Crash course in Israel’s current existential crisis

Crash course in Israel’s current existential crisis March 29, 2023

Israel is in the middle of a crisis of its own making – one that some fear may spark a civil war. This crisis is not directly related to the Palestinians (although they will likely pay the heaviest price). For those who haven’t been following the unfolding of the situation, a summary is provided here as a public service. Knowledge is power!

The centerpiece of the controversy is a now-stalled “judicial overhaul” attempt by the most extreme party in the ruling coalition: Religious Zionism. These folks (blatant racists, including Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, not to mention Prime Minister Netanyahu himself) want to weaken the judicial branch because as it stands now, it will certainly throw out any radical religious laws they want to pass.

Mondoweiss describes the plan:

The Israeli government is trying to use these judicial reforms to grant itself absolute power through the passing of two central laws.

The first law aims to establish control over the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee, hence appointing judges whose loyalties would lie with specific politicians rather than with the law; and the second law is the “Override Clause,” which would allow the Knesset to override any decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice that passes by a majority of 61 Knesset members.

In other words, the government would seize complete control over the state without checks and balances, effectively becoming the sole governing authority in the country given that it also controls the Knesset by virtue of its majority within the parliamentary body…

This, in short, is the essence of the judicial change, placing the rights of Jews in the hands of politicians, not the courts.

(As a side note, some say that PM Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for charges of corruption and bribery, should not be involved in judicial reform.)

Netanyahu describes his group’s effort as “strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus.”

What would they do after the coup? The Religious Zionists and their cohort want to strengthen Israel’s “Jewish identity,” a code for using laws that favor Jews to ensure the state’s 20% Arab (Palestinian) residents remain third-class citizens at best, and if possible, get deported or relocated. (There are plenty of discriminatory laws already on the books.)

“Itamar Ben Gvir (portrait)” by דוד דנברג is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Itamar Ben Gvir, minister of national security, vowed to quit in the event of a delay; Netanyahu placated him by promising him his very own national guard – also not a popular move among Israelis (and positively terrifying to Palestinians).

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Thousands of Israeli reservist soldiers and officers have warned they plan to stay home in the event the legislation goes through. Given Israel’s multiple enemies in the region, this is considered no less than an existential threat to the state (not to mention an embarrassment).

While about 60% of Israeli Jews are politically conservative, they’ve apparently had enough, between this power grab by extremists, plus Netanyahu’s bid to control the very court that is trying him, and his recent firing of a defense minister for criticizing him publicly. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have participated in protests for twelve weeks now, and many are calling for his resignation. At the very least, they want the judicial overhaul idea to be abandoned.

After ignoring the unrest as long as he could, Netanyahu has finally called for a “timeout,” taking the legislation off the table for a while to give the various groups time to cool down, discuss the issue, and supposedly, reach an agreement.

The political divisions in Israel have grown so intense in recent weeks that some fear widespread violence. While the protests have been mostly peaceful, far-right agitators have been explicitly urging their supporters to quell them violently (using “explosives, guns, and knives”). Some fear a civil war.

Even President Biden, a lifelong Zionist and Netanyahu fan, is so unhappy with the situation that he has no plans to invite the PM for a visit.

The mess is much bigger and more extensive than what is described here – consider it the tip of the iceberg.

Christians may want to keep an eye on the situation, and possibly even read up on it. Israel and Palestine are an important region to three of the world’s great religions.

Additionally, Americans have a vested interest, whether we like it or not: Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US aid since World War II – $236 billion total (adjusted for inflation).

It’s anybody’s guess how things could play out. If you feel the urge, pray for the peace of Jerusalem – peace with justice for all.

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FEATURED IMAGE: “Itamar Ben Gvir (portrait)” by דוד דנברג is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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