Israel’s democracy is under attack

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Current-day democracy in Israel is under considerable threat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing for a series of bills to allow the Knesset (Israeli parliament) to be able to override and/or avoid any and all checks and balances by the Supreme Court. This would make the power of the government and its coalitions unrestricted, highly likely to result in the oppression of minorities—including but not limited to Israeli Arabs, left-wing supporters, women and other groups—leading them to be able to do whatever they please and pass legislation that may be unethical and illegal under the current legal system.

Prior to the suggestion of these bills, Netanyahu has been involved in a long, extended series of three trials. Through his fourth and fifth terms as Prime Minister, he and close political allies within his inner circle have been under investigation for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Yet, he claims that these new changes to the judicial system have nothing to do with these trials. It is not unreasonable to be suspicious that there is a connection between the two events. Alongside clearing his name from corruption, Netanyahu wants to promote right-wing ideas, including harsher treatment towards the Palestinians living in the West Bank. 

Netanyahu and his party argue that the bills would make the nation more democratic and they will use the decision of the majority to guide government policies, however, these changes would be doing quite the opposite. Due to the fact that Israel does not have a constitution serving as its legislative backbone, if the bills are passed, these elected officials would be allowed to pass legislation without having any checks by the voices of the people nor by the Supreme Court. This would undermine democracy and the regulation of law and order. Currently, Israel’s ministers have legal advisors who are independent and answer to the attorney-general of the country. With the new plan, Netanyahu wants to have ministers appoint their own advisors so they will agree with the decisions those ministers are making. 

Despite Netanyahu’s party advocating that this is for the betterment of democracy and to promote the voice of the people, there is a vast number of people voicing their thoughts against the government and these drastic changes. For the past three months, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been attending protests which have continuously filled the streets with those opposed to the passing of these bills, voicing their concerns that it will lead to a dictatorship. Israeli flags fill the streets with signs calling Netanyahu a “crime minister,” alongside pictures of founding fathers Theodor Hertzel and Ben Gurion crying. Among this majority who do not agree with these bills stand a lot of Israel’s elite—such as the defense apparatus, former generals, former chiefs of staff, former heads of the Shabak (Israel’s Security Agency), the Israeli Secret Service and former heads of the Mossad (Israel’s National Intelligence Agency). On the morning of Mar. 26, Israel’s minister of defense, Yoav Gallant, joined this group of elites. He publicly spoke out against the proposed regime change, which led Netanyahu to fire him. This only continued to fire up the public with the fear of a dictatorship since Netanyahu is shunning and firing anyone in power who stands against him. This is also an issue because some people who are investing their time and money in the country are withdrawing their support because the governmental structure of the currently democratic state is being changed, and that is not what they were supporting originally. Furthermore, strikes in high-profile places such as Israeli embassies and airports have joined the public’s attempts to push Netanyahu to reconsider. If passed, these bills could change the course of democracy in Israel. 


The picture on the left is of Noya Sharaby at an Israeli protest with a sign pointing at Netanyahu among other right-winged political figures in his cabinet using the Taylor Swift lyrics “I’m the problem it’s me. The photo on the right is from the same protest with a sign saying “you are not democracy, you may walk and act like democracy but you are not democracy period!” (photos taken by Noam Fisher and sent to author).

These protests are not limited to the confines of Israel. When some of the Knesset members came to New York City, New York and Teaneck, New Jersey to try to convince Jewish doctors to make Aliyah (migrate) to Israel, they were faced with many Israeli Americans (my mom included) voicing their hatred and concern towards the proposed new policies. 

As of Monday, Mar. 27, Netanyahu decided to bring his plan to a halt, and announced that he wants the government to have an open dialogue with the people about their concerns. While this process is being shelved, it seems that Netanyahu is not doing so with the intention of listening to the people, but to buy time and silence the increasingly disruptive protests and outcries that are getting more violent, and to end the current strike of high-demand workers. 

.As an Israeli citizen and someone who has many family members and friends who will be affected by these bills, it is very intimidating that the quality of their lives and their rights are at stake. My grandparents in Israel are continuously going to protests and voicing their concerns regarding the proposed changes. There is also a petition signed by thousands of Israeli citizens who believe that Netanyahu is not fit to lead this country. As a young boy, my family would always vote against Netanyahu and hope for a better future. Unfortunately, he has been in power for as long as I can remember. Without an end of term in sight, it is heartbreaking to the people asking for change that it likely won’t happen, but it seems like not much change can be done unless he is voted out of office. This does not seem likely anytime soon.

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