Israel is at a crossroads, and for the first time in decades, it’s an internal conflict that threatens its future and democracy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed to gut the country’s judicial system by allowing Knesset members to vote down Supreme Court decisions, control judicial appointments, and end judicial review of legislation.
Netanyahu, who has long been a critic of the Israeli Supreme Court, is currently on trial for corruption. His coalition includes felon Rabbi Aryeh Deri – who did jail time in 2002 for bribery while serving as the country’s interior minister and was convicted of tax fraud in 2022. Others include religious zealots who want to ban egalitarian and mixed-gender prayer at the section of the Western Wall where it is now allowed, and arrest visitors wearing “immodest attire.” The government also wants to limit LGBTQ+ rights, and has also largely looked the other way as young religious extremists have attacked Arab villages.
Israel has been hardened by Palestinian extremism and attacks over the last 25 years, which have lurched the country to the right. But the latest proposals by Netanyahu and the Knesset have motivated Israelis to stand up for democracy. For weeks, tens of thousands of Israelis have rallied following Shabbat on Saturdays in Tel Aviv and other major cities. This past Saturday night, more than 140,000 Israelis converged on Tel Aviv – and another 80,000 took to the streets in Jerusalem, Beersheba, Haifa, Karmiel and Petah Tikva.
And, on Monday, at least 90,000 Israelis arrived at the Knesset to protest the government’s proposed policy changes. Meanwhile, since Netanyahu announced his plans to reshape the judiciary, billions of dollars have been pulled out of the country by tech leaders and investors who assert that the country will no longer be a democracy if the Knesset has the final say of law.
And the Jewish diaspora has not been silent: hundreds of legal experts have urged Netanyahu to abandon his plan. Meanwhile, in Washington, supporters of Israel such as Senators Dick Durbin and Tim Kaine have openly criticized Netanyahu. Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused the prime minister this week of “dangerously putting his own narrow political and legal interests – and those of the troubling extremists in his coalition – ahead of the long-term interests and needs of Israel’s democracy.”
As the weather grows warmer, the rallies will continue and grow larger and larger. They will not just go away, and Netanyahu – Israel’s longest-serving prime minister – understands this reality. He needs to find a way to save face, drop the plan, and rein in his extremist coalition. To date, these have been peaceful protests. But the longer this drags on, the more dangerous the situation will become. Θ