The temperature of the crisis in Israel remains high


Ohad Zwigenberg / AP

The summer heat in Israel is not subsiding. The “temperature” of the country’s political life remains just as high. According to the latest data, more than half a million people have already joined the demonstrations against the current government (with the country’s population of 9 million). Almost since the beginning of the new government, it has been accompanied by the protest movement. Fierce opposition to the authorities is taking place at all levels — in parliament, in social circles, on the streets.

The coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu has been in power for almost a year. And for almost 10 months, the judicial reform announced by the government has been opposed by reservists, cultural figures, and lawyers. The desire to limit the actions of judges and, above all, to deprive the Supreme Court of some of its powers, has become a kind of trigger. The largest trade union associations are ready to strike, and in this case the country may be simply paralyzed.

The protests have also affected the economy. Despite Netanyahu’s statements that nothing threatens the planned development, it affected the investment market and led to the weakening of the shekel. Observers believe that the instability in the country and the possible refusal of reservists to participate in military operations may be used by the Hezbollah group, which has already issued a statement about “checking” the northern borders of Israel.

The Israeli opposition, led by former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, believes that the judicial reform will break the system of checks and balances and untie the hands of the executive branch.

Everything that is happening is being called the biggest crisis in Israel since the Jewish state’s existence. And this is not an exaggeration. The depth of the civil split is truly unprecedented.

Perhaps there would be less strife in the Knesset and society if Israel had a Constitution. But Israel does not have such a Basic Law, which many countries have. The only thing that was adopted from the very beginning of the creation of the state is the Declaration of Independence. On its sole basis, a kind of status quo was formed between the branches of government and different groups of the population — for example, between religious and secular. The Supreme Court and the legal service in general played a major role in that status quo. As for the Declaration, it is not a legal document and is not a determinant of authority for either the Knesset or the court. The absence of a Constitution was one of the conditions of the religious representatives when the state was established. They declared: there will be no Constitution because it contradicts the idea of the existence of a religious law.

«The situation in the current government is such that an unprecedented number of portfolios are given to religious parties. They are in many ways ‘picking the music,’» believes Knesset member Yulia Malinovskaya, a member of the Our Home is Israel party. «Jewish orthodox parties make up about a quarter of today’s coalition. Above all, representatives of these parties are in favor of judicial reform,» the parliamentarian points out.

In general, religious parties today — orthodox and national-religious — have only 20 mandates out of 120 seats in the Knesset. But the Israeli case clearly shows that the adoption of certain laws is dictated by the minority, because the stability of the existing coalition depends on it. The fate of the current coalition, one way or another, depends both on the rather radical national-religious parties, which are active opponents of the creation of a Palestinian state, and on the orthodox, who, for example, recently put forward a draft law equating military service with Torah study.

Therefore, the biggest fear of the protesters is that the reform changes the balance of power, changes the possibility of limiting the adoption of laws to the very minority, primarily religious.

In turn, Benjamin Netanyahu is forced to orient himself toward this orthodox pillar, on which the stability of the coalition depends. The prime minister needs it above all for his own survival.

To be fair, the Knesset has so far succeeded in passing the only amendment within the framework of judicial reform. It was the «Inadmissibility Principle» law. It partially abolishes the omnipotence of the judiciary. But the fate of this legislative initiative is in question. An appeal has already been filed with the Bagatz High Court of Justice to suspend the innovation, which limits the right of superior court judges to overturn government decisions.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration argues that the legislative changes will strike a fair balance between politicians and the judiciary. This approach to reform is shared by the government’s supporters. However, there are not many of them. The opposition believes that the reform will lead to the disappearance of an independent judiciary.

Whatever Bagatz’s decision, the law itself will not be able to affect the system as a whole due to its insignificance, says Andrei Kharazov, editor-in-chief of the Russian-language TV channel’s website. «It would do nothing for the judges to take it — and cancel it on the grounds that the new legislative initiative contradicts the principles of the Declaration of Independence. You can’t just cancel a law because someone doesn’t like it, but on the basis of a ‘super-legal’ Declaration, you can», Kharazov notes.

But the fight against judicial reform is not only and not so much about the amendment that has now been passed. And the fears of opponents of the reform are not limited to the struggle between representatives of religious and secular forces. Concerns are primarily caused by appointments in the government, which are suspected to be appointments with corruption potential.

This is especially true against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations against Netanyahu. In fact, the head of the current cabinet is in conflict with the judiciary. However, he is not the first. Israel has already jailed both presidents and prime ministers. This time, though, the conflict between the prime minister and the court has escalated to a confrontation between the judicial and executive authorities.

Not surprisingly, more and more people share the underlying anxiety about what is happening — the political structure of the state is indeed in danger.

An opinion poll was conducted the other day in which Israelis showed their attitudes toward the Supreme Court. 68% express great or moderate confidence in the Supreme Court, Israelinfo reported. In addition, from the published data of this poll it became known: if the elections were held today, the parties of the current coalition would receive only 53 mandates out of the necessary 61 and would not be able to form a government.

Now the opposing parties have taken a pause. The country has just celebrated the arrival of the year 5784 on the Israeli calendar. What does the near future hold for the political system in Israel? According to predictions, there will be no calm — the degree of tension between opponents and supporters of reform is too high. The Prime Minister has no choice but to maneuver between the poles, trying to placate some and not lose the support of others.

President Isaac Herzog looks the most optimistic now, offering new options for an agreement on judicial reform, which he believes will satisfy both the coalition and the opposition. Despite the fact that negotiators from both sides often refuse to meet, Herzog believes he can bring them to the same table to find a compromise.