Monday, May 27, 2024

There's Still A Civil War Bubbling For Control Of The Israeli Government

mondoweiss |   Any Palestinian following the developments in the Israeli protest movement against “the judicial coup” will require nerves of steel to withstand the hypocrisy on display. The protests are estimated to be 100,000 people strong, politicians are jumping over tables in the Knesset, and former army Chief of Staff Yair Golan is calling for a state of “civil disobedience.” Only yesterday, Netanyahu dismissed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after he voiced opposition to the judicial reforms, and angry protestors took to the streets in Tel Aviv and other cities and shut down highways. The army has been going through its own crisis ever since military reservists, especially those in the Air Force, joined the protests. If that wasn’t enough, large sums of money are being transferred out of Israeli banks for fear of the effects that the judicial reforms might have on the Israeli economy and on the value of the Israeli Shekel. As for gall, that was hardly in short supply in Yuval Noah Harari’s op-ed telling Netanyahu to “stop your coup or we’ll stop the country.” It’s as if Harari has never heard of al-Issawiyya, which continues to be strangled by the Hebrew University where he teaches, or of oppression and occupation, which wasn’t reason enough to warrant speaking of halting the state.

The Israeli government is trying to use these judicial reforms to grant itself absolute power through the passing of two central laws. The first law aims to establish control over the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee, hence appointing judges whose loyalties would lie with specific politicians rather than with the law; and the second law is the “Override Clause,” which would allow the Knesset to override any decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice that passes by a majority of 61 Knesset members. In other words, the government would seize complete control over the state without checks and balances, effectively becoming the sole governing authority in the country given that it also controls the Knesset by virtue of its majority within the parliamentary body. 

All of this is taking place without a constitution. This means, for instance, that the government can decide to hold elections once every ten years instead of the standard four-year limit still in effect, and no one can override it; or it could pass laws granting the government total control over the media, or it could put LGBTQ people in jail. But the true crisis will emerge when the Israeli High Court of Justice repeals the judicial reforms and regards them as illegal — that is when the state will enter a constitutional crisis without a solution. 

Who will the Israeli security apparatus obey: the government or the judiciary? This isn’t merely a crisis of the state; it is far more profound, posing the question of what the state is in the first place. Former commander of the Israeli Air Force Eliezer Shkedi said as much in an interview with Channel 12: “I have never come across a situation where the commander of the Air Force, the chief of staff, the head of the Mossad, or the police commissioner has to decide whether he listens to an executive authority or to a court decision,” going on to say that if he were the head of the Air Force he would never disobey a court decision.

The fact that Israeli society has always echoed this hypocrisy is nothing new, and neither is it a novel discovery that “democracy” was never an honest description of a state that defines itself as a “state of the Jews.” But the protests this time are greater than at any previous point, and 35% of Israelis express fears of a “civil war,” a phrase that has made its way into daily use.

It’s precisely this level of hysteria, however, that makes it especially infuriating — because of the power and influence of the participants in the protests, because it’s the first time that the struggle is over the identity of the state, and because the roots of the crisis relate to profound political questions concerning the Zionist project, which are normally considered off-limits.


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