The Israeli public have again escalated their demonstrations, both against and for the current far-right coalition government’s planned legal system overhaul, leading to violence, road blockages, and calls on US President Joe Biden to condemn Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As the civil unrest picks up, will the Israeli leadership look for a way out by finding a military conflict as a distraction?
Thousands of frustrated Israeli citizens have continued to fill the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities, since the beginning of the year when a number of planned reforms to the judicial system were announced by the then newly voted in government. Back in March, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was forced to postpone a number of controversial bills that were set to be brought before the Knesset, following unprecedented strike action — organized through the Histadrut (Israeli labour union) — that threatened serious economic consequences.
This week, the first bill of many others to come, was voted through in its initial stage, that will pave the way towards achieving the desired judicial system amendments. In response, Israeli demonstrators cut off major roads near Tel Aviv, even blocking off part of the Ben Gurion Airport — built on the occupied Palestinian city of Lyd — invoking a harsher than usual reaction from the Israeli police. The police were filmed on horse back, using water cannon trucks to disperse protesters and even dragging off some, arresting just over 60 people. Responding to this, the US Biden administration said that it “urges Israeli authorities to respect right of peaceful assembly after police arrest protesters”, which is interesting, especially considering the fact that when peaceful Palestinian protesters are shot dead in their hundreds, not a single word of criticism is uttered.
A number of attempts have been made by Israeli supporters of the judicial reform to even commit car ramming’s against the self-styled “pro-democracy” movement. The new bill, if it passes the next two of its three required votes in the Knesset, will curb the Israeli Supreme Court’s power to quash decisions made by the government, ministers, and elected officials, by ruling them to be legally unreasonable. For the supporters of the legal system reforms, they view this as a positive step towards true democracy after the Netanyahu coalition was elected by the majority of Jewish-Israeli voters. On the other side, Israeli supporters of the opposition believe that these bills will lead to an theocratic system being set up, largely based upon Jewish religious laws, of which many could restrict liberal practices and transform the nature of the current State model. Thousands of Israelis even protested outside of US offices on Wednesday, calling on the Biden administration to step in and condemn Netanyahu.
To understand this situation, what has to be known is that Benjamin Netanyahu himself does not necessarily care much for these legal reforms and the 8% dip in the value of the Israeli Shekel is also a nuisance for him; something that is being partly attributed to the legal overhaul push. Strikes, road blocks, and even potentially riots, all will carry severe economic costs to Israel. However, regardless of what the Israeli PM actually thinks, he needs to keep his coalition partners happy and the second largest party in his government, after his own Likud party, is the extremist Religious Zionism alliance. If the PM backs away from these bills that are aimed at amending the legal system, he will likely lose the backing of his coalition allies and would hence lose his ruling majority. As Benjamin Netanyahu currently undergoes investigation, during his corruption trial, he is also dropping in the polls and has been overtaken by political rival Benny Gantz, which is why he cannot afford to be pushed from power at this time….