The World Today for April 04, 2023


Israeli Spring


Civil unrest in Israel has prompted many observers to wonder if the same pro-democracy impulses that motivated Arab Spring activists more than a decade ago are now emerging in the Jewish state on the Mediterranean. The protests recently forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pause his controversial plan to reform the country’s judicial system, a loss that could signal a major shift in the politician’s standing.

Most recently, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets after Netanyahu fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, after Gallant voiced his opposition to Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform, explained Atlantic magazine.

Those protests have not abated, despite the pause, the Washington Post noted.

What ignited protests, as CNN wrote, was Netanyahu’s proposal to limit the power of Israel’s Supreme Court. Under the plan, the government would have more leeway in appointing judges and the legislature would have more power to overturn court decisions. But the new rules would also potentially give Netanyahu loopholes that would allow him to remain in office if he is found guilty of the corruption charges that he is now facing in a trial.

To say the prime minister is a controversial figure in Israel would be an understatement.

Netanyahu has held the premiership three times – from 1996 to 1999, from 2009 to 2021, and again today. The corruption allegations, his conservative cultural stance, and his hard-right policies toward the Palestinians, as Guardian columnist Sara Husseini argued, have alienated many lawmakers and voters, however. His failure to assemble a strong coalition as well as the weakness of his rivals have resulted in five elections in Israel since 2019 as governments have fallen apart in the highly polarized climate.

His decision to abandon the judicial reforms could be the beginning of the end of his power, contended the Nation. “Never before have Israelis risen in such numbers with such commitment against their own government – to the point that they have effectively brought it to its knees,” the magazine wrote.

Still, members of the coalition say they intend to pass the reform plan in May when parliament returns. On Monday, negotiation teams met at the presidential residence to talk about the reforms and find ways to reach a broad consensus, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Meanwhile, the cost of the turmoil is already apparent, noted the Times of Israel: On Monday, the Bank of Israel raised its key lending rate by 25 basis points to 4.5 percent, the highest level since before the 2008 global financial crash, in its battle to combat inflation but also as “tremendous” uncertainty over the government’s judicial overhaul plan weighs on the economy. “The uncertainty and the events we witnessed in recent weeks have naturally also had an impact on the Israeli economy,” said Bank of Israel governor Amir Yaron.

Now, a few scenarios are possible, say analysts. The protests could morph into more sweeping expressions of discontent, or provide a launching pad for leftist movements seeking to deconstruct the right-wing vision of Israel that Netanyahu has upheld, and swung even further to the right because of his coalition partners. Alternatively, as Vox noted, the anti-Netanyahu sentiment could backfire, causing right-wing elements in Israeli to become more active so they can protect that vision. Some of Netanyahu’s allies, for example, don’t think Israel should be a democracy, the New Yorker added.

One result that few predict is a return to business as usual.

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