Israel’s democracy faces a critical juncture as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government attempts to undermine the country’s judiciary and erode the delicate balance of power. However, recent mass protests have showcased the power of popular uprisings in defending democracy and the rule of law as they have managed to temporarily halt the proposed judicial reforms that would undermine the independence of the judiciary and erode the checks and balances of the Israeli government. This display of resistance serves as a beacon of hope for Israel’s democracy, but the battle is far from over, and Israel’s democracy remains at risk.
Netanyahu has made significant contributions to Israel as its longest-serving prime minister, with accomplishments such as transforming Israel into a more robust free-market economy, which helped the nation avoid the global financial crisis and become one of the first economies to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also established Israel’s diplomatic relations with various countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Nonetheless, his proposed judicial reforms poses as a grave threat to Israeli democracy.
These judicial reforms seek to give the government extensive power to override Supreme Court rulings. The independence of the judiciary is crucial for maintaining checks and balances within the government. The potential damage goes beyond the courts; it threatens the democratic identity of the state. The reforms would undermine the delicate balance between secular and religious factions, jeopardise the rights of Arab citizens, and impede the creation of a Palestinian state. These measures threaten the democratic principles that have guided the nation for decades.
Israeli citizens have taken to the streets in a remarkable display of resistance against Netanyahu’s assault on the judiciary. Labour unions, Army reservists, diplomats, health workers, and students have united in rejecting the government’s proposed reforms. Their protests have created substantial public pressure, forcing Netanyahu to suspend the judicial reform temporarily. This victory demonstrates the power of popular mobilisation and showcases the strength of Israel’s democratic values.
While Netanyahu’s halt is encouraging, the fight for Israeli democracy is far from over. The suspended judicial reform could still be reintroduced. It is essential for Israelis and their international allies, particularly the United States, to maintain sustained pressure on the government. The strong bond between the U.S. and Israel, rooted in shared democratic values, makes it imperative for the U.S. to support and defend Israel’s democratic institutions.
The threat posed by the far-right parties extends beyond the assault on the judiciary. Their agenda also seeks to expand West Bank settlements, alter the status quo on the Temple Mount, and marginalise Arab citizens. Netanyahu has made significant progress regarding Israeli security by implementing strict measures to counter terrorism, enhancing intelligence capabilities, and maintaining a qualitative military edge, all while establishing strong alliances with international partners to secure aid and forging historic diplomatic agreements with the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf Arab countries. However, these more recent measures would make the creation of a Palestinian state nearly impossible, hindering the prospects for a lasting peace settlement. Israel’s security and survival rely on achieving a two-state solution with the Palestinians. By undermining this possibility, Netanyahu’s government risks isolating Israel from its Arab neighbours and compromising the progress made through the Abraham Accords.
While the need for judicial reform is not misguided, Netanyahu’s proposed changes lack transparency. A balanced approach that respects democratic principles and includes broad stakeholder engagement is crucial. Israel’s Supreme Court, though powerful, can benefit from a thoughtful discussion about the division of powers between the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches. However, Netanyahu’s motives are questionable, given his ongoing corruption trial and the potential for personal gain. Any reforms must be free from political bias and designed to strengthen Israel’s democratic institutions.
The international community, particularly the United States, plays a pivotal role in supporting and defending Israel’s democracy. As a longstanding ally of Israel, the U.S. has a responsibility to uphold democratic values and advocate for the protection of democratic institutions. The Biden administration has expressed its commitment to democracy and human rights, signalling an opportunity for renewed cooperation in addressing the threats faced by Israel’s democracy.
The international community should also leverage its economic and trade relationships with Israel to encourage compliance with democratic principles. Economic incentives can be used as a tool to promote transparency, accountability, and respect for the rule of law. By emphasising the importance of democratic governance, international partners can exert influence and pressure Netanyahu’s government to uphold democratic values.
Civil society organisations and independent media outlets in Israel have played a crucial role in highlighting the threats to democracy. These organisations and media outlets must continue encouraging dialogue, providing a platform for diverse perspectives, and holding the government accountable for its actions. Protecting freedom of speech and independent journalism is vital to maintain a healthy democracy in Israel.
The fight for Israel’s democracy is an ongoing battle that requires sustained efforts from both domestic and international actors. The resilience of Israeli society, as demonstrated through mass protests, highlights the commitment of its citizens to uphold democratic principles. To secure the future of Israeli democracy, addressing the systemic issues contributing to its vulnerability is crucial. This includes promoting inclusive governance, ensuring equal rights for all citizens, fostering dialogue between religious and ethnic communities, and pursuing a viable two-state solution. By addressing these underlying challenges, Israel can forge a path towards sustaining a democratic system.
Consequently, Israel’s democracy hangs in the balance as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government attempts to undermine democratic institutions. The mass protests and resistance by diverse segments of Israeli society are commendable, but the battle is far from over. The international community, led by the United States, must stand with Israelis in their fight for democracy and exert diplomatic and economic pressure to protect the country’s liberal institutions. The fight for democracy in Israel is a fight that must be won.