Israel crisis: A fight over the nation’s character
Benjamin Netanyahu kept a nation waiting while physicians left hospitals, fires swirled around dissolving tires on Tel Aviv’s major roadway, and Israel’s main airport was closed.
Israel experienced unprecedented demonstrations and strikes on Monday, the culmination of months of unrest over the government’s proposals to limit the authority of Israel’s courts.
All parties waited for the prime minister to take action as the country was now in trouble.
When he eventually appeared on national television, he started by equating his situation to the tale of King Solomon in order to maximize the effect of his speech, which was broadcast live at the start of the 20:00 evening news programs.
He had reached his own conclusion regarding the two factions opposing his changes, just as the ancient king had to decide which of two contending women was the true caring mother of an infant.
He declared he would “extend my hand” in “compromise” and “dialogue” with legislative opponents and that he was postponing the court reforms until the next sitting of parliament.
The declaration seems to have done enough to avert the problem for the time being, giving the formal opposition room to declare that they will hold him to his word regarding the agreed solution.
It has also splintered the sizable anti-reform movement, with the larger opposition parties in parliament cautiously welcoming his decision and the organizers of the street protests criticizing it as a “gaslighting” interim halt. They promised to continue their demonstrations.
However, the much more important issues at the root of this crisis—the acrimonious divisions between Jewish Israelis regarding the relationship between religion and state, the perilous weakness of the checks on government power, and the complete lack of any political horizons for a future coexistence with the Palestinians—remain unresolved and are only becoming worse.
Mr. Netanyahu continued with his allegory, saying that he was opposed to dividing the nation in the same way that one mother was against King Solomon splitting her child in two.
However, many of his detractors claim that he actually had months to scale back or scrap the contentious changes he initiated. They charge him with having allowed the nation to reach its bursting point first.
His comments implied clearly to him that a small group of his opponents were responsible for the problem and were willing to split the infant in two. He claimed his presence was for responsible behavior. He declared, “I am not prepared to divide the country in two.
It appeared to be an intentional attempt to highlight the differences between the parties, giving Mr. Netanyahu the appearance of being the only one capable of saving the nation from itself.
After Mr. Netanyahu returned to power at the end of the previous year, heading the most right-wing, nationalist administration in Israel’s history and pledging to limit the judiciary’s authority, the demonstrations grew more intense. He had arranged a union of far-right groups to provide the necessary votes for his return to power, and he has grown more dependent on them during this crisis.
The judicial reforms would have given the government complete control over the group that selects judges and eventually deprived the Supreme Court of the authority to essentially invalidate laws that it deemed to be illegal.
They triggered one of the biggest political and social conflicts in Israel’s modern history, much of which was based on rivals’ concerns that his ultra-religious and far-right government was accelerating the country’s transition to theocracy.
Others noted that the adjustments might eventually help protect Mr. Netanyahu from his graft prosecution, a charge he has denied.
The plans’ proponents claimed that they would prevent judges from engaging in “overreach” because they have accused them frequently of acting publicly against the interests of their nationalist agenda, which they claim is supported by the majority of Israelis.
However, resistance spread widely among military reservists, prompting security officials to allegedly caution Mr. Netanyahu that the discontent was hurting the Israel Defense Forces’ ability to operate. (IDF).
Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, openly urged a stop to the changes as a result. Later, Mr. Netanyahu dismissed him, which set off the situation on Monday.
The reason Mr. Netanyahu’s speech on Monday was delayed so much was because he was haggling with the far-right ministers in his alliance over the price they would pay to agree to halt the changes.
This was made abundantly obvious on Monday night when Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister and member of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, declared that he would move forward with his plans for a “national guard,” which would reportedly be partially financed by a multibillion dollar budget.
He has previously mentioned a movable military force directly under his command that would be responsible for putting an end to unrest in “mixed” Jewish-Arab towns or in neighborhoods where Palestinian Israeli citizens commit a high number of crimes.
It is regarded as a private army by his adversaries and even some elements of the Israeli police. With two security organizations working in the same region, Berti Ohion, a former director of police operations, claimed on Tuesday that such a group would cause “chaos.”
The political history of Mr. Ben-Gvir includes members of an aggressive Jewish nationalist organization that the Israeli Knesset has declared illegal. He has previously been found guilty of backing a terrorist organization and inciting racism and anti-Palestinian sentiment.
On Monday night, his own fans gathered outside the Israeli Knesset, while far-right organizations were later caught on camera assaulting Palestinian bystanders.
The inclusion of their ultra-nationalist parties in Israel’s government, according to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, has given Israeli settlers more confidence than ever, which has contributed to the recent spike in settlement assaults.
Six Palestinians were hurt in an assault on houses and cars in the West Bank village of Hawara on Monday as the political situation in Jerusalem grew more intense.
Two Israeli troops were hurt there last week in a drive-by gunfire by Palestinians.
Following the shooting deaths of two Israelis there by a Palestinian shooter, the town was the site of an hours-long assault by armed settlers last month that left one man dead and hundreds wounded.
Later, Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s far-right finance minister, demanded that the community be “wiped out.” Residents at the time told the BBC that Israeli security personnel protected the settlements while some fired tear gas and shock devices at assault victims.
Some anti-government demonstrators in Israel compared the police’s use of force against them with their inaction toward the West Bank settlements. They shouted at their security troops in Tel Aviv, “Where were you in Hawara?”
The Israeli left side and the surviving members of the “peace camp” have participated in the protests, but they have not played a particularly conspicuous role. In reality, some protesters assaulted those waving Palestinian banners early on in the demonstrations.
Instead, the main opposition parties have asserted that this display of Zionism, loyalty, and democracy by the majority of liberal, secular Israelis is the real thing.
Israeli banners were flying high during the protests. Yair Lapid, the head of the opposition, started calling Mr. Netanyahu’s religious and far-right alliance “anti-Zionist” and a grave risk to national security.
The state’s character is at stake in this conflict.
Mr. Netanyahu’s address on Monday only signaled a truce; the battle will soon restart because neither his promise to postpone the changes nor the ostensible talks have a specific timetable.