Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition is set to ratify a key reform before parliament goes on summer recess on July 30th, which has prompted military personnel to begin a protest campaign. Threatening to not show up to military reserve duty, Netanyahu’s opponents are taking a position in stark contrast to the status quo in Israel, for which the conscript military has long been a nationally apolitical issue. On July 17th, Netanyahu pledged to take strong action against these threatened absences.
Netanyahu claimed such actions of the reservists were anti-democratic and risked invigorating the country’s adversaries. Those who oppose the coalition’s plans claim that it is rather Netanyahu who is threatening democracy by removing checks and balances and shifting the powers within the government. “The government won’t accept insubordination. The government will act against it and will take all necessary steps to ensure our security and our future,” Netanyahu contended. Netanyahu asserts that the reforms would necessarily reinstate balance between branches of government. Even United States President Joe Biden stressed the importance of an independent judiciary in reference to the anticipated reforms, specifically the need to reach “consensus” on “fundamental changes” in governance.
Netanyahu’s threats on his opponents appear veiled. Lacking elaboration on any sort of means of curtailing his opposition nor, more importantly, addressing the root of the issue, Netanyahu’s response is insubstantial. It is clear that the coalition is leading the country down a divisive path toward reform, and rather than creating discussion or representing the nation they’re pressing on with their contentious plans. Public trust in government, proper representation and fair elections are essential to democracy, and Israel appears to be on a path away from this with such impactful, controversial judicial change.
Over the last five months, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens have protested the judicial overhaul plan and actions of the current government. Netanyahu’s coalition has proposed changes that limit the Supreme Court’s powers to rule against the legislative and executive branches. These changes include giving the Knesset the power to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority, removing the Supreme Court’s authority to review the legality of Israel’s Basic Laws, and giving the governing coalition considerably more decisive powers in appointing judges. Ultimately, it is clear that these actions would substantially shift the balance of power in the Israeli government in favour of Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition.
Netanyahu and his coalition must be more cautious with such sweeping and dramatic changes to the fabric of their country’s democracy. Though they may have some avid supporters, it is clear that the Israeli people are deeply divided on these judicial changes. It is in Israel’s best interest to maintain democracy, represent the people, and create discussion before action.
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