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The keys that explain the protests and the serious institutional crisis in Israel


The judicial reform that has unleashed a wave of discontent in large sectors of the country has shaken the Netanyahu government

Israel is going through one of the biggest political and social crises in its history due to the controversial judicial reform that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has brought to Parliament.

The tension has grown in recent days to the point of motivating a general strike on Monday, which has paralyzed key ports and departures from the country's main airport, following the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for distancing himself from the reform .

How did you get to this point?

What is the origin of the crisis?

Last November, the Likud, the right-wing party led by Benjamin Netanyahu (the leader who has been in power for the longest time in Israel), won the legislative elections.

Unable to form a government to his left, due to the rejection of both enemies and former allies, he formed with the reinforced extreme right and ultra-Orthodox parties the most right-wing coalition in the country's history since its creation in 1948.

Netanyahu, who did not promote judicial reform in his previous terms (1996-1999 and 2009-2021), came to power accused in three cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

For their part, the ultranationalist parties had long targeted the Supreme Court, which they see as a kind of power above power, a handful of Ashkenazi (Jews from central and eastern Europe, associated with the elite that built the country) that uses its prerogative to knock down laws to empty the content of the popular will expressed at the polls.

The third leg of the coalition, the ultra-Orthodox parties, wanted the Executive to control the Supreme Court to ensure that they would not be forced to do military service, compulsory for almost all other Israeli Jews.

One of them, Shas, also had a special interest in stripping the Justice of the ability to overthrow appointments, as he did last January, by annulling that of the leader of the formation, Aryeh Deri, as Minister of the Interior and Health.

The sum of these wills meant that at the beginning of January, a few days after taking the oath of office, the Government presented its judicial reform.

Protester holding a banner in the demonstration organized this Monday in Jerusalem against the new reform. Amir Levy (Getty Images)

What is the reform?

This is a broad legislative package of which only one law has been ratified in Parliament, last Thursday, which makes it difficult to disqualify the prime minister by stripping a legal technical position of power and circumscribing the causes to remove him from office to a physical or mental condition.

Other initiatives in the package have passed the first reading of the three readings needed to become a reality in the Knesset.

As a whole, the reform (which the protesters call a "judicial coup") would affect the division of powers, by weakening the judiciary in favor of the Executive, would change the method of electing judges and, most controversially, would allow Parliament reapprove laws previously overthrown by the Supreme.

The court has that power in the style of the Constitutional in Spain.

Israel lacks a Constitution, but it is guided by a series of basic laws, and the Supreme Court has the power to interpret whether a regular law violates any of them.

Why have so many Israelis mobilized?

The pro-Netanyahu bloc won the elections in number of deputies.

But, in percentage of votes, it obtained around 50%, the same as the bloc of parties against it.

In other words, the elections put an end to the country's political blockade, drawing a clear coalition after five elections in three years, but not the division into two halves around the figure of Netanyahu, which generates very visceral reactions.

The judicial reform put the fuse, but it has not been the only reason for the protest almost from the beginning.

On the one hand, there is the rejection of Netanyahu and, in general, of such a radical, religious, right-wing and masculine government.

While the demonstrations were taking place, for example, a minister (Bezalel Smotrich, Finance) advocated "erasing" a Palestinian town where dozens of radical settlers had just killed one person and burned dozens of houses and cars.

On the other, there are fears.

Those of women and those of groups such as the LGTBI to have their rights violated if the Government storms the last dam (the Supreme Court) that would protect them from discriminatory laws.

Those of reservists and soldiers, to receive impossible orders to fulfill or to be tried one day abroad for war crimes if Israel happens to be considered internationally as a country without independent justice.

Finally, those of workers and businessmen for the reform to hit and close the vibrant Israeli economy to the world.

Who is demonstrating?

The marches have become so massive that they have ended up attracting a more diverse audience, as shown by their recent extension to Likud strongholds such as Or Akiva or Sderot.

However, a profile of the protester can be drawn.

The vast majority are secular and live within the country or in settlements in the West Bank that have no ideological character.

Apparently, there are more Ashkenazim.

The historic social divide with the Jews originating from North Africa and the Middle East (Mizrahi) has reared its head as tensions have increased.

The epicenter of the protest is also Tel Aviv, a symbol of the most open and secular Israel.

Aerial view of the protests in Jerusalem, this Monday. STRINGER (REUTERS)

Some groups are the spearhead of the protest.

This is the case of high technology workers, a sector that contributes more than 10% of employment and 15% of GDP, or reservists in the Army.

Teachers, doctors and students have also mobilized remarkably.

The protest is quite intergenerational, with a large presence of women.

There are also very visible absences.

On the one hand, that of the ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up 13% of the population.

In addition to the fact that their parties are in the coalition, they tend to mobilize more for issues that affect their community.

On the other, the religious nationalists, also in the Executive, active in the colonization of Palestinian territory and a confessed enemy of Israel that takes to the streets.

Those who do not support the reform, but have stayed at home, are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, 20% of the population.

The vast majority remain on the sidelines of the protest because it seems to them like an alien fight between Jews and Jews, full of Israeli flags and slogans that do not represent them.

To this is added that, although the Supreme Court has stopped laws that harmed them, it has also given the green light to others that confirm their status as second-class citizens (such as the one that in 2018 withdrew the co-official status of the Arabic language and declared Israel the "State nation of the Jewish people”) or worsen the situation for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

Why has the situation escalated so much?

The crisis has spread to various areas until reaching the general strike this Monday.

Added to this is growing international criticism, such as the ones directed at Netanyahu by his counterparts on his last two trips, to Germany and the United Kingdom.

Netanyahu has consistently refused to back down and has rejected an alternative consensus proposal put forward by the president, Isaac Herzog.

In addition, he has branded the protesters as anarchists and hinted that they receive funding from abroad.

The opposition, aware of the crossroads facing the Executive and its internal weakness, smells blood and is not willing to release the prey.

For weeks there have been signs of economic deterioration.

The local currency, the shekel, which had been appreciating for a decade in the heat of the massive influx of foreign capital, is at its lowest value since 2021. Every time there is hope of an agreement on the reform, the stock market reacts with rises and the sequel strengthens.

When they end up in cold water, the markets respond in the opposite direction.

Demonstrators waving Israeli flags during the protests, this Monday in Jerusalem. AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

The situation in the Army is fundamental in this crisis.

More and more reservists are refusing to continue or fulfill certain missions.

A part is obliged to wear the uniform a few days a year, but others are in practice voluntary.

The rejections appear to have extended to active duty soldiers.

In Israel, Tsahal is much more than an Armed Forces.

It is also the most respected institution, considered a uniting element in a diverse society and where most Israelis spend at least two years of their lives.

Pesach (the Jewish Passover), Independence Day (which, in 2023, also commemorates the 75 years of existence of the State of Israel) and the days in remembrance of fallen soldiers and victims of the Holocaust coincide in April.

In recent days, fear has spread that all these events will be celebrated under the shadow of division.

Some relatives of dead soldiers have told the press that they will be absent from the central act.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-03-27

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