Netanyahu Forced to Bow to the People

Benedict Pignatelli for Distilled Post

Amidst continued suppression of Paelestinians by the State, and militant activity in response by Hamas, Fetah and others, Netanyahu has finally backed down on his campaign to weaken the judiciary. Many are calling for him to step down. The news came on Tuesday 28th March, from the Solomonic words of Netanyahu himself. The suspension has come due to Israeli (not Palestinian) protesting against the legislation. 

The judicial reform

Backlash has arisen over Netanyahu’s attempts to reform the judiciary system in Israel, allowing the government to have ‘decisive control’ over the committee that appoints judges. If this were to go ahead, there would be very little oversight available to keep Netanyahu and his government in check. For example, it would make it difficult to remove a leader from office, something many are calling for currently, for Netanyahu. The Prime Minister and the far-right claim the judiciary have too much power currently, and the influence they have on picking their members is undemocratic. 

Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is one of many to criticise the attempted overhauling of the judiciary. He was dismissed on Saturday by Netanyahu, a decision that has received widespread criticism from all outside the far-right, and lit the flame of public outrage. Israel’s President Iaac Herzog likewise called for an end to Netanyahu's reforms. Several governments, including the USA, a long standing supporter of Israel, joined in the condemnation. 

Umbrella Movement fighting for ‘democracy’

After a nationwide strike Prime minister Netanyahu confirmed he would halt his controversial plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary and radically reform the legal system, which would have given his government considerably more power and control over the State. For now National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s judicial legislative reform has been postponed. A parliamentary session will take place on April 30th, where the matter will be reviewed. 

Netanyahu branded the protestors, led by the Umbrella Movement Leadership, ‘extremists’. One reason the protesters have had success is because they are Israeli themselves, rather than Palestinians. Criticism of the state by non-Israelis is often met with accusations of antisemitism. Without playing down the very real underlying antisemitism that runs through many political and cultural bodies, this defence has often been used as a tool to hide behind for Netanyahu and his government

The acceeding of the government to the Israeli protestors is in stark contrast to the government’s response when it is Palestinians protesting - last October they were condemned for quelling a protest against Palestinians with live ammunition. Although some protesters were hit by water cannon strikes last Monday, Netanyahu has eventually bowed to their demands without any serious or violent attempts to subdue the protesters.

Netanyahu - the prodigal son no one wanted to return

Netanyahu, or ‘Bibi’ as he is affectionately known, is the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history, having served previously from 1996-9 and again from 2009-21, a total of over 15 years. After a brief stint away from power, and several allegations of corruption, he was voted back in last December, as the chairman of the Likud party, a right wing political party founded in part by former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Despite coming from secular Ashkenazi origins, he has a strong following amongst the Zionist, nationalist and Sephardic communities.

Netanyahu was born after Independence, and as such was never part of the campaign to return to the motherland. His career has revolved only around making the state of Israel stronger. As such we can see great ideological differences between him and Zionist founder Theodor Herzl, who envisioned a much more socialist utopia in his Israel.

Al Jazeera unsurprisingly had nothing good to say about Israel and its current political developments, describing the situation, and Netenyahu, as a ‘pathological liar [at the heart of] a pervasive lie’. The Qatari news outlet was quick to admonish the Israeli government, calling Netanyahu a ‘Trumpian politician’. Although a biased and polemical article, the actions of Netanyahu and his government have been shocking, and this is just the latest in a long list of corrupt and undemocratic actions. To compare him to President Trump seems unfair to the former US President, as although controversial, Trump never turned America into what the UN have described as ‘apartheid state’. 

Netanyahu and others in the Likud party are confident the reforms will go ahead, and are treating the backing down as a necessary step on the road to reform, according to the Times of Israel. As this protest was largely between Israeli people and the Israeli government, it is unknown what effect it will have on the continuing protest of Palestinians who are campaigning for better rights and a return of the lands that continue to be taken from them since 1967. Taking away the power of the judiciary from the right wing Israeli government, however, would surely be no good thing for the Palestinians and their cause.