Israeli govt pushing a divided country toward civil war

Israeli govt pushing a divided country toward civil war

Israeli govt pushing a divided country toward civil war
Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system in Tel Aviv. (AP)
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There is nothing about the current Israeli government to instill confidence that it has any intention of upholding the liberal-democratic system, or that it has any idea of where it is leading the country.
Not only are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues causing anxiety among millions of people, but their distress is showing too. Common sense would dictate that this should make them more conducive to backing down from their misguided and miscalculated assault on their country’s democratic institutions and processes.
Instead, rattled by the daily protests against their anti-democratic legislation and rhetoric, the government is continuing to inflame the situation and even went so far as to organize its own rally. This was not designed merely to advocate for what it misleadingly describes as “judicial reforms,” but to plainly incite against those who oppose the government, pushing Israeli society one step closer to political violence.
Optimistically, although unrealistically, the supporters of the coalition government and the champions of the judicial overhaul ploy branded their march and rally as the “March of the Million,” under the slogan “They won’t steal the elections from us.”
In actuality, estimates of the crowd size ranged between 150,000 and 200,000, similar to the number of people that take to the streets in Tel Aviv every Saturday in the weekly protests against the judicial overhaul, and about half the number of protesters across the country as a whole who reject the weakening of the judiciary among other anti-democratic measures planned by the governing coalition. This could hardly be regarded as a ringing endorsement.
One of the most disturbing features of the event was the deliberate misrepresentation of the substance of the rejection of the government proposals, and the smearing of those who lead the opposition to them.
To begin with, there has been no attempt whatsoever by anybody to “steal the election.” To reiterate: Last year’s election was won by those who eventually formed the current coalition government and there is no question about the validity of the election result.
However, there is a huge difference between the legitimacy of the outcome of the election, and the legitimacy of the actions of those who have come to power as a result. This Israeli government is trying to destroy the very system that allowed it to take power, and by doing so prevent any alternative political grouping to lead the country in the future. At the same time, it is harming the social and legal mechanisms that have long been in place to protect the political and civil liberties of the people.
The accusation that those protesting against the government’s undermining of the system of democratic checks and balances are refusing to accept the election result was at the heart of the speeches during the pro-government rally led by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is the driving force behind the judicial overhaul.
For some unfathomable reason, he harbors a deep-seated resentment of the Supreme Court. Together with his sidekick, Simcha Rothman — a member of the Knesset who is treating with contempt its Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which he chairs — Levin has given us a clear indication of what would happen should the coalition succeed in its blitz of anti-democratic legislation.

The Netanyahu government is trying to destroy the very system that allowed it to take power.

Yossi Mekelberg

Disingenuously, he claimed during the rally that the public backed the judicial overhaul “in a referendum six months ago,” referring to the coalition’s election victory. But this is a newly invented narrative that has little to do with the events as they actually unfolded.
Many of the proposals currently before the Knesset were not presented to voters during the election campaign. On the contrary, they were deliberately concealed, especially from the soft right within the Likud party.
As a consequence of this coalition’s deception, the latest opinion polls indicate that were a general election to be held today, the coalition would lose 15 of its 64 seats, leaving it with 49, while the parties that formed the previous coalition, led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, would win 62 seats, compared with the 51 they currently hold. This is the Israeli public’s verdict on the government’s attack on the country’s democracy.
At the same time President Isaac Herzog was discussing, a stone’s throw from the rally, a possible compromise with representatives of both camps, Yariv, Rothman, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich were deliberately inflaming the situation to derail any chance of finding an acceptable formula to end the standoff.
They played to the gallery, many of whom were religious hard-liners and from the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, who are inclined to support vicious attacks that depict Supreme Court judges as elitists who put themselves above the law, not to mention the leftists who oppose the settlements and settlers.
Every time the Supreme Court was mentioned, the crowd booed. But it didn’t stop there. Speakers at the rally drew oversimplified battle lines, as have other members of the Knesset and the mobilized right-wing media, between those they described as “first-class citizens,” privileged, mainly Ashkenazi Jews who are those opposing the government, and “second-class citizens,” the Mirzhai Jews the government claims it is trying to support and protect.
Nothing could be farther from the truth — and there is no Ashkenazi elite more privileged than Levin, Rothman and Netanyahu, who have done nothing to help low-income families better themselves in all the many years during which Likud has been in power.
In an attempt to remain in power, and promote their agenda, the government is seeking to divide Israeli society and polarize the debate. To paraphrase Michelle Obama, when those involved in the protests against the government go higher and higher in their standards, the government’s supporters go lower and lower.
In a passage of sheer incitement directed against the Supreme Court, with no shred of evidence or truth to support his distorted worldview, Levin scolded the judges and claimed that they safeguard the rights of the families of terrorists rather than their victims; that they protect rapists instead of punishing them; and do not even defend the lives of Israeli Defense Forces soldiers in face of terrorists.
He could have saved himself the bother of spreading these lies by proceeding straight to accusing the judges of treason. Do not be surprised if a judge, or anybody else who supports the judiciary, should soon find themselves in harm’s way because of this incitement.
At a time when the country desperately requires a prudent government that can quench the flames of conflict, it instead has the misfortune to be led by those who thrive on discord and polarization, and do not care if they leave scorched earth behind them when they eventually depart.
I am quite confident that by the end of this battle they will be kicked out of office, and democratically so. I just hope that this happens before they push a very fragmented society into civil war.

Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.
Twitter: @YMekelberg

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