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The battle over Israel's soul

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Israel is facing the greatest danger since its inception-not from any regional adversarial power but from within, led by a largely corrupt cast of political characters and shepherded by a criminal who is willing to destroy the country only to escape justice It is unfathomable that Israel's future is now hanging in the balance because of a criminal and morally corrupt prime minister who appears to care less about the country for which the Jews have been yearning for millennia and more about saving his own skin. Netanyahu's resolve to subordinate the Supreme Court and the judiciary in general to the whims of politicians is tantamount to a coup d'état. He must be ousted by any peaceful, democratic means. The continuing and growing demonstrations by the hundreds of thousands against his perilous scheme clearly attests to the gravest concerns of most Israelis, who fear that their country is on the precipice of disintegration. Netanyahu is betraying the very premise behind Israel's creation and he must be stopped before it is too late.

The Israelis are now at a fateful crossroad of historic proportions that will determine Israel's very future while incurring far-reaching implications on world Jewry's relations to the country. Will Israel remain a Jewish, democratic, and inclusive nation; a haven for any Jew regardless of his/her ideological, religious, gender, and sexual orientation which a majority of Israelis want and seek to preserve? Or will it be an autocratic country governed by religious zealots and extremist Zionist nationalist parties who are determined to hold onto the reins of power at all costs and shape it to fit their messianic mission and forfeit the aspiration of world Jewry to have an independent, democratic, just, and inclusive state?

To achieve his sinister design to cripple the judiciary, Netanyahu put together such a despicable coalition that if it survives and is left to its own devices, it will inflict incalculable damage on Israel on a number of critical fronts: it will effectively destroy Israel's democratic principles, severely undermine minority rights, precipitate an unprecedented brain drain, bring the immigration of Jews to Israel to a halt while snowballing emigration from Israel, dry out foreign investment, push startup companies from the country in droves, devastate the economy, further deepen poverty, perpetuate the occupation, intensify the violence if not instigate a war with the Palestinians, alienate Israel's allies, especially the US, and foreclose any prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace.


More ominous however than any of the above potential devastating consequences is how the Netanyahu government's ill-fated attempt to overhaul the judiciary will impact the special relationship between Jews around the world and Israel. The affinity of the Jewish communities to each other has always been based over the centuries on Judaism, which encompassed historic experiences, tradition, and shared values along with incessant trials and tribulations to which many Jewish communities have been subjected.

The ingathering of the Jews from every corner of the world regardless of their religious leanings – be it Orthodox, Reform or Conservative – and irrespective of their country of origin, was the backbone and remains to a great extent the raison d'etre behind Israel's creation. Should the current Netanyahu government have its way, it will irrevocably tear apart that very bond and destroy the deep affinity and the moral fabric that held the Jews together over the centuries.

The vast majority of Jews around the world are Reform or Conservative, and although they respect the religious institutions in Israel, they do not and will not relate to Israel if it were to become a quasi-theocracy domestically, a Zionist nationalist extremist state outwardly, and an occupying power rendering the country anything but a democracy.

To be sure, Israel, which former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Polosi called "the miracle of the twentieth century," will become a pariah and an apartheid state of the twenty-first century whose people live and die by the gun.

Israel's President Isaac Herzog, who like his predecessors normally refrains from getting directly involved in the internal political discourse, is now all but despairing to save the country from the perilous path that Netanyahu has chosen. President Herzog warned that the country was "on the verge of constitutional and social collapse," and a potentially "violent clash." The judicial reform proposals, if allowed to pass, will emasculate the Supreme Court and hand over far too much power to the governing coalition, and significantly increase the potential for an authoritarian government.

Netanyahu's claim that he won a free and fair election with his coalition partners and that he thus has a mandate afforded to him by a majority of the Israeli electorate to pass laws by a simple majority in the Knesset and reform the judiciary is no different. Netanyahu is deliberately being devious, deceitful, and cunning. Reforming the judiciary is not just another bill like those that deal with the budget, military appropriation, or infrastructure.


The role of the judiciary and the power of the Supreme Court in its current statue is embedded in Israel's Basic Laws. Even if this was not the case, given the gravity and the far-reaching implications of the proposed reforms, Netanyahu's government cannot simply modify or do away with the Supreme Court's authority without a national consensus, either by a referendum or by an agreement between the government and the opposition. This is particularly crucial because such presumed reforms will not only allow the Knesset to override by a simple majority any ruling by the Supreme Court, but even more important it removes any checks and balances and accountability on the government, which is at the heart of Israeli democracy given the fact that Israel has no written constitution.

It should also be especially noted that Netanyahu's so-called reforms will effectively eliminate the obstacles preventing him from enacting legislation that would enable him to escape justice in his ongoing corruption trial. Indeed, no one can take seriously his claim that the proposals are not for his personal benefit. They clearly are. But they are also motivated by the religious parties, whose bigoted leaders are determined to subordinate everything related to Judaism to their whims.

In addition to the authority the Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate of Israel has been exercising since Israel's inception which includes marriages, divorce, and alimony, now they want greater control over Jewish life in Israel that would severely impede a multitude of Israelis to practice Judaism as they see fit. This would include women's rights and freedoms, who will be qualified as a Jew, banning all non-essential work on Saturday, discrimination against LGBT+ persons, and who can or cannot pray at the Wailing Wall, among many other archaic laws which are totally unacceptable to most secular Jews.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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