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What's Next with the Disastrous Israeli Judicial Reform Attempt?

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ISRAEL LEGAL SYSTEM - Does Israel’s recent election foreshadow the demise of democracy in the country? Is the new Benjamin Netanyahu led coalition government’s call for legal reforms to fix what it views as the vast overreach of the Supreme Court a death knell for the rule of law in the Jewish State? 

Supposed faltering faith in the court comes from the three domestic factions that comprise the new Israeli government coalition: Settler activists bristle under court rulings that prohibit or restrict the building or expansion of settlements in parts of the territories. Ultra-Orthodox Jews resent court interventions that interfere with their religious way of life or fail to uphold religious mandates. And the increasingly rightward-leaning Likud faithful want to assure that the courts will not get in the way of Prime Minister Netanyahu continuing as their leader and shepherding their conservative agenda. 

That the current Israeli is disastrously trying to implement a misguided judicial reform is front page news. What is missing is a prognostication of what will happen next in that vibrant democratic oasis in the volatile Middle East. 

The attempt by Israel’s most extreme right-wing coalition government to overhaul and emasculate the country’s judicial system will surely fail, and here is why. The Jewish state’s democratic soul is too vibrant to tolerate this eradication of the country’s political and ethical foundation. As such, March 11, 2023 witnessed more than a quarter million people demonstrating in opposition to the current government. It was the tenth consecutive week of such large-scale rallies. This equates to more than 8 million people marching in American cities. Those are really substantial numbers, which are not just being sustained, but are growing from week to week. 

Israel’s unwritten constitution is flawed, but the coalition’s proposed changes would make things worse by allowing unchecked majority rule. That could make the country less prosperous, more polarized at home, and more vulnerable abroad. Part of the motivation for the reforms is personal — Netanyahu is fighting corruption charges and has grown to despise the courts. While Israel’s judicial system has genuine problems, abolishing or defanging it is not the appropriate solution. It is simply self-serving for Netanyahu, who wishes to avoid the likely fate that would eventually emerge from his completed trial. 

Such a broad and sustained massive public outcry will delegitimize the coalition and lead to cracks among its members. The nature of politics with recurring election cycles is that every elected person is always thinking not just of their current role, but of how to ensure that they can - and will be reelected. As members of the Knesset (MKs) currently serving in the ruling parties perceive the credibility of the current coalition is widely and irrevocably rebuked, they will reassess their willingness to remain associated with its stench. Keep an eye out on Likud MKs like Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Yuli Edelstein, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Energy Minister Yisrael Katz, MK Danny Danon and Economy Committee chair MK David Bitan. Early tea leaves will likely come from those seven. Already, polls are showing that if elections were held now, the ruling coalition parties would lose 8 of their 64 Knesset seats in the country’s 120 seat parliament and slip back into being the opposition. 

The pervasive revulsion being expressed about the ruling coalition will lead to moderate alternatives emerging to Netanyahu’s toxic leadership. He will be forced to resign and the Likud party, the largest party in the coalition, will seek out more moderate partners to displace the radical fringes of the current coalition, notably the Jewish National Front party with its 6 seats, and the Religious Zionist party with its 7 seats. 

Primed to replace them is the center-right National Unity Party (in Hebrew referenced as the National Camp) with its 12 seats. Among its leaders is Gideon Sa`ar, a former leader in the Likud party, who is thus viewed as acceptable to many members of the Likud party. Sa’ar will be willing to join a Likud coalition only if Netanyahu departs. When this happens, Sa’ar will be a likely choice to lead the coalition forward, so as to avoid early elections, which would lead otherwise to Likud falling out of power and back into the opposition. 

(Mihran Kalaydjian is the Chair Education Committee at Woodland Hills Warner Center Neighborhood Council, an official elected advisory body to the City of Los Angeles representing the stakeholders of the Woodland Hills and Warner Center neighborhoods.) 

(David Alpern is an active leader in Southern California for more than 20 years on behalf of increasing education budgets, investment in the arts, carbon taxes, and the two-state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict.)

 

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