Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Scores have taken to the streets of Israel regardless of their political alignments although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, heading arguably the most far-right government in the country’s history, seemingly backed down and halted on Monday the controversial judicial reform package.
The move is widely regarded as an attempt to curb the independent judiciary’s powers in favor of the ruling coalition comprising right-wing and far-right parties, including Netanyahu’s Likud.
On Jan. 5, Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced the "judicial reform" package, which limits the powers of the Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in the country. Two days later, demonstrations against the judicial regulation began. On Feb. 21, the judicial regulation passed the first vote in the Knesset, which is home to Israel’s parliament.
On March 9, calls for civil disobedience grew as protests spread across the country. A week later, Netanyahu's government rejected President Isaac Herzog's proposal to end the crisis.
Under the "judicial reform," the draft law making it difficult to dismiss the prime minister was passed on March 23 as the bill was largely regarded as Netanyahu’s precaution against the prospects of being sacked.
On Sunday, the longtime Israeli premier called for the suspension of the judicial regulation and dismissed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
Early Monday, Israel’s Consul-General in New York Asaf Zamir resigned as some mayors also announced that they will start a hunger strike.
Meanwhile, flights at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport have been suspended due to strikes.
Later on, Netanyahu conveyed to coalition partners his decision to suspend the judicial reform bill for now.
Even Netanyahu’s own lawyer, who represents him in the so-called “Case 4000” and other cases investigating the allegations of corruption against the premier, Boaz Ben Zur warned him that he will step down from his position as attorney if the judicial overhaul bill is not withdrawn.
Politics has been at the forefront of the Israeli landscape and impacted every aspect of the country’s Jewish people and Palestinians alike. Since its inception in 1948, the country has repeatedly faced severe backlash for its treatment of its Arab minority and its ongoing occupation of the Palestinian Authority’s territories and blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Israel has historically prioritized security policies, citing the existence of the Palestinian group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip. The 36th government, seen as a change in the country, saw a coalition between centrist-liberal parties Yesh Atid and Blue and White, social democrat Labor Party, left-wing Meretz, and right-wing parties and alliances Yisrael Beiteinu, New Hope, Yamina, and the Ra’am -- the United Arab List.
This government marked the first time in Israeli history that an Arab party came into power as part of a coalition in the country in which no single party managed to garner an absolute majority of seats in the Knesset.
The government, led by the rotating prime ministers Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, was perceived as a wind of change in Israel’s historically far-right-leaning politics after a total of 15 years with right-wing Likud’s Netanyahu as the prime minister, who held the post more than any other politician in the country’s history. After the coalition fell on June 30, 2022, and the consequent political atmosphere, Israel ultimately settled for yet another premiership of Netanyahu, who took the post on Dec. 29, 2022.
The veteran politician came back for a record sixth time at the helm of the country, only to create arguably the most far-right government Israel has ever seen.
In January, just a couple of days after the new ultranationalist government took office, Netanyahu’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir took a controversial tour atop the compound that is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is sacred and revered in Islam as the Noble Sanctuary, where the Muslim Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven. In Judaism, the area is also revered as it was the location of the biblical Temples.
There are fears that Israel might make a move to change the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is under the custodianship of the Jerusalem Waqf, the Jordanian-appointed organization responsible for controlling and managing the current Islamic edifices on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem that remains under Israeli occupation, which is internationally recognized as illegal.
Ben-Gvir’s tour of the area became a contentious issue as he is known for his far-right views, and because he was previously convicted in an Israeli court of ties to a racist organization based on anti-Arab hate. The far-right politician has long called for expanded access and rights for Jews on the hilltop, which would basically mean the violation of Jordanian custodianship over the sacred area.
Although Netanyahu claimed that the Israeli government does not have any plans for a change in the status quo of the holy site, he also defended Ben-Gvir's visit, as the US, in addition to several Arab countries, rushed to warn that any unilateral changes to the way the religious site is run could spark violence.
If adopted, the overhaul would grant the Knesset the power to override Supreme Court rulings to revoke laws passed by the Knesset by reintroducing the legislation by a vote of over half of the lawmakers. The reform proposal has also been promoted by Netanyahu, who, previously, was officially indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes.
Support for protests against the judicial reform increasingly grew as military members also joined.
In a report published by the Guardian, all but three of the 40 reservist pilots in Israel’s elite 69 Squadron said they would not report for training.
While many predictions for Netanyahu-led Israel's future are made, practices and actions of the current far-right government might pose risks for the country that sits on several sociological and ethno-religious fault lines.