Wednesday, March 29, 2023

NYTimes Sugarcoats And Soft-Peddles "Pro-Democracy" Protests In Jerusalem

NYTimes  | What prompted such large-scale chaos? In short, the extreme change that many Israelis feared the proposed judicial overhaul would bring. Like its American counterpart, Israel’s Supreme Court is very powerful. But with the overhaul, Israel’s Parliament could override the court’s decisions with a simple majority, giving the government sweeping power to enact its preferred policies.

Netanyahu and his allies argue that the overhaul is needed to limit the courts’ power. They believe the courts have become increasingly aggressive and have undermined voters’ choices over the past three decades. One example: The Supreme Court’s blocking of some settlements in the West Bank.

The opposition argues that the overhaul would significantly weaken one of the few checks, besides elections, on Parliament. Israelis in the opposition tend to hold a more secular, pluralistic vision for the country, and see the courts as important to preserving that view. The opposition also says that Netanyahu is pushing for the changes to protect himself because he is standing trial on corruption charges. Netanyahu denies that claim as well as the charges.

That opposition has gained momentum because it unites influential parts of Israeli society: universities, unions and the reservists who play a key role in the military. The backing of such organizations is often the difference between successful and failed protest movements, as my colleague Amanda Taub has explained. “Support from those institutions can be a way for protests to gain leverage over leaders, often by splitting up elite coalitions,” Amanda said.

That kind of split is already visible in Netanyahu’s cabinet. Over the weekend, the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, spoke out against the proposed overhaul, citing opposition from members of the military. “I see how the source of our strength is being eroded,” Gallant said.

Importantly, opposition from within the military goes beyond ideology. Soldiers and reservists argue that if the courts are too weak to provide a check on the military, officials may be more likely to give illegal orders and potentially expose soldiers to prosecution in international courts. “Those concrete concerns about self-interest may be far more difficult for the government to defuse than if the protests were just motivated by ideology and political solidarity,” Amanda wrote.

Netanyahu fired Gallant on Sunday. The dismissal prompted the latest protests in the country, which in turn compelled Netanyahu to pause his plans.

What’s next

Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul was made possible by a rightward shift in Israeli politics, as this newsletter has explained. His backtracking in the face of heavy opposition suggests that perhaps Israel’s population hasn’t moved as far to the right as he believes.

The overhaul’s delay has calmed the situation for now. But it could also lead to more political chaos: Netanyahu’s coalition holds a slim majority in Parliament, and it could collapse if his right-wing allies believe he is going back on his word. That could force another election, which would be Israel’s sixth since 2019.

At the same time, reviving the overhaul would probably revitalize the protests and potentially splinter Netanyahu’s government again. Either option could cost Netanyahu his power.

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