On December 29, 2022, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled the nation’s new cabinet, marking the country’s most right-wing government in history.
To secure his election victory, Netanyahu’s political party (Likoud) formed a coalition with several other groups, leading to numerous concessions. One such concession saw the appointment of an ultranationalist (Itamar Ben-Gvir) as the Minister of national security, who has previously been convicted of inciting anti-Arab racism. Another example is the appointment of the new finance minister (Bezalel Smotrich), from the far right. He is seeking greater control over Jewish settlements and civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank.
These appointments have prompted widespread protests among Israeli citizens, who are concerned about the new government’s agenda and its impact on the country’s democracy. In fact, most Israeli citizens disagree with these reform proposals. Indeed, the Israeli news channel, N12, revealed the result of a poll that showed that 62% of Israelis want the proposals to be either paused or halted. The protesters argue that the new government is working to undermine the power of the judiciary by reducing the influence of the Supreme Court over Parliament.
It is true that this change would give the majority of the parliament the ability to override Supreme Court decisions. It could empower the ruling government to pass legislation without the risk of it being overturned by the judiciary. Another change that they are pushing for is to change the government’s role in selecting judges. This would give them even more control over the judiciary branch.
Moreover, critics are warning that the coalition’s proposed changes could fundamentally alter the character of Israel’s liberal democracy, which is characterized by its flexibility but also vulnerability. Israel operates without a formal constitution, relying instead on a set of basic laws that can be amended with a simple majority of 61 votes in the parliament. With 64 votes in hand, Netanyahu’s coalition holds the power to effect such changes.
What were the reasons behind this choice of coalition?
In the past, Netanyahu had formed his cabinets with more centrist and center-left political parties. However, as the last elections approached, centrist groups refused to align themselves with the Prime Minister as he is facing trial for several corruption charges. This has left Netanyahu to rely on far-right parties after the election.
How has this election affected Israel’s foreign policy?
Despite being described as having an almost unbreakable bond, the relationship between the United States and Israel is facing increasing pressure from within. Recently there has been a growing trend among liberal members of the Democratic Party to raise their voices against human rights violations, such as the forced eviction of Palestinian families and the detention of Palestinian children by the Israeli military. A concrete example of this would be when Representative Gregory W. Meeks (the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a New York Democrat) who urged the Biden administration to halt the $735 million precision-guided weapons shipment to Israel that had been authorized.
Despite this criticism, Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to visit Washington soon. However, amid recent controversy surrounding his policies toward the Palestinians and the proposed judicial reform. There have been several sources that have reported that senior officials within the Biden administration are cautious about extending an invitation to Netanyahu at this time.
Despite these growing tensions, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Tel Aviv at the end of the month of January. During that visit, Blinken reiterated that Washington was committed to “the protection of human rights and democratic values.” In the coming weeks, the fate of the bilateral ties between the two nations will be laid bare, this will offer some insight into the future of the relations between both nations.
What are the key takeaways from these protests?
The ongoing protests in Israel are a reflection of widespread concern among citizens about the direction the country is taking. The recent formation of the nation’s most right-wing government in history, following the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has sparked fears about the future of Israeli democracy. With the appointment of ultranationalist and hard-right figures to key cabinet positions, many protesters are worried about the erosion of the power of the judiciary and the potential for fundamental changes to the character of Israel’s liberal democracy.
Featured image by: Amir Cohen. Retrieved from Vatican News.