Protests sweep across Israel as PM Netanyahu stalls controversial Judicial Reforms amidst ongoing violence
Protests and strikes have swept across Israel in response to judicial reforms proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s controversial reforms to the Israeli legal system would attenuate the capacity of the judiciary to play a role in the political process, and prevent the Supreme Court from removing him from office amidst ongoing corruption charges. Beginning on Saturday 7th January, weekly protests have brought major urban centres such as Tel Aviv to a standstill.
Facing mounting public pressure, Netanyahu has postponed the proposed legal reforms. However, protests continue to take place, enjoying a broad base of coalitional support from all sectors of civil society, including political parties and trade unions. Writing in Haaretz, Zehava Galon, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, called on protestors to continue demonstrating against Netanyahu’s reforms, arguing that his purported desire to “compromise” with the protestors was insincere.
Galon claimed: “[Netanyahu] hopes that in two weeks’ time, the protest won’t succeed in bringing so many people into the streets for petty matters such as his attempts to assume control of the Central Bureau of Statistics, to replace the attorney general or to pass a corrupt Gifts Law.” Galon has been a vocal critic of the Netanyahu administration in the Knesset [Parliament], and her party enjoys the support of Vermont Senator and former U.S Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders is of Jewish heritage and has spoken in favour of peace between Israel and its neighbours. Meretz supports the proposed two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and is critical of Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Netanyahu’s proposed reforms have enjoyed some support from right-wing and far-right elements, who have launched counter-demonstrations in solidarity with his administration. Opponents of the reforms have argued that they undermine democratic institutions and norms, weaken the constitution, and tarnish Israel’s image as the region’s only functioning democracy. Netanyahu’s supporters have countered, arguing that the proposed legislative reforms of the judicial system will prevent unelected activist judges from obstructing the democratic process, and that the anti-Netanyahu protestors are subverting the policies of a legitimately elected government. Last month counter demonstrators obstructed a major highway in Tel Aviv during a demonstration, as reported by the Associated Press.
With the protests expected to continue, Netanyahu faces a political crisis. Haaretz reports that hundreds of thousands have gathered on Kaplan street in Tel Aviv on Saturdays against what has been described as an attempted “judicial coup” by Netanyahu, despite the current legislative freeze. The continued disquiet has been attributed to a lack of trust in Netanyahu, given his controversial public record. The country often faces legislative deadlock due to the frequent occurrence of coalition government collapses and snap elections.
Left-wing and right-wing Israelis have become increasingly polarised due to the tense security situation in the region. With the Palestinian movement divided between Fatah and Hamas, coupled with domestic political instability within Israel, it is unlikely that Israel’s conflict with its neighbours will see a peaceful resolution within the foreseeable future. The Biden administration and European Union have both called on each side to resume peace talks, and for Israel to stabilise its increasingly volatile political situation.
Anti-government protests have continued throughout the country despite the ongoing violence along the Lebanese border, and violent attacks in the West Bank which have left civilians dead. USI (Union of Students in Ireland) has spoken out on the conflict, voting this week to mandate support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement.
The Irish students' movement has traditionally taken a stance on the issue that is strongly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. UCDSU has also historically been vocal on the conflict, with the SU shops reportedly boycotting Israeli goods as of 2019. The current Sabbatical team of the SU have expressed public support for proposed legislation calling for the banning of the import of goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.