Split wide open
The protesters plan to continue their strikes. But those in support of the reforms regard the Supreme Court as a far too powerful citadel of the political left. They have also argued that there should be more balance between different branches of the government.
This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at US President Joe Biden’s recommendation that the former abandon his controversial plan to overhaul the country’s legal system. The rebuttal was a rare instance when these allies, otherwise, in sync with each other’s political ideologies, found themselves at loggerheads. While Biden stated that Netanyahu’s government cannot continue down this road, he also dashed hopes of Netanyahu calling on the White House anytime soon. Netanyahu bluntly emphasised Israel’s sovereignty and said its decisions cannot be influenced even by the best of friends.
One thing led to another and America informed Israel that it has not yet met the eligibility requirements to join the US Visa Waiver Program. The reason was that Israel is yet to grant free passage for Palestinian-Americans at its airports and into the West Bank. This, the US says, is essential to the condition of reciprocity to join the programme, which would permit Israelis visa-free access to the US.
When Netanyahu took over as PM in this current term, he had a mission encompassing a few major goals. One of them was to barricade Iran; the second was to restore Tel Aviv’s security and governance situation; thirdly, he had to deal with skyrocketing inflation; and fourthly, and definitely not the least of his challenges, was building a harmonious relationship with the Arab world.
However, in the past quarter of a year or so, Netanyahu’s energies have been sucked up by his government’s attempts to pass its judicial overhaul Bills in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The legislation restricts the power of the judiciary and offers the parliament the unbridled capacity for appointment of judges. Previously, the Supreme Court of the nation, on rare occasions, has negated laws that have been enacted by parliament. Controversially, a specific clause in the new law would free the Knesset to override such a decision by the Supreme Court by means of a simple majority.
The introduction of this legislation had prompted widespread protests in Israel. Things got so bad that Netanyahu was compelled to fire his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, after the latter urged to postpone the passing of the Bills, fearing it would threaten national security. Even the military reservists in a nation, known for its military might, threatened to stop reporting for duty, in the event of Israel going ahead with its judicial reforms. Nevertheless, the PM, who saw that the situation was getting out of hand, finally decided to announce the suspension of the Bills, lest it trigger civil unrest. Netanyahu has said that he wants to postpone the overhaul to the next parliamentary session which begins in April.
The protesters plan to continue their strikes. But those in support of the reforms regard the Supreme Court as a far too powerful citadel of the political left. They have also argued that there should be more balance between different branches of the government. Netanyahu was even warned by his right-leaning National Security Minister that he would quit the coalition if the PM chose to raise the white flag.
Under Netanyahu’s watch, Israel had witnessed a significant bent towards the extreme right, who are of the opinion that such adherence to legal checks and balances is an impediment to Israel realising its Jewish identity. Netanyahu, who is no stranger to political crests and troughs, could find the current crisis as his most daunting one. In a nation already fractured by a chasm of extreme left and right schools of thought, the challenge ahead of Netanyahu might be to keep Israel united in the face of storms in the years to come.