March update from Dr. Ron Weiser


The Israeli government’s proposed judicial reforms continue to advance, at the same time as being unilaterally modified by the government itself.

Of course, for some, the modifications are insufficient or insignificant, while for others, such concessions are not even necessary.

The protesters, rather than running out of steam, seem to be increasingly energised.

While democracy itself is not under threat, consensus is the interwoven fabric of Israeli society.

This time, the rifts do feel different and deeper than in the past.

Of course, the demonstrators are not really protesting the specific aspects of the judicial changes themselves, more the overall package and primarily, the wider implications for the future direction of the State of Israel.

Those, particularly outside of Israel, who want to debate the legal details, are missing the point.

What is happening is a breakdown of trust coinciding with a key tipping point in the demographic cycle, if not fully yet, then in the foreseeable future.

The adage of one third of the people work, one third of the people pay taxes and one third of the people serve in the army, but they are all the same one third, finds a significant percentage – if not the majority – being made up from the opposition who feel that they are carrying the other half, but who are now about to lose the continuity of their own secular liberal values and lifestyle.

As demographics increasingly favour the Haredim and the religious Zionist sectors, therefore increasingly reflected in the Knesset numbers, the other half of Israeli society is looking to the courts for the protection of their interests.

Trust is a key factor here.

It is an intangible. Hard to argue for, or against.

The supporters of the opposition simply do not trust that the current government will also look after their interests.

The pro change side of the equation, do not trust the courts, nor feel that the judges properly reflect the makeup of the population.

A question everyone is asking is – where is Prime Minister Netanyahu?

He has always been the responsible adult in the room.

Has he changed? Do the adjustments to the selection process of judges aid him in his personal trials?

Is he hamstrung by the Attorney-General’s ban on his intervention?

Are his actions or inactions controlled by his need for all his coalition partners to remain in the coalition, lest his government falls?

Is Netanyahu merely waiting until the crisis is big enough to give Gantz et al an excuse to break their election promise to not join him in government?

Further, people are asking, ‘where is the Likud?’ The largest party in the Knesset. It’s almost silent.

The coalition itself is divided on certain issues and priorities.

Despite the rhetoric from Smotrich and Ben Gvir, as far as settlements are concerned, and notwithstanding multiple announcements – nothing much is happening.

The attempts to set up new settlements like Or Chaim and redoubled attempts to build up unauthorised parts of Yizhar, have been stopped quickly and with force by Netanyahu and Defence Minister Gallant.

Once again, the government has this week in Egypt, at a security meeting that included Israel, the USA, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, committed to another four-month delay in settlement building.

Plans for E1 between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem, delayed once again.

Retrospective recognition of unauthorised outposts, delayed for six months and so it goes on.

The same can be said for the High Court order to destroy the illegal Bedouin encampment of Khan al Ahmar, delayed by Netanyahu again.

All of this shows the hand of Netanyahu, continuing with his previous centrist status quo line, but for a purpose.

Netanyahu is dedicated as his number one mission, dealing with Iran. He firmly believes that he is the only leader who can deal with this threat. Opinion polls in Israel seem to show that the people agree.

Just as previously, a Netanyahu-led government chose open relations with the UAE and the Abraham Accords over annexation, he will continue to prioritise whatever he feels is needed to deal with Iran, over the domestic wishes of his coalition partners.

Hence his agreement in Egypt on renewed security co-operation with the Palestinian Authority and the settlement pause.

Netanyahu, whilst seeming to be mostly absent on the judicial changes front, is trying to calm the waters outside of Israel with its allies.

Trust is hard to earn and easy to destroy.

One bill after another is presented from various coalition parties and government members which further negatively inform the trust factor.

This week for example, MK Eliyahu Revivo (Likud) submitted a bill, that the Central Election committee chair, currently a Supreme Court justice, should be appointed by the Knesset speaker and committee instead, and will not be a sitting or former judge.

That is, that the government itself should effectively control the election process.

Within an hour Likud stomped on this bill and it was withdrawn.

However, this mere suggestion by a government member, for it to take over the election process, put another nail in the confidence of the minority’s faith and trust in the current government.

Moshe Koppel of the Kohelet Policy Forum, himself the brains and ideological home of the proposed changes, states very clearly that an override clause needing 61 Knesset members is undesirable, not because it is undemocratic, but rather because it is insufficient for consensus requirements. Again, the issue is less about the override and more about the majority needed.

It should be noted that more and more influential people in the coalition are calling for discussion and greater consensus.

Just after last Shabbat, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, made the following comments: There should be dialogue between the two sides, so that there will be no – G-d forbid – civil war. We are all the people of Israel. Love your neighbour as yourself, we are all brothers.”

To date, refusals to serve in the IDF have been minimal and largely limited to training rather than operational activities, however sections of the reservists themselves are threatening and organising to refuse duty, if legislation passes as is.

This is a serious area to watch. And possibly the one thing that may really scare the government into moderating the process and seeking more consensus.

One of the prime movers of the new legislation, Knesset Law Committee Chair Simcha Rothman MK, whilst not accepting the President’s compromise, is currently presenting the government’s own modified proposals on judicial selection.

The government is also promising a pause until after Pesach, on at least some of the proposed changes.

Whether the concessions go far enough or not is one thing, but there are at least small signs that the government is responding to the demonstrators and urgings from inside and outside of Israel, but in its own way.

Unlikely however, to sufficiently appease the demonstrators.

The last thing Israel will need is a showdown between the Knesset and the courts and a constitutional crisis where, for example, the IDF and police will have to decide whose orders to obey.

Israel is in uncharted waters.

It is a time for cooler heads and greater respect by all sides, for the motivations of the other.

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