Israel’s Judicial Overhaul Will Set Off More Showdowns. But When?

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After a series of chaotic days in Israel, which included lawmakers voting to limit judicial power and clashes between protesters and police, health workers went on strike on Tuesday. The military also tried to prevent resignations as all sides prepared for a protracted fight over the government’s court overhaul.

The plan to weaken the courts, proposed by the far-right governing coalition, has ignited months of unrest. Monday’s vote in Parliament implemented the first part of the program, stripping the Supreme Court of its ability to block government actions and appointments deemed “unreasonable.” This led to a surge of street protests late at night.

However, the next confrontation did not immediately follow, and it may take months to ensue. The umbrella alliance coordinating various protest groups has stated that weekly demonstrations will continue on Saturday nights. It remains uncertain whether Israel will witness large-scale protests again before reaching a significant turning point.

With the Knesset set to recess until October, the government must postpone voting on the other aspects of its plan, including granting the government greater control over judicial appointments. Opponents want the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the new law, which would create a constitutional crisis as the court would be asked to strike down a law that limits its power. This process could take weeks or even months.

Crucial battles still lie ahead, as Justice Minister Yariv Levin has pledged to press on with more judicial changes by the end of the year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may also attempt to reinstate Aryeh Deri, a key ally whose cabinet appointment was blocked by the Supreme Court due to his previous tax fraud conviction. The government argues that the courts have obstructed their agenda and the majority’s will, but polls consistently indicate that the judicial overhaul is unpopular. Opponents fear that these changes will lead to a less secular and pluralist society and infringe upon rights.

Meanwhile, the military is assessing how many reservists, out of the 11,000 who threatened to resign if the law passed, will follow through and the impact on Israel’s military capacity. The military leadership has warned that certain functions would be severely impaired if reservists were to quit in large numbers.

President Biden has advised Netanyahu to seek consensus rather than take divisive actions, but the U.S. State Department confirmed that the approval of the new law would not result in a cut in American aid to Israel. The conflict has already shaken Israel’s economy, with the main stock market index declining 5.2% over two days. The largest labor union has not withdrawn its threat of a general strike in protest against the judicial overhaul.

Moody’s, the credit ratings agency, has warned that the government’s plans could weaken the judiciary’s independence and disrupt checks and balances, posing significant risks to economic and social stability. A survey of the Israeli high-tech industry suggested that numerous tech companies are considering or have already initiated steps to relocate their businesses overseas. However, some tech leaders argue that leaving the Israeli economy would also mean severing ties with a key source of success—Israel’s large pool of tech workers.

With the Knesset going on break, the opposition faces challenges in directly confronting the demonstrations and encampments that have emerged outside the building. Even after lawmakers return, further judicial changes may be delayed until November.

The atmosphere in Israel is characterized by a somber and uncertain mood among both government supporters and critics. An alliance of high-tech leaders opposed to the government displayed a block of black on the front pages of major newspapers, labeling it a “black day for Israeli democracy.” The ongoing disruption and roadblocks created by the protests have left many feeling alienated and frustrated.

Military reservists, like tech executives, must weigh the potential harm to Israel’s security if they resign or the potential to support Netanyahu’s government if they stay. The military is attempting to persuade those who have already withdrawn their resignation to reconsider. Maintaining the unity of the military is crucial, particularly in dissuading the 500 pilots who have threatened to resign. Their departure would significantly affect air force capacity, as reserve pilots often lead combat missions across the Middle East due to their experience.

As the situation unfolds, it remains unclear how many pilots will follow through with their resignation. Some may wait to see if the Supreme Court overturns the new law, while others may choose not to resign altogether. The military recognizes that decisions are complex and that individuals may change their minds.

In the midst of the turmoil, citizens across the country express feelings of sadness and uncertainty. A group of high-tech leaders opposing the government paid to cover the front pages of major newspapers with a black block and a single sentence stating, “A black day for Israeli democracy.” Many individuals, such as Sandra Cohen, a former social worker, feel disoriented by the disruption caused by the protests and view it as a threat to their democracy.

As the Israeli government faces ongoing challenges and protests, the country’s future remains uncertain. The impact on society, security, and stability will unfold in the coming months, affecting various sectors and the lives of Israeli citizens.

About Sarah Johnson

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