Israel’s ultra-right-wing government is dead determined to turn the judiciary into a lame duck. Populist politicians of Israel are in no mood to give up their machinations. Their aim is to engineer an autocracy and a constitutional dictatorship through deceptive legal reforms. The decay is running deeper now. Israel is no longer the democracy it used to be. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are still out there on the billowing streets. The hardened prime minister remains unapologetic.
There is little doubt that democracy has gone to seed in Israel. Israelis have been protesting since January. They continue to pour scorn over judicial reforms proposed by right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, aka Bibi. They want Bibi to resign. When Israel should be rejoicing on its 75th anniversary, it could well mourn the death of democracy. This is despite Bibi deciding, towards the end of March, to defer until mid-May his plans to ‘reform’ the judiciary. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-65086871
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The Devil is Still Out There
The deferment is a canard to lead the Israelis up the garden path. Expectedly, they are not convinced and hence continuing to protest. They know Bibi is an ultra and his motives are ulterior. The nation views the deferment as a calculated political attempt by Bibi to cool the protesters down. They realise Bibi has only decided to defer his proposed judicial reforms, not to withdraw them. The devil is still out there and the danger to Israel’s democracy has not gone away.
Bibi has only pressed pause on his proposed judicial reforms, he is far from abrogating them. Across political and party divides, Israelis understand this. Reason why they are still out there on the streets and the squares. Wiser over the years, the Israelis know Bibi’s hand is behind the many mini pro-reform counter-protests in Jerusalem and Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They realise how easy it is for the corruption-charged Bibi to engineer such protests. https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/small-counter- demonstration-held-as-thousands-protest-outside-presidents- residence-in-jerusalem/
Riled Israelis are Escalating
Though the volatile West Bank is partly administered by the Palestinian National Authority, it is controlled by Israel’s armed forces. Yet, pro-reformers have not been able to frustrate anti-reform protesters. Worried over democracy in Israel, ally America has been urging Bibi to give up his proposed judicial reforms. Prominent American Jewish groups too have been imploring Bibi to do the same.
However, Bibi is hellbent on restricting the powers of Israel’s 15 unelected judges of the Supreme Court. He wants to make the judges subservient to the legislature and the executive. He is desperate to see the Knesset get the authority, with just a simple majority, to jettison uncomfortable Supreme Court rulings. Plus, he wants the parliament to enjoy the power to pick the judges. Riled Israelis are escalating the protests, but Bibi remains adamant. https://en.idi.org.il/articles/48015
Anarchy to Usher in Theocracy
The more adamant Bibi gets, greater are the dangers to democracy in Israel. Bibi wants the courts to throw out cases for being ‘unreasonable.’ As Bibi wants the justice system to rest effectively on vague concepts to facilitate arbitrariness, like pulling down the house of a terrorist who has killed someone. Of late, he has even begun holding his critics hostage. Inevitably, Israel is fast descending into the deep hellhole of civil war and anarchy. https://poliphoon.com/israels-democracy-begins-to-decay/
Bibi’s plan is to leverage this anarchy to usher in theocracy, eventually. As Israel is turning into an Iran, democracy is almost dead. To make matters worse, Israel has no written constitution. The country relies on expanding collection of laws and rules, customs and conventions, practices and precedents. Plus, the Israeli Knesset is unicameral with a single law-making chamber. This means checks need to come from the apex Supreme Court. https://www.livelaw.in/columns/israels-judicial-reform-bill-a- threat-to-judicial-independence-democracy-225849
Democracy out of the Window
Bibi is proposing to change this. He is working according to a plan. His deferred judicial reforms can turn into law anytime now. When it happens, democracy will be truly dead, with minority rights and civil liberties buried alongside. The possibility of this happening is high. As Bibi’s coalition partners are fundamentalist ultra-nationalists, the Israeli society should prepare itself to forego many of its rights and liberties.
Sure, Bibi’s coalition partners are all right-wing extremists, holding orthodox religious beliefs. This ultra-right orientation of Bibi’s government has made Israel a fertile battleground for theocratic extremists. In the process, Israel’s democracy has gone out of the window. For Bibi, fundamentalism is a necessity and religious orthodoxy is a policy. He needs religion to distract his countrymen away from his criminal trial on corruption charges. https://www.britannica.com/topic/fundamentalism/Jewish- fundamentalism-in-Israel
Clear Who is the Ultimate Beneficiary
These charges are arraignments for offering political favours, doled out in return for expensive gifts and fawning news coverage. Though Bibi denies these charges, as any populist would, his obsession with weakening the judiciary proves his guilt and culpability. Clearly, Bibi wants to sap Supreme Court’s strength, primarily to put an end to his legal troubles. His intention was evident even before his reform proposal, as far back as in March.
Bibi had prevailed on the Knesset then to legislate a bill that deprives Israel’s attorney general of the power to disqualify a political leader and declare him unfit for office. Bibi tasted success and the bill did become law. Israelis thus know well who is the ultimate beneficiary of the proposed judicial reforms now. Bibi is desperate to put his reforms through as his probable conviction is playing on his mind. He needs a protective firewall. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from- chaos/2023/04/10/the-corruption-and-autocracy-nexus-the- case-of-king-bibi/
Driving a Deep Wedge in the Society
This is why even when the Knesset is ready to debate the reforms, Israelis do not want anything of it. They just want the entire basket of Bibi’s proposed judicial reforms buried. The much-discussed compromise will not help matters as nothing short of the proposed reforms’ burial can save the 75-year-old Israeli democracy from total extinction. Israelis are in no mood to compromise on their judiciary as it would mean sure and sudden death. https://poliphoon.com/bibi-has-begun-to-break-his-nation/
Bibi is hoping to survive the protests by dividing the Israeli society. He is planning to drive a deep wedge between orthodox and secular Jews. As orthodox Jews back the idea of State promotion of religion, Bibi is using them to ride roughshod over democratic values. Democracy is gasping and it is almost dead in Israel. Defanging the Supreme Court and asserting Knesset’s supremacy over the courts would confirm democracy’s death in Israel. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/opinion/article/2023/03/29/israe l-palestine-what-democracy-are-we-talking- about_6021146_23.html
All Enemies of Self-Determination
Whey then are Israel’s Arab citizens not backing the anti-reform protests? Arab Israelis, who add up to 20 per cent of Israel’s population of 9m, are the nation’s largest minority group. Why are they not protesting against Bibi’s proposed judicial reforms? This has become a major cause for worry for those spearheading the protests. Plus, the 5m Palestinians, based in Gaza and the West Bank, too are not protesting.
The reason behind this non-involvement is not far to seek. Palestinians see no difference between Bibi and his opponents. They view all Israeli politicians, liberal and conservative, in fact all Israelis, as enemies of Palestinian rights to statehood and self-determination. Moreover, the minority Palestinians say the nation’s government is unconcerned about their rights. They hold the Israeli government responsible for their lowly existence in overcrowded colonies of slime and crime. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-know-about-arab- citizens- israel#:~:text=A%20preponderance%20of%20the%20Arabs,Ea st%20Jerusalem%20hold%20this%20status.
Rights Applied Selectively
They couldn’t be more correct. In 2019, the Israeli Knesset recognised the right of national self-determination as ‘unique to the Jewish people.’ Ironically, this non-inclusive declaration did not cover all Israeli nationals as it went on to assert that there is ‘no such thing’ as Palestinian people. Enraged, the 2m Arab citizens of Israel, who are Palestinians, are not backing the protests over jusicial reforms.
This is why, despite enjoying the right to vote and serve in the army, Arab citizens of Israel are very unhappy. They are now registering their unhappiness by not backing the anti-reform protests. When national rights do not extend to all nationals, and when they are applied selectively, democracy becomes flawed. Israel has crossed the point of redemption and democracy in Israel is truly dead. Global leaders are growing worried.
In Israel, it is all about Jewishness – Jewish food, Jewish dress, Jewish language, Jewish culture, and all things Jewish. Inevitably, the fundamentalist and populist-nationalist Bibi is ensuring democracy in Israel too is essentially Jewish, differentiating and discriminatory. Irate Israeli Palestinians say Israel is a sick democracy. In such a sectarian and segregating environment, democracy cannot survive.