On Saturday evening after Shabbat, Israelis taught the world a lesson about democracy. Hundreds of thousands could not sit still after they learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Gallant had warned that Netanyahu’s plan to reform the country’s judiciary system was becoming a threat to Israel’s security. Pilots, key intelligence agents, and members of the military had threatened – by the thousands – to not report for duty because they opposed an authoritarian government staffed by cabinet members who had never served in the military.
On the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and dozens of other cities, they gathered in throngs – chanting “Democracy,” and, when they saw fellow Israelis (police) dousing their neighbors with water cannons on the streets, they shouted “Shame.” Amid a sea of Israeli flags, they walked the streets – young and old – guided by the ethics and morals that the country had instilled in them as part of their national identity. They left their homes for the streets with a sense of urgency, knowing that all they had struggled and fought for was at stake.
Over the last three months, Israel has slipped from being a light among nations to a country that has bordered on looking more like an authoritarian regime. Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for 15 years, has focused on pushing for the judicial reforms – even as he faces corruption charges in three court cases. While he has traveled to Italy, Germany, France and England to warn European leaders about the Iranian nuclear threat, he’s left most of the governing to novice Knesset members. That has resulted in a series of embarrassing moves, such as last week, when Jordan had to summon the Israeli ambassador after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich spoke from a podium featuring a map that included modern-day Jordan and the West Bank.
When Netanyahu returned from London this past weekend, he decided to fire Gallant – which served as the final straw for the opposition. They are the high-tech workers, the educators, the doctors, the single parents, the taxi drivers, and the plain old working stiffs who get up every day to earn a living and pay taxes. Most have served in the army. They have lived through endless wars, and nearly all know someone who was either killed or wounded in a terror attack.
They know what it’s like to defend their nation. And, in this case, they did it Israeli-style. No one was killed and the largely peaceful public demonstrations were enough to send a message to Netanyahu to pause his reforms. Perhaps it is no coincidence that this occurred on the eve of Passover (which begins next Wednesday, April 5). Israeli public opinion polls have consistently shown that the public is against the proposed reforms. With the power base shifting to the ultra-religious in the Knesset, Israelis are concerned about everything from a theocracy to a curb on civil liberties and rights of women and the LGBTQ+ population, and religious minorities.
What follows next is up to Netanyahu. His Likud party can compromise with the opposition parties, or he can go back to his plan – which was denounced on Tuesday by President Joe Biden. Moving forward, the only certainty is that the people who brought Netanyahu’s government to its knees will not back down. They know what freedom means. They have fought wars and spilled oceans of tears for the right to speak their mind, and they will not accept a strongman in charge of Israel. Θ