-wing conservative Likud party, because of his call to halt judicial reform. There have been violent protests for months against the reform, which aims to curtail the influence of the Supreme Court and strengthen the government’s position of power at the expense of the independent judiciary. The plans have also triggered considerable criticism internationally, even the USA, as the most important ally, expressed “deeply concern” in a statement: In view of the planned “fundamental changes to a democratic system”, the White House “emphatically called on the Israeli leadership to do so as soon as possible find a compromise”.
Former Defense Minister Galant called on the government to engage in dialogue with critics on Saturday evening. He warned that national security is at stake. For weeks there has been talk of growing resentment in the military, and numerous reservists did not show up for duty in protest against the reform.
The red line has been crossed for Lapid and Grantz
Support also seems to be crumbling in Netanyahu’s own party: According to Israeli media reports, several Likud politicians are now campaigning to stop the judicial reform. According to the Haaretz newspaper, influential party figures are calling for the resignation of Defense Minister Yariv Levin, who has tied his political fate to the reform. In a joint statement, opposition politicians Jair Lapid and Benny Gantz called on Netanyahu’s party colleagues “not to participate in the destruction of national security”. The head of government “crossed a red line”.
Netanyahu’s coalition, which has been in office for three months – the furthest right the country has ever had – actually wanted to implement core elements of the reform in the coming days. Recent events made it unclear whether the vote on a law that would give government politicians more influence in the appointment of judges will take place as planned this Monday.
The government accuses the Supreme Court of improper interference in political decisions. In the future, parliament should be able to overturn decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority, and the prime minister should be better protected against removal from office. Critics see the separation of powers in danger, some even warn against the creeping introduction of a dictatorship.
Is Israel facing general strike?
Israeli universities announced on Sunday evening a temporary teaching freeze in protest against Galant’s dismissal and the reform plans. Several mayors went on hunger strike, demanding an immediate containment of the national crisis. The trade union confederation (Histadrut) scheduled a press conference for Monday, apparently to announce a general strike.
Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel was in the greatest danger since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Arab states had surprisingly attacked Israel on the holiest Jewish holiday. Bennett called on Netanyahu to reverse Galant’s sacking, suspend reform and engage in dialogue with opponents. He warned the demonstrators not to use violence and to prevent bloodshed. “We are brothers,” wrote Bennett.
Security experts warn that the country’s enemies – above all Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and militant Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip – could seize the opportunity to launch attacks on the domestically weakened state of Israel.
In view of the widespread protests in Israel against the coalition’s course, the US government called for a compromise. “We are deeply concerned by today’s developments in Israel, which underscore the urgent need for a compromise,” the White House said. Democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of US-Israel relations. Fundamental changes to a democratic system – such as the Israeli government is planning with a judicial reform – should be aimed for with the broadest possible support from the population, it said. “We continue to urge the Israeli leadership to find a compromise as soon as possible.”