Tottering Israel is close to the edge of a precipice. Despite 8-month-long street protests, Israel passes a law to weaken its Supreme Court. This is Israel’s moment of self-slaying. The July 24th vote, 64 to 0, in the 120-strong chamber of the unicameral Knesset (all 56 opposition members had staged a walkout), will now ensure the Supreme Court loses its power to strike down decisions of the government led by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Israel has apparently committed constitutional hara-kiri.

Waves of Fury Unleashed

This hara-kiri kills the Supreme Court’s ability to overrule Mr Netanyahu government’s diktats on the ground of “reasonableness”. This is a legal standard used in judicial systems in Australia, Britain and Canada. By this, a verdict is considered unreasonable if it is given without weighing in all material factors, or without giving adequate weight to each factor, or by giving irrelevant factors undue weight. What Israel’s vote on ‘reasonableness’ means for its future – Atlantic Council

The July 24th vote has enabled Mr Netanyahu to acquire the power of judicial intervention. Inevitably, the controversial vote has unleashed waves of fury in Israel. The opposition that boycotted the vote is now screaming blue murder. As furious Israelis hit the streets with force, the wave of unrest is pulling in organised workers. Trade unions are threatening to launch a general strike now. Army reservists too are vowing to stop work.

Video Courtesy: YouTube/BBC News

Unique Election-Winning Ploy

Losing no time, America, a long-time friend and an ardent supporter of Israel, condemned the vote as “unfortunate”. As domestic and global opposition surge over the shock vote, Israel is growing more divided and polarised than ever. Dangers to democracy in Mr Netanyahu’s Israel are getting reconfirmed. The way out for self-seeking Israeli politicians is to end infighting, embrace conciliation and avoid moments of crisis. US calls Israeli judicial overhaul vote ‘unfortunate’ | CNN Politics

Divided politicians of Israel will be able only then to suggest and seek a constitutional reform that is acceptable to all democracy-loving Israelis. It is high time Israel’s polarised politicos buried their differences and came together to strike at the roots of ‘judicial reforms’ that Mr Netanyahu sees as his unique election-winning ploy. Unity of purpose is crucial, self-serving partisan negotiations will not take them anywhere close to their goals. Bibi has Begun Breaking his Nation – The Poliphoon

Power to the Elbows of Ultras

Mr Netanyahu’s love for ‘judicial reforms’ has a history. His decision to delay the vote in March to borrow time for a compromise had come to a nought. Even before the July 24th vote, he had tried to appease his ultra-orthodox far-right coalition partners. This attempt too was a flop. Time was running out and Mr Netanyahu was getting desperate. A string of corruption charges before the Supreme Court was staring at him. He wanted to weaken the judiciary at the earliest. Netanyahu’s Corruption Charges in Israel: What to Know – The New York Times (

Mr. Netanyahu was indicted in 2019 for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His trial started in 2021. As he yielded to the resignation threats of his allies, he demonstrated that his political survival was more important for him than anything else. However, his resignation added power to the elbows of ultras in his cabinet. Then came the July 24th vote, which is aiding his self-preservation now. Yet, it is too early for him to celebrate.

Extremist Thinking to Spell Disaster

With reason. The vote has been passed using the standard of reasonableness. Legal experts believe there are limits to its application. As the standard has not been done away totally in Israel by the July 24th vote, the committee that picks judges will continue to have a majority of sitting justices, besides Bar Association representatives. Effectively, this means politicians will be in minority against jurists. Mr Netanyahu will not be prepared to accept this. Israel set for dramatic Judicial Selection Committee vote on Wednesday – Israel Politics – The Jerusalem Post (

As Mr Netanyahu and his far-right pals assert that the Supreme Court does not mirror popular views, such extremist thinking will spell disaster for Israel’s democracy. Worse, post-vote, the far-right will force itself on Israelis for long. As Mr Netanyahu has tasted success in the first stage of his judicial reform, the July 24th vote is fuelling fears that a divisive far-right government will bulldoze ahead to make religion a state domain.

Negation of the Constitution

Detractors of Mr Netanyahu say his government may even annex the West Bank soon in the name of nationalism. The real worry is that Mr Netanyahu’s sectarian government and his parochial Likud Party would bend the electoral system to ensure he wins every time. As the Israeli Knesset is unicameral and there are no constitutional checks and balances, chances of Israel becoming a majoritarian state are high. Inescapably, secular Jews and Arab minorities are feeling threatened already. 70% of secular Jewish Israelis feel threatened by new government, survey shows | The Times of Israel

As fears of persecution escalate, an intolerant Israel will squander the goodwill earned by its founding fathers. Mr Netanyahu needs to avoid this in his own interest. He will have to build consensus across the political spectrum. The Supreme Court is slated to hear appeals against the July 24th vote, September onwards. The Supreme Court should strike the vote down. Can it do so in the changed atmosphere post-vote? If it does not, it would be negation of the constitution the Supreme Court is meant to safeguard.

Mr Netanyahu’s Authority Waning

Moreover, it would mean the Supreme Court is endorsing Mr Netanyahu and his me-above-the-Court stand. By doing so, the Supreme Court would jeopardise the institutions it is expected to protect. Such an odious eventuality will embroil Israel in an unforeseen constitutional crisis. In such a chaotic state, religion will take precedence over democratic values. Unabashed polarisation and partisanship will leave Israel’s legacies maimed and erased. Israel protests Netanyahu judicial dictatorship constitution crisis– The Washington Post

As voting was in process in the Knesset, Mr Netanyahu sat through the travesty, even as the entire opposition boycotted the event. He had just returned from a hospital, where he was fitted with a cardiac pacemaker. Despite a rejuvenated heart, he was not able to convince his coalition partners to delay the vote. This shows the authority of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister is waning. The inference is that he will not be able to rein in the ultras, today or tomorrow.

Democratic Prospects are Grim

When the Knesset reconvenes in October, it will be time for the next instalment of Mr Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul – enacting legislation to gain control over appointments of Supreme Court judges. As civil rights groups, besides Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition, have petitioned the Supreme Court for striking the proposal down, street protests threaten to snowball into a major civil war. Come what may, Israelis seem dead determined to stop their country from descending into a bottomless constitutional abyss. ‘A sad day’: Lapid attacks ‘puppet’ Netanyahu, vows to petition court on new law | The Times of Israel

Israel was founded in 1948 without a constitution. In 1958, the Knesset passed quasi-constitutional laws, aka the Basic Laws. As the Basic Laws are easy to change with a simple majority in the unicameral Knesset, and with the most divisive prime minister on the hot seat, the prospects for Israel turning into a vibrant democracy are grim. The liberalism of 75 years and Israel’s famed tolerance are about to be pushed out to let in religious bigots and fanatics. Israel is No Longer a Democracy – The Poliphoon

In Conclusion

Gathering storm clouds tell a bigger story. Authoritarianism will soon replace democracy. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion may become history. Arabs, adding up to 20 per cent of Israel’s population, are sure to be treated more as second-class citizens. Religious zealotry will rule above everything else.

Mr Netanyahu has promised the West that he would soon reconcile with the opposition and opt for consensus. These vows will soon evaporate in a divisive scenario where there are neither constitutional checks nor walls of separation between religion and state. This is recipe for Israel’s worst-ever crisis.