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What’s at stake as the protests rock Israel: 3 essential articles on democracy, security and human rights


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after 12 weeks of growing protest against his proposed judicial reforms, has said he will order a temporary halt to the changes which aimed to rein in the power of the Israeli judiciary and to grant politicians almost inexplicable power.

Netanyahu’s announcement came next mass protests had spread across the country, spurred by his resignation the day before of Israel’s defense minister, who had called on the government to delay judicial reform.

City services and universities were closed. The Histadrut, of the country largest and most powerful labor organizationwent on strike. Doctors walked out; The Israeli Consul General in New York resigned; planes were grounded at the national airport. And tens of thousands of people demonstrated outside the Knesset, the country’s parliament, as members of the country’s far-right groups called for violence – using “gasoline, explosives, tractors, guns, knives‘, as one member of a group put it – to the protesters.

Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel – a largely ceremonial post – had earlier this month unveiled a proposed compromise on judicial reform aimed at protecting Israel’s democratic character. Herzog warned at the time: “Israel is in the grip of a deep crisis. Anyone who thinks a real civil war, of human life, is a line we won’t cross has no idea. The abyss is within reach.”

The Conversation follows the growing crisis in Israel since early 2023. Here are three stories that will help you understand what’s at stake.

An Israeli police officer on horseback stands guard at a protest in Tel Aviv on March 27, 2023.
Photo by Gil Cohen-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images

1. ‘A major threat to democracy’

Political scientist Boaz Atzili at American University wrote that “democracy is not just about holding elections. It is a set of institutions, ideas and practices that give citizens a continuous, decisive voice in shaping their government and policies.” Netanyahu’s far-right government, which was sworn in on Dec. 29, 2022, “represents a major threat to Israeli democracy on multiple fronts,” he wrote.

Atzili described the four ways the new government endangered Israeli democracy, from “hostility to freedom of expression and dissent” to plans to “allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community and women” to “annexation on the Western Jordan Bank and Apartheid” and “Erasing the Separation of Forces.”

The courts in Israel, Atzili wrote, “are the only institution that can check the power of the ruling parties.” The judicial reform would erase that separation of powers and, he wrote, “as in Turkey, Hungary or even Russia, Israel could only become a democracy in form, devoid of all the ideas and institutions that underlie a government that actually consists of the people. and by the people.”

Read more: Israel’s Netanyahu takes on Supreme Court and proposes limiting judicial independence – and 3 other threats to Israeli democracy

2. ‘A very dangerous period’

Scholar Dove Wasmanan Israel expert at UCLA, said he initially thought the warnings of impending civil war or strife were “exaggerated and unnecessarily alarming.”

But in mid-February, as protests grew from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of participants, Waxman changed his mind. “I think those warnings are now well founded. Israel is really entering a very dangerous period.”

The protests, Waxman wrote, “are driven by concerns about this judicial overhaul, but I think they speak to a broader concern, a fear among many Israelis about the future of democracy in Israel and the future of the country.”

But while Israelis have taken to the streets to defend their democracy, they have not included the Palestinians in their protests.

“I can certainly understand why many Palestinians would feel that all this sudden fear and concern for Israeli democracy overlooks the fact that nearly 50% of the population that Israel actually rules does not have equal rights and cannot vote in Israeli elections. . He wrote. “I think the fact that most Israelis don’t seem to connect these two issues suggests that they view democracy only as an internal domestic issue without any relevance to the Palestinian issue.”

The crisis could also harm Israel’s interests outside the state. “If the perception emerges that Israel is no longer a democracy or not a liberal democracy,” wrote Waxman, “support for Israel in Congress and in the Democratic Party could weaken further. It could make it even more difficult for them to continue approving US aid to Israel.”

Read more: Israel enters a dangerous period – public protests swell over Netanyahu’s plan to limit the power of Israel’s Supreme Court

A white-haired man looks like he's thinking while people around him are talking or looking at their phones.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, stands on the floor of the country’s parliament as people outside protest his government’s reform plan March 27, 2023.
AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo

3. A political crisis can become a security crisis

American university scholar Dan Arbel, who served in the Israel Defense Forces and as a member of the country’s foreign service, noted an unprecedented aspect of the demonstrations: “It is not just the persistence and scale of the protest that is evidence of the crisis” , he wrote. “It’s who’s protesting.”

Arbell wrote that while the protests of the past three months have brought together people from a variety of professions and interests, among the protesters is “a group of individuals rarely seen at anti-government protests in the country’s nearly 75-year history: Israel Defense Forces reserves.” Those reservists, he wrote, “announced they will not volunteer for reserve duty if the legislation is passed in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.”

That is a sign that “the implications of the crisis extend far beyond the domestic political arena.” This means that the crisis does not only have significance for the civil domain. “Besides threatening to undermine the economy and deepen social divisions,” Arbell wrote, “it threatens to erode Israel’s national security and provoke a constitutional crisis that could ensnare the military as well.”

Read more: Israeli military reservists join protests – potentially turning a political crisis into a security crisis

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