Continued Anti-Government Protests Reflect Internal Israeli Turmoil

An already topical country beyond its borders, Israel recently entered into the public discourse after a new government proposed sweeping reforms that many believe threaten its democracy. On July 24th, an amendment to the Israeli constitution was voted in, limiting the Supreme Court’s powers to void some government decisions if it deemed them “unreasonable,” according to Reuters. Opponents believe this new policy would allow a future executive too much power, “weakening” the Supreme Court’s ability to check their movements. Hundreds of thousands of protestors – a percentage of the population comparable to 7 million people in the U.S. — have streamed into the streets for the last six months fighting for the future of Israel’s democracy. What complicates matters, as one CNN article puts it, is that “more than 1,000 Israel Air Force reserve officers vowed to stop volunteering,” which would weaken Israel’s defense. This is the first time in history where the Israeli army became involved in politics, possibly eroding separation between defense and internal affairs and affecting Israel’s security. 

Even as protests rage in the streets, per Reuters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed, “We all agree that Israel must remain a strong democracy,” and that “the courts will remain independent.” Critics aren’t buying it. One protestor, Inbar Orpaz, called the vote “a sad day for Israeli democracy.” Another, named Yair Amon, said “we’re not going to let them destroy our democracy,” calling the Prime Minister a “criminal.” Clearly, the country is entrenched in two opposite viewpoints, with little room for compromise.

As of the last few months, the streets of Israel are full of chaos. Reported by Newsweek, a car driven by a “West Bank settler” recently rammed into a group of protesters, injuring three. But, “the vehicle also appeared to drive through a fire that was set in the road,” which has become a pattern throughout the current protests, with other fires on the street throughout the country. At the same time, it has been reported that police are deploying water cannons on the protestors, in order to get them to disperse. 


All this turmoil began with the original push to amend the Constitution. The current crisis of Israeli government has been building for many years. In the 60’s and 70’s, the Labor Party (a leftist party) dominated the Israeli political scene. But the right-leaning Likud party began gaining prominence in the late ‘70s, and has had a stranglehold since the early 2000s. Israel recently elected “the most right-wing [government] in Israeli history,” a coalition composed of ultra-religious groups and others even more right-wing than Netanyahu, but as reported by Intelligencer, his previous allegations and trial of corruption make him easy to manipulate (for those that control whether or not he stays in power). He could go to jail if ousted from power, so he has a large stake in ensuring his far-right support gets what it wants. What led to such a rightward shift? Some blame anger towards the Palestinians after the violence of the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. Others blame the old left becoming usurped by a rise in nationalist views in more recent times. Still others claim Israel was never truly “liberal” as the Palestinians in the country were never viewed as equal citizens. It’s likely that all of these factors contributed to this shift. 

The recent governmental actions in Israel are alarming both for democracy and peace. With a government almost fully composed of only one ideology (for a variety of reasons), and an executive at the front that is willing to do anything to keep them happy, it’s not a surprise a bill like this has been introduced. Nevertheless, the effects of such a push have been felt throughout the country from the people protesting all the way to the military itself. Delegitimizing the powers of the courts can only prove to cause further conflicts within Israel, as a single group tries to consolidate power by removing checks and balances on its actions, leading to fears Israel may become a “dictatorship” as some protestors have worried. An unchecked far-right government may also further exacerbate tensions with the Palestinians, meaning human rights concerns and regional instability.