Many of my friends and family in the USA have been reaching out to me to ask about the situation in Israel. They want to know what’s going on, what will happen, and if we’re safe. Therefore, I am writing this blog post to try and describe the situation here, although it is complex and I can not do it justice. Additionally, my lack of fluency in Hebrew limits my understanding, but I do speak at length with my Israeli friends.
Firstly, I need to state something about my political orientation. I am a non-religious liberal Zionist who believes in the State of Israel and considers it the homeland of the Jewish People. I do not support the settler movement, and I live in Tel Aviv, a secular and liberal city that is sometimes referred to as “The State of Tel Aviv.” If not for Tel Aviv, I doubt that I would live in Israel, but I find it a wonderful place to live. I did not vote for Netanyahu. In the past, I thought of him as a smart and articulate version of Trump, but now I do not think he is that smart. While still articulate in general, he has become more like Putin.
For several months, we have experienced significant political unrest in Israel, which began once Netanyahu was able to form a government. To form a government, one must have 61 votes in the parliament (Knesset) out of 120. In Israel’s history, no political party has ever garnered a majority, so a coalition of parties must be formed. This parliamentary system tends to give smaller parties more power than their numbers would suggest. In cases where right-wing governments have been in power, they were dependent on getting the vote of ultra-religious parties. While about 13% of Israelis identify as ultra-religious, they have been able to extract many concessions from right-wing coalitions that depend on their willingness to join their coalition.
While there are more Arab Israelis than ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews, they are not as well-organized and do not vote in the same percentage as Israeli Jews. Members of the Arab parties did join the previous coalition led by Bennett.
Netanyahu became Prime Minister not because of a successful campaign, but rather because the opposition was ineffective in getting their voters out. Even so, out of 4.6 million votes, the group led by Netanyahu only won by 30,000 votes.
In order to form a viable coalition, Netanyahu had to bring in right-wing fringe elements. Some of the people he gave cabinet positions to were uneducated and, frankly, out of their minds. He must have thought he could control them, but that was not the case.
The governmental framework of Israel is much more fragile than that of the USA. If the USA had the same structure, we would all be saluting His Excellency, Donald Trump. When the country was formed in 1948, many compromises had to be made, but that was also true in respect to the formation of the USA. However, the USA has a constitution, and Israel does not. There is something called the Basic Law, which can be seen as a quasi and weak version of a constitution.
Therefore, there are only two governing groups: the parliament and the court system. The parliament elects a Prime Minister, and that person appoints the head of the different ministries. The court has powers that go beyond the court system in the USA. They can declare laws or actions as being illegal because of their opinions as to the intent. There is certainly a legitimate case for judicial reform.
The Netanyahu government decided to make changes to how judges are appointed and what judges can do. For instance, with just a simple majority, they would be able to override anything that the court declared. Since the government by definition has to have a simple majority to be in power, they would be able to pass any law they wanted. For the majority of Israelis (more than 60%), this is intolerable as it could and would lead to a dictatorship.
The people of Israel realized what was happening and began to organize. The amount of grassroots organization is amazing but makes sense in this “Start Up Nation.” The use of social media, WhatsApp groups, etc. provided the mechanism to mobilize the nation. We have had nights and days of protests. Over 2 million people have protested out of a population of 9 million (of which 2 million are Arabs who by and large are not participating).
So far, the demonstrations have been largely peaceful. I can’t imagine what would have happened if there had been these kinds of demonstrations in the USA while Trump was President. But now, I expect violence as Netanyahu has been inciting his supporters, many of whom are settlers that are armed (which is unusual in Israel).
I am convinced that Netanyahu will fail. He will either have to make compromises or eventually his coalition will fall. In that case, there will be new elections, and the opposition will surely take power. It will be a difficult road, but Israel will remain a democracy.
Seeing the commitment of the majority of Israelis to democracy makes me even prouder to be an Israeli.
Spot on Avram!
When I was in Israel many years ago we went to a lecture on how the government was run. I found it so interesting and I had learned some of the facts you mention in your article.Your post gave me even more information. I, too am a Zionist and have supported Israel for many years through my life membership in Hadassah. Hope to have a visit with you next time you visit Your sister in Santa Rosa. Lenore
The controversial reform has only been “paused” until May, not abandoned. And the quid pro quo for the pause is the creation of a praetorian guard under the direct control of that nutcase of Ben-Gvir. Not exactly reassuring.
It is not reassuring. I am afraid the next round could be violent.
Much appreciate all of this information and your perspective. It really is as frightening as it seems.