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Israel’s existential crisis is of its own making

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(Photo: Twitter)
netanyahu

Osama Al Sharif

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

Israel is facing an unprecedented existential crisis, and it is not the Iran nuclear program or a third Palestinian Intifada. It is not even a barrage of inaccurate Hamas missiles or an indictment by the International Criminal Court. All these threats notwithstanding, for the first time since its inception, Israel is talking openly about an imminent civil war due to a government bent on steamrolling the state’s institutions. It is clear a lethal conflict is brewing within Israel’s borders.اضافة اعلان

Benyamin Netanyahu’s toxic Cabinet of ultra-religious, ultra-nationalist, homophobic, misogynist, openly racist, and isolationist ministers is less than a month old. Yet it is already drawing fire from politicians and activists from the left and center, with them calling it “fascist” and “authoritarian”.

Former Prime Minister and decorated war hero Ehud Barakeven called on every Israeli to “join the fight” against this government’s “illegitimate” actions. This call revolved around ‘a coup” by becoming “involved in street battles” to oust Netanyahu. Incidentally, the same kind of acidic rhetoric uttered by Netanyahu back in 1995 got then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin killed by a Jewish zealot belonging to the far-right that dominates today’s government.

What triggered this unparalleled diatribe was the government’s intent to implement Minister of Justice Yariv Levin’s reform plan for judicial reform. Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel’s short history. Basically, the plan limits the powers of the judiciary, particularly Israel’s High Court, and makes the legal opinions of the government’s legal counsel “non-binding”. In the words of Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon, if the reforms pass, “government won’t be above the law; it will be the law.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, the plan seeks to amend laws to include the Override Clause, which gives the Knesset the ability to override High Court of Justice rulings and change the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee so that the coalition or people of its choice will have an automatic majority. It also seeks to cancel the “legal unreasonableness” clause, which the High Court sometimes uses to cancel government appointments or decisions deemed “extremely unreasonable”.
For the first time since its inception, Israel is talking openly about an imminent civil war due to a government bent on steamrolling the state’s institutions. It is clear a lethal conflict is brewing within Israel’s borders.
The far-right coalition basically wants to appoint judges whose ideological and political agendas are similar to or are in line with the ones it holds.

No wonder the move has been called a coup. Even the conservative Jerusalem Post warned of a civil war, saying, “the thought that this latest experiment in Jewish sovereignty will be in jeopardy because of internal discord should shake us all at our core.”

The response to this attempt to “change the state’s DNA” came last Saturday when between 80,000 to 100,000 Israelis gathered in the center of Tel Aviv to denounce the government’s attempt to strip the judiciary of key powers. Smaller protests and sit-ins took place on Monday, and others are planned for next weekend.

A defiant Netanyahu retorted that voters had approved his judicial reform plan when they headed to the polls for the fifth time last October and gave Likud and once-fringe far-right parties their vote. But in reality, Netanyahu and his future coalition partners had not talked publicly about their intentions for the judiciary during the election campaign.

If the Knesset passed the so-called reforms, then Israel’s democratic secular system would have come to an end. Netanyahu’s loose-cannon partners want to change the Basic Law and laws regarding Jewish immigration (the Law of Return), stripping Israelis (read: Arabs) of their citizenship, and executing Palestinians involved in killing Israelis. They will go as far as adopting laws regarding segregation and termination of all means of public activities on the Sabbath, among others.

This kind of “demolition derby” of the state’s legal foundations will resurrect former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that Israel can choose to be a Jewish state, but it will no longer be a democratic state. The irony here is that this Israel that Netanyahu and his radical partners seek to create is not one envisioned under the Abraham Accords or by Israel's founding fathers. How can an openly racist, anti-Arab, fundamentalist, fascist entity claim to be at peace with its Arab neighbors?  
The caveat here is that a beleaguered Netanyahu may choose to export the crisis in order to deflect Israeli public opinion and postpone internal strife. He could do so by inventing a confrontation with Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Another irony is that this will be a purely domestic crisis of Israel’s making. No one can blame the Palestinians, Iran, or any other party for Israel’s looming woes.

The caveat here is that a beleaguered Netanyahu may choose to export the crisis to deflect Israeli public opinion and postpone internal strife. He could do so by inventing a confrontation with Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The extremists in his camp may even push him to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran. One thing is true; the crisis in Israel is serious, and a self-serving Netanyahu is not in a position to rein in his partners and avert an open war with almost half of the Israeli society.

With so many genetic contradictions in the very fabric of the political players, Israel is on the verge of imploding from the inside.


Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.


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