Many Israelis Call an End to Netanyahu’s Rule


Photo source: Haaretz

By Naveed Qazi Editor, Globe Upfront

When the most right-wing government in Israel’s history took power through Netanyahu again, the coalition put forward legislation that severely restricted the judiciary. Due to this, thousands of protestors gathered in Tel Aviv and beyond in January 2023 to rally against what they believe is a grave risk to their institutions. This happened at a time when Israelis, as new settlers, were attacking Palestinians. That’s why the pretence of peace is slowly getting evaporated as protests have gained momentum.

As far as Netanyahu’s cabinet goes, it’s filled with far-right extremists such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, and Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister who has been given a role to supervise settlement policy.

The Israeli protests of 2023 are a culmination of long-term forces that have created flaws and weaknesses in Israeli democracy, with many calling them structural flaws. The political structure was never strong and always has been compromised. But according to Dahlia Scheindlin, an analyst and policy fellow at Century International and also a columnist for Haaretz, there has been an escalation of anti-democracy trends, both in legislation and for the deepening of the occupation.

The all-out systems assault is mainly because Netanyahu wants to undermine democratic institutions for an unjust cause, which is not only to weaken corruption cases against him, but he also wants to sustain power. It reflects his visceral and fundamental hostility against the Israeli judiciary. To do that, he has to legitimise other political allies, who are either corrupt themselves or need a kind of legislation to keep corrupt people in power. All this would require the weakening of the courts. These are short-term political interests, but the ideological agendas of him and his coalition partners are long-term and very clear.

Netanyahu, throughout his political career, wanted a more theocratic society. He wants complete control of the West Bank and also wants effective control of the perimeters of Gaza. He never wanted Palestinian self-determination. And he also believes Jews should have a higher class in Israel and greater status. In this pursuit, he never cared for citizen equality. Add to that, many Israeli Muslims like to call themselves simply Palestinians, amid a ruling party agenda which wanted Greater Israel that would include all the Palestinian territories. Netanyahu made this very clear, and his party passed a decree in 2017 that they support the annexation of settlements in parts of the West Bank. That’s why his cause has resonated with the most illiberal populists in Israel.

The flaws within the Israeli federal laws, such as lack of citizen equality, go back to the founding principle of the state. At that time, nobody even thought of Arabs as equal political partners. All of this has given a greater cause to Palestinian liberation and statehood.

The history of Israel’s political parties is complex and perplexing. If one goes back to history, the populist far-right didn’t start with Likud. It did not even start propagating  Zionism. It all started with secular right-wingers. Depending on how you characterise each party, there are even more populist versions of right-wing parties in Israel today than in the governing coalition. Many analysts, therefore, believe that only the centre and the left can salvage a reform in Israel’s democratic institutions. But the demographic trends favour the right wing, and the religious communities are growing much faster than the secular communities. This stance, at the same time, is not a panacea for their economic problems. People are overworked, they are underpaid, the cost of living is prohibitive and suffocating, and most people are just distracted by right-wing populist whims, which in the end are impractical for Israel’s economic growth.

It also appears that the Kohelet Policy Forum, founded by Moshe Koppel, has been hiding in the shadows and gave a vent to the anarchic scenario plaguing the Israeli corridors. Koppel and his think tank for years have been trying to keep a low profile, despite being prominent in Israel’s conservative circles. As per an Oped in New York Times written by David Segal and Isabel Kershner: ‘For years, Kohelet quietly churned out position papers, trying to nudge government policy in a more libertarian direction. Then, starting in January 2023, it became more widely known as one of the principal architects of the judicial overhaul proposal that has plunged Israel into a crisis over the future of its democracy.’

The connection of Kohelet Policy Forum with Danchik, co-founder of Susquehanna International Group, a privately held financial powerhouse based in a sprawling campus in a suburb of Philadelphia, has also led to new controversies. Being as quiet as a church mouse, his first connection to Kohelet first appeared in an article in Haaretz, based on reporting by the Democratic Bloc, a non-profit entity in Israel that monitors right-wing groups. However, after the article was published, the source of funding for Kohelet had surprisingly changed. After that, more than 90 per cent of its funding came from the Central Fund of Israel, a family-run non-profit.

On paper, Dantchik and Koppel converge on a lot of things, most notably a shared passion for Israel and libertarian ideas. Segal and Kershner further wrote: ‘From the start, Kohelet targeted the ideological pillars erected by Israel’s socialist founders. The group promotes the familiar libertarian menu of small government, free markets and privatized education. In recent decades, Israel has tiptoed away from regulation and emphasised its hospitality to entrepreneurs. But Kohelet’s libertarianism feels to many Israelis like a foreign intrusion.’

The revelations of American funding for protests coming in are not new. American money and ideas, from the left and the right, have always played a perennial role in Israeli politics. Today, American consultants are a regular feature of Israel’s election campaigns, and the American-backed Israel Hayom, a free daily, is one of the country’s most widely read newspapers.

Until recently, though, few knew that many nation-rattling judicial proposals were largely an American production. The current proposal, which has given heart to hundreds of thousands of Israelis for weekly protests, would give the government far greater control over the selection of judges and would make it harder for the supreme court to strike down laws passed by legislators. It would let the government have fewer checks on its rule, and there would be no protection for minorities.

Negotiations, which included a plan from Kohelet Policy Forum, for a scaled-back version of the judicial restructure that would satisfy a broader Israeli public appear to be on hold for now. The government, although, is determined to push at least a few of its proposals through parliament decree.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, in March 2023, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ruling coalition to halt its divisive judicial changes plan 'for the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility.' He wants him to back down.



Popular Posts