Netanyahu May Have Uncorked Something He Can't Control

'These could be the last days of Israeli democracy,' says one critic
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 25, 2023 10:45 AM CDT
Netanyahu May Have Uncorked Something He Can't Control
Israeli police disperse demonstrators blocking the road leading to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, during a protest in Jerusalem, Monday, July 24, 2023.   (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Israel remained convulsed with mass protests on Tuesday in the wake of a judicial overhaul plan passed by Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right coalition government. The stakes? "These could be the last days of Israeli democracy," author Yuval Noah Harari (an expert on big-picture perspective) tells the New York Times. "We might witness the rise of a Jewish supremacist dictatorship in Israel, which will not just be a terrible thing for Israeli citizens, but also a terrible thing for the Palestinians, for Jewish traditions, and potentially, for the entire Middle East." Coverage:

  • The move: Netanyahu's camp approved a law that weakens the Supreme Court's ability to overturn government decisions, reports the BBC in an explainer on the crisis that has ensued. Israel has no constitution and only one house of Parliament (the Knesset), and the court has long been seen as the main check on government power. The fear now is that Israel will become a "religious autocracy," writes Patrick Kingsley in the Times. "Such is the rancor and rupture caused by this particular Netanyahu victory that many Israelis wonder whether the damage to society might not be fixable—and whether Mr. Netanyahu will be able to manage the aftermath of a showdown he set in motion."

  • Black ink: The fallout has been enormous, beyond the thousands of protesters clogging the streets. Military reservists say they will no longer report for military service, doctors have walked off the job, and labor leaders are threatening a massive general strike, per the AP. Multiple Israeli papers blacked out their front pages, the only words coming at the bottom: "A black day for Israeli democracy," per the Jewish Chronicle.
  • Reasonableness doctrine: Monday's vote stripped the court of its power to overturn laws it deemed "unreasonable." Vox explains this doctrine of "reasonableness," which it calls "peculiar" but vital to Israel's checks and balances. What's more, the Knesset move was only the first part of the government plan to weaken the court. The next step will be to give the Knesset the authority to overturn decisions with a simple majority.
  • No end in sight: "These protests are not going anywhere, especially because the government has clearly stated that this is just phase one," Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, tells the AP. "This is the most widespread and significant democratic awakening in the history of the country. Clearly, it won't end."
  • Defying Biden: Netanyahu (who received a pacemaker on the eve of the vote) pushed ahead with the law despite the request of President Biden to hold off. The Washington Post explores how the White House, which called the vote "unfortunate" in a "gentle but unmistakable rebuke," is navigating the complex politics involved.
(More Israel stories.)

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