Winners, losers emerge after Israel’s Netanyahu suspends judicial overhaul
JERUSALEM – Israeli President Isaac Herzog invited representatives of the government coalition and the two main opposition parties to consult on Tuesday evening to explore a possible compromise after the government put forward its proposed judicial reform plan suspended.
The controversial changes, criticized by opponents as a “coup,” would give more power to the Israeli Knesset (and therefore the main parties in the coalition government) over the country’s judges.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday night that he was halting the legislative process of judicial reform until the summer in an effort to reach a major national agreement, paving the way for the president to reopen dialogue. The decision to suspend the reform was made after massive protests and labor strikes that threatened to paralyze the country’s economy.
Monday was certainly one of the most tumultuous and turbulent days Israeli society has seen since anti-government protests erupted weeks ago. Netanyahu’s decision to put the reform on hold brought some relief, but it is clear to all that the lull is temporary.
Netanyahu made a dramatic comeback a few months ago with the November 1 elections, putting together a right-wing, ultra-Orthodox government with a strong majority in the Knesset. Now, however, he is stuck at such a low point that only time will tell if he can recover from it.
Having bucked public and international pressure against judicial reform, Netanyahu has been the biggest loser of recent events. A quick poll conducted by some of the country’s leading media outlets shows the intensity of the drama unfolding on Monday night. Netanyahu lost his position at the top of the list of prime minister candidates, and his Likud party lost a projected 5-6 seats (in a poll on who Israelis would vote for if elections were held now) . This leaves it at its lowest level for years, with only 25 seats projected.
Netanyahu’s firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, whom he appointed a few months ago, caused the most damage. He did this less than a day after Gallant warned that the country’s reserve forces were destined to split. Many of the best people who serve in the reserves – including pilots and reservists in the Intelligence and Cyber Security Corps – have threatened to stop showing up.
Netanyahu’s decision to sack Gallant was the result of a crisis of confidence between himself and his minister. The prime minister claimed that Gallant had not done enough to stop the growing phenomenon of people refusing to serve. Still, Netanyahu’s reaction was seen as irrational, contemptuous and irresponsible, especially during the Ramadan season, and Israel faces increasing military threats.
Firing Gallant created a chain reaction in which thousands of Israelis who had not yet shown that Netanyahu had crossed a red line. That night, they poured out of their homes and could be found at every major intersection. They were driven by a sense of urgency. Many of them felt that there was no responsible adult leading the State of Israel. The judicial revolution promoted by the Netanyahu government, which many felt was a step towards a more authoritarian regime, turned into a real case of national concern.
Due to the spontaneous eruption of public protest and the subsequent announcement by union workers of a general strike, Netanyahu changed his mind, halting his reform legislation. In a speech to the nation, he called for dialogue between the opposition factions. The problem was that it was too late. The damage had already been done.
It is clear that the person who benefits the most from these developments is former Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, who leads the opposition National Unity Party. In the past few days, Israelis have seen their country turn into chaos. Footage was kept showing youths lighting fires on the highways, while police stood by helplessly and watched. The vast majority of people were looking for a head-level figure to guide them. Many of them found solace in Gantz, who asked Netanyahu to enter into dialogue about the judicial overhaul without any preconditions and in good faith.
Polls on Monday showed that Gantz almost doubled his support among the electorate so that he would now pass the 20-seat threshold if a snap election were held. The conclusion is that most Israelis want to see judicial reform, provided it is done through dialogue. This gives Gantz room to grow. Gantz is the conciliator – compared to the current leader of the opposition Yair Lapid of rejection – who has gained the trust of the people.
During the current crisis, Lapid supported a more hawkish and uncompromising approach towards the current government and Netanyahu in particular. While Gantz wants to hold direct talks with Netanyahu and the Likud, Lapid is seen as taking a more uncompromising and less conciliatory approach. His popularity is declining because of this and the polls are showing his party, Yesh Atid, losing some seats.
Netanyahu’s claim is linked to the status of his coalition partners. Until a few days ago, Netanyahu had no reason to worry about his political standing. With everything that has happened in the last few days, however, her position has become very tight. His partners on the right, especially the ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, are the reason for the reputation of this government as extremist and dangerous. They are persona non grata in the United States, and this hurts a prime minister who cannot survive politically without them.
Other losers are the ultra-Orthodox parties and ultra-Orthodox society in general.
The current crisis has once again brought attention to the issue of serving in the army. As the weeks passed, more and more reserve pilots issued the following ultimatum to the government: If the legislation is not stopped, they will stop volunteering to serve. In fact, the vulnerability of the IDF, if officers refused to show up for reserve duty, was one of the main reasons Netanyahu caved on judicial reform. And so, years of anger against the ultra-Orthodox for not sharing that burden of serving in the IDF came back to the forefront of Israel’s national agenda.
More than that, the result of a large number of voters serving combat units from here is that although they are not represented in the current government, they are nevertheless expected to fight changes in the governance of the country that are imposed them by ultra-Orthodox and religious. right-wing politicians. In other words, politicians who do not serve in the IDF at all or serve for a very short period of time force those who serve in the army and pay taxes to abandon their democratic values and pay minimal taxes if at all.
That said, from the moment IDF officers entered the political arena, the army could no longer be considered Israel’s most unifying element. If until now the majority of Israelis considered the army as the last sacred cow and stayed out of the political quagmire, from these last days it will no longer be so. The “people’s army” lost some of its status as one of the few corps that was without pride. In this sense, the IDF can also be counted among the losers.