An incendiary initiative

Netanyahu’s dictatorial attempt to subjugate the independence of the judiciary through ‘reforms’ has ignited resentment among democratic forces within and outside the country

An incendiary initiative

With due apologies to The Bard, there is something rotten in the state of Israel! Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's sixth term, riding on the piggyback of far and extreme-right coalition partners, has pushed the Jewish state onto the edge of a precipice of disaster and chaos.

Despite being the country's long-reigning prime minister, Netanyahu has never been one to shy away from controversy. However, at the age of 73, Bibi, as he is popularly known, is facing one of the biggest self-inflicted political crises as his attempt to subjugate the judiciary through his controversial judicial reforms has not only backfired but also triggered a popular uprising similar to the Arab Spring. Facing corruption charges, Netanyahu proposed to give the Knesset (parliament) the power to annul any supreme court ruling by a simple majority. The reforms would also give politicians more say in the appointment of judges, with most members of the selection committee coming from the ruling coalition. Netanyahu's critics say the main objective behind the judicial reforms is the ongoing criminal trial against him, in which he is facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. They fear the Knesset may scrap the trial against Netanyahu in the supreme court.

The nationwide protest has deeply divided Israeli society, with several former chiefs of the Mossad denouncing what they call Netanyahu’s judicial coup. Danny Yatom, a politician and former head of Mossad, expressing deep concern at the prospect of Israel becoming a "dictatorship," said if Netanyahu continues with his plans to effectively eliminate the independence of Israel’s high court, fighter pilots and special forces operatives will be able to legitimately disobey the orders that come from the government.

They "signed an agreement with a democratic country. "But the moment that, God forbid, the country becomes a dictatorship" and they receive "an order from an illegitimate government", he added, "then I believe it would be legitimate to disobey it." The best example of civil disobedience was seen this week when El Al pilots and flight attendants refused to take up a tender to man the prime minister's scheduled flight to Rome. El Al had a tough time finding a crew to fly the prime minister and his wife to Italy.

Netanyahu's woes do not end here. The escalation of violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians couldn't have come at a worse time. On February 26, Israeli settlers set the homes and cars of Palestinians in Huwara (West Bank) ablaze, resulting in one Palestinian being shot dead and many injured. The rampage came in response to the murder of two Israeli brothers by a Palestinian. Refusing to budge from his stand, Netanyahu is losing friends thick and fast. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and one of the biggest supporters of Israel, says, "Today Israel has become a boiler of sorts, and the popular uprising against Netanyahu’s judicial power grab is threatening a breakdown in governance the likes of which we’ve never seen before in Israel."

The unease on Capitol Hill is quite palpable. Netanyahu is still waiting for an invitation to meet US President Joe Biden at the White House. Given the present turmoil, President Biden and his top officials have warned Netanyahu that pushing through the judicial changes in the face of mass opposition would threaten the "shared values" of the US and Israel relationship. American Jewish leaders and organisations have openly denounced the proposed judicial overhaul. More than 80 Democrats have written to Biden, urging him "to use all diplomatic tools available to prevent Israel’s current government from further damaging the nation’s democratic institutions." The general feeling in the US can be gauged from the fact that a recent survey showed that Israel is losing support among young Americans because of the rise of the far right in the Jewish state's politics.

The last proverbial straw was Israeli President Isaac Herzog breaking his silence on what he called "the existential disaster about to befall Israel." Describing the present turmoil in apocalyptic terms, Herzog said the country has reached the point of no return and is about to fall off a cliff. He firmly told the Netanyahu government to abandon the proposed legislation right away.

Today, Netanyahu finds himself in a blind alley because of his arrogant and dictatorial style of function. He has been left with no choice except to bow to the secular and democratic forces, which have asserted strongly against the Jewish state's march to the extreme right.

The writer has worked in senior editorial positions for many renowned international publications. Views expressed are personal

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