by Claudia De Martino
On March 27, after a tug of war between the government and protesters that lasted twelve consecutive weeks and after a spectacular demonstration held on the evening of March 26 – which brought 160,000 people to the streets in all the main cities of the country (Haifa, Jerusalem, Ben er Sheva, Netanya, Ashdod, Karmiel) with the largest concentration in the Ayalon arterial road in Tel Aviv – the abrupt dismissal of the defense minister, Yoav Galantwho spoke out in favor of suspending the reform, and the largest general strike that Israeli history remembers in the last forty years, announced on March 27 by the important union signing of the Histadrut – which involved banks and essential public services such as transport -, the Prime Minister Netanyahu he was forced to announce the postponement of the reform until after the summer with the intention of finding convergence with the opposition parties and greater consensus in the country before its adoption.
International media, including Jewish-American media, saluted with optimism and joy the democratic leap of a population, such as the Israeli one, which in recent years had seemed rather apathetic and depoliticized, but which instead has shown great tenacity and the ability to take sides compactly on the issues that are at the heart of the country’s social stability. The demonstrators, not represented by any political acronym of the country despite the external support of the opposition parties – and in particular of the Yesh Atid Of Yair Lapid who praised the success of the protests in a speech in Jerusalem on the evening of March 27 – come as much from leftist remnants (Meretz and Labour) as from centre-right and right-wing forces (including supporters of the government coalition in the last elections) who did not appreciate the preeminence, haste and total closure to reasonable ameliorative contributions of the reform – such as the one proposed by President Herzog last March 15th – expressed by the government, but who above all considered at risk the institutional balance between powers and feared a consequent breakdown of the rule of law.
Within the composite mass of demonstrators who took to the streets there are many secular people who look with apprehension at the rise of the national-religious right to the government and at the war it is waging – since the so-called “constitutional revolution” carried out by Judge Aharon Barak in the 1990s – against the Supreme Court as a purported bulwark of Western liberal values (perceived as “foreign”). This component believes that, behind the Court’s domestication project, there is actually the broader goal of transforming Israeli society in a conservative sense abolishing many civil rights – such as LGBT+ rights, abortion, but also some women’s freedoms – to bring customs back to a medieval Jewish sobriety without the shackles of the Court, which today can also be appealed to by single individuals subject to discrimination in violation of the Basic Law on “Freedom and Human Dignity” (1992).
A decisive element in the recent collapse of the government, however, was the mobilization and adhesion to the general strike of 27 March by the large commercial giants in the agri-food sector and major shopping centres – Azrieli Group and Amot, Shufersal Group, Teva, Simpliigood -, but also of the powerful high-tech sector, which includes many successful start-ups, such as Verbit, Riskified, Atera, the Generative AI platform developer D-ID group, and financial companies, such as Amiti Ventures, distributed along the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa: the economic sector with the greatest added value has in fact unitedly lined up against the reform, after the Treasury Ministry had published forecasts of a contraction in the 30%the exchange between shekels and the dollar had reached its lowest levels, the major rating agencies (Fitch and Moody’s) had reduced the country’s growth estimates and numerous private account holders had withdrawn their deposits from domestic banks to transfer them abroad .
The concern of the financial sector is mainly focused on the risk of dependence of the judiciary by volatile political majorities, which they may decide to violate in the future private commercial contracts with ad hoc laws or to strongly increase taxation to compensate for the growing social or military expenses without the inhibiting brake of the Supreme Court. For a small country heavily dependent on foreign investment, judicial and regulatory uncertainty in fact, it can potentially have a negative impact on turnover, radically deteriorating the climate of confidence functional to the economy.
However, despite the important significance of the general mobilization underway, it is good to reiterate that there is no risk of “civil war” in Israel, but a political crisis is underway through which the country, 75 years after its foundation, emerges from his childhood and with it from the illusion of being able to consider himself a “big family”, or rather a perfectly cohesive and homogeneous society that is reflected in the same goals and ideals, the Zionist ones. The bussola of Zionismon the other hand, explains today’s society less and less, no longer defines any significant belonging and does not reflect any future prospects for the country, except the will to defend the now already consolidated right of the state to exist against all of its potential enemies.
The controversial judicial reform has nothing to do with the revision of constitutional procedures, but rather with a basic objective of the religious right, oriented towards a profound political restructuring of the State of Israel that grants the incumbent government full powers, such as to complete the colonization project in the occupied territories, declare final and definitive victory over the Palestinian enemy through the dismantling of the PNA, definitively archive the “two-state solution” at the international level and free the action of the Israel Defense Army (Tsahal) in the Territories from the only legal constraints still in place by the vigilance of the Supreme Court, which, for example, protects Palestinian tenure rights to land against expropriations advanced by settlers in illegal outposts in the West Bank and guarantees the participation in Israeli elections of Arab nationalist parties such as Baladperiodically branded as “disloyal” and disqualified by electoral committees on alleged incitements to terrorism (see the 2003 Bagatz ruling).
Ultimately, the religious right would like to enact judicial reform just to act undisturbed with respect to his millennial goals of redeeming the earth, while Netanyahu would be ready to put the seal on any reform exclusively to keep his majority united in power and thus save himself from judicial condemnation in the three cases of fraud, corruption and abuse of office in which he is directly involved.
Faced with this regressive scenario – in which an attempt was looming “coup d’etat” judiciary of the religious right with the approval of Netanyahu -, a conspicuous part of Israeli civil society reacted forcefully to the threat of transforming the country into one of the many illiberal theocracies in the region, taking to the streets en masse. The ongoing internal crisis does not weaken the country against its local (Hizbullah) or distant (Iran) enemies, but certainly, if the reform passes, it would distance Jerusalem from the United States, Europe, diaspora communities and even those Arab countries Sunnis including or orbiting the Abraham Accords. Nonetheless, the protesters’ claim to defend “democracy” is specious, as long as half of the population living in the territories occupied (West Bank) or segregated (Gaza Strip) by Israel will have no right to citizenship and the tacit “red line” the premise for maintaining the internal cohesion of the demonstrators’ camp will be precisely the collective removal of the “Palestinian question”.