Following the striking images of protests from Israel, I received a few calls from American friends with challenging questions. I will attempt to make sense of the situation, as much as one can make sense of Israeli reality. Living in Israel these days feels like being stuck in season 5 of ‘Lost’ — confused, horrified, yet too invested to back out now. If it weren’t so tragic, it would border on comedic.
TL;DR: Israelis are currently living a cautionary tale for the rest of the world. It’s going to be a long uphill battle to normalcy, but I’m optimistic. Still.
Let me try to explain Israel’s political system, which gives the American political circus a decent run for its corruption. It might seem like Israelis these days have two hobbies — voting and demonstrating. After all, we’ve had no less than five elections in less than two years, and for the last 30 consecutive weeks, we’ve been demonstrating in the streets on an unprecedented scale.
The last election, at the end of 2022, ended with Netanyahu establishing the most extreme right-wing government Israel has ever known. It’s a nightmare government. I’m not exaggerating; a reality show casting director couldn’t put together a more horrific bunch of losers. If James Bond’s Spectra were a government, this would be it, with Blofeld’s cat as the prime minister. An ex-terrorist is now the minister of police, an ex-convict for bribery will soon be the minister of the treasury, the anti-LGBTQ movement now runs the Ministry of Education, and the alarming list goes on.
The Israeli system of coalition-making, and the fact that it is a hung parliament, have put Netanyahu at the mercy of his unsavory partners. Additionally, he is preoccupied with his own legal troubles, including a couple of bribery trials. Yes, he is only a part-time prime minister of Israel, which is maybe a positive point in this whole story. The rest of his time is spent on his multiple criminal trials.
And there’s Kohelet — another player that appeared out of nowhere to totally mess up our lives, I like to think of them as a political version of COVID-19. What are they? Well, they describe themselves as a policy forum sponsored by wealthy anonymous libertarian Jews from America. As the saying goes, “Money can’t buy love, but it can sure buy a policy forum…And some politicians… and maybe even a country.” Kohelet is the architect of the Judicial coup. The constructor is the Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, who, in January 2023, announced what he dubbed as the ‘Judicial Reform’. To call the suggested changes “reform” is akin to labeling a fatal car accident to a minor paint nick.
Firstly, they want to change the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee so that the government has control over the appointment of judges. It literally means that Bibi and other politicians standing for trial will influence the choosing of their own judges. It’s like giving a shark the lifeguard whistle as a kiddie pool.
The next step is to forbid the supreme court from over-ruling the Knesset. Bear in mind Israel has no constitution, so basically, every casual majority can dramatically try to change the nature of this country. It just so happens that the current leadership wants to make Israel a Jewish version of Iran.
It is hard to overstate the magnitude of corruption and fundamental changes they’re trying to pass. It might sound like the apocalypse, the end of Israel, and it might just be so… that is the reality we are fighting now. They even want to reclassify ministry legal advisors from independent authorities to politically-selected counsel whose opinions are not binding. Who needs advice based on expertise and principles when you can select someone who’ll tell you what you want to hear? And they want to allow ministers to reject the Attorney-General’s advice on any matter. And this is a partial list, but you got the general idea, right…?
Notably, this topic was not on the agenda of the Likud party over the last elections at all. And they’ve neglected everything else to focus on this subject. They aren’t even trying to fake work on the incredible cost of living, the peace process with our neighbors, and climate change — this entire government is in a sprint to dismantle the legal system's independence.
According to a recent poll, 70% of Israelis oppose the government’s judicial reforms. But public opinion is not stopping them. Our last hope is to protest, and boy, we sure know how to protest!
Every Saturday for over 30 weeks now, we are flooding the streets all over the country—rain or heat wave. The protest is across the board — hi-tech entrepreneurs, lawyers, physicians, economists, army veterans, and civil servants. They’re all on the streets fighting to maintain the judiciary system’s independence and stop the government’s legislation spree. It is an unprecedented protest in a bizarro reality, whereby the government is filled with anarchists, and everyone else has to adopt anarchic techniques to protest.
Just a few nights ago, past midnight, I found myself breaking a police barricade in the middle of the highway alongside none other than Dan Halutz, the renowned ex-commander-in-chief of the Israel Defense Forces. I blocked the road with the famous Israeli author Etgar Keret and this guy from Fauda—weird times.
But it doesn’t end there — the protest is trying to push the government on every aspect, just like the legislation that will affect every aspect of our life. The protest even managed to cause airline pilots to refuse to fly Netanyahu and his wife to Rome. I mean, how unpopular do you have to be to get ghosted by an entire airline? These are just some examples among hundreds of actions, big and small, across Israeli society to protest. We are becoming real experts.
This serves as a cautionary tale to the rest of the world, highlighting the importance of limiting the abilities of a casual majority to change the game’s rules in this populist era. The hope is for Israel’s journey not to veer toward autocracy but to steer toward a rejuvenated democracy upheld by a robust and impartial judiciary. The path is undoubtedly filled with challenges, but the continued engagement of Israeli citizens will be the compass guiding the nation toward its democratic ideals. What we’re witnessing in Israel is a reminder that democracy is not just about those in power but about the power of the people. It’s about people rising up and taking what’s theirs.