Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government passed legislation Monday giving itself untrammeled power, in the face of mass popular opposition unprecedented in Israel’s history.
The new law ends the Supreme Court’s power to strike down the decisions of elected officials on the grounds of “unreasonableness,” granting the Knesset the power to overturn the Court’s ruling with a simple majority. At a stroke, this removes any separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
From now on the government can politicize the selection of judges, appoint convicted criminals to the highest offices of the state and allow Netanyahu, currently on trial on corruption charges that could put him behind bars for years, to evade conviction.
In the Supreme Court, Netanyahu is targeting an institution that has repeatedly colluded in the brutal suppression of the Palestinians, shielded settler violence and presided over the 2018 Nation State Law defining Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and confirming its Arab population as second-class citizens.
Even this is not enough for Netanyahu’s government of ultra-nationalists and religious Zionists. Their aims are the total annexation of the Occupied West Bank, ethnic cleansing throughout Israel and the imposition of authoritarian rule over a society characterized by acute social inequality, stepped up militarism and cultural reaction.
The prospect of such measures has sparked an existential crisis for the State of Israel, igniting seven months of demonstrations, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people amid scenes of vicious police attacks on demonstrators. Speaking on Britain’s Channel 4 television, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now warns, “This is a serious threat. It’s never happened before, and we are going into a civil war now.”
A striking feature of the oppositional wave is the announcement by more than 10,000 army reservists that they will refuse to serve if the judicial coup goes ahead, saying they are unwilling to continue risking their lives for a government that is no longer democratic.
The army demands several years of military service for young Jewish Israelis and annual reservist duty. For 56 years, military service has meant enforcing Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian land, carrying out search and arrest raids, forced evictions, demolitions and other punitive measures as well as providing cover for settlers carrying out vigilante attacks.
The reservists’ refusal to serve reflects growing concern among workers and professional middle-class layers over the far-right and extremist settlers’ efforts to provoke an all-out war against the Palestinians, even as Netanyahu steps up the covert war against Iran and its allies in Syria and Lebanon. It takes place under conditions where Israel is a social and political powder keg and the entire Middle East has been destabilised by the deepening global economic crisis, the pandemic, climate change and US-led plans to escalate the war against Russia in Ukraine and its regional allies, Iran and Syria, with Tel Aviv as its chief attack dog. This prompted IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi to warn that without “a strong and united defence force,” Israel would “no longer be able to exist as a country in the region.”