Israel’s PM puts brakes on judicial shake up

Just days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to London to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – which was met by mass demonstrations outside Downing Street from expats living in the capital, the Israeli premier returned home to find his country in economic paralysis and his parliament under siege by protesters.

Over the last few weeks, protesters have filled the streets in their thousands to demonstrate against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plans to radically shake up the judiciary – what he calls ‘a judicial overhaul’. Protesters and opposition parties argue that the bill is an attempt at a transfer of power direct to the government and away from the Supreme Court – which has historically been responsible for keeping a check on any abuse of power in government. The country of Israel has faced near paralysis as the protests have continued and as a general strike has seen airports and schools forced to close their doors.

In an attempt to pacify calls for his resignation and to calm the mood of the public, Prime Minister Netanyahu hurriedly put the brakes on the controversial bill through parliament – ‘pausing’ as he put it, ‘the second and third reading of the bill in this Knesset tenure in order to give time to get to a broad consensus’. But what he didn’t announce in his statement was that he had faced a threat from his right wing coalition partners who threatened to pull out of the ruling coalition and collapse the government if he gave in to the demands to scrap the bill. Hard line National Security Minister – Itamar Ben-Givr, was then able to force the hand of the Prime Minister to agree to the formation of a “New National Guard’ which would come under the direct control of far-right minister Ben-Givr’s own office. Many regard this move as effectively granting Ben-Givr his own private militia and which will be used to suppress and oppress Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

This announcement of the New National Guard which came Tuesday morning, was made just days following the firing of the former Defence Minister and former senior IDF General – Yoav Gallant on Sunday, after he expressed publicly his wish for the reforms to the judiciary to be halted. This only served to exacerbate the crisis. According to the constitution the Israeli Prime Minister has just 48 hours to name a successor and there is much concern over who will be nominated for this powerful role.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight on Monday, Ofer Cassif – who is a member of one of the left-leaning opposition parties – Hadash and a member of the Knesset Constitutional Committee, referred to attempts to shake up the judiciary as a ‘coup d’etat’. He suggested that the government was trying to abolish, not to change the judicial system.

‘Not even to abolish its independence,’ he said, ‘but to abolish it as a whole. What the government wants to do is to turn the state into a one branch state.…If such an attempt succeeds (alas) that means that Israel is going to be a fully fledged fascist dictatorship…There are serious charges against Netanyahu – he wants to escape his crimes by controlling the judicial system in general – the Supreme Court in particular…in order to pursue the crazy fascist plan [of his party] to harm as much as possible, the Palestinian people. There is a plan that was published by Bezalel Smotrich [the leader of the Religious Zionist Party] – the now Finance Minister [who] explicitly published a document in 2017 which is entitled the “Subjugation Plan’ in which he says very explicitly that Israel must annexe the PalestinianOccupied Palestinian Territory – principally the West Bank, without granting any basic rights to the Palestinians’.

Smotrich’s radical beliefs have in recent months grabbed media headlines. He is a very vocal supporter and resident of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank – all of which are deemed illegal under international law. The UN has gone as far as to call the settlements ‘a warcrime” stating that:

‘settlements violate a ban on an occupying power transferring part of its civilian population into occupied territory.’

Smotrich openly opposes Palestinian statehood, and denies the existence of a people. He caused an international outcry just last week when addressing a Paris conference at which he said:

“Is there a Palestinian history or culture? No. There were Arabs in the Middle East who arrived in the land of Israel at the same time as the Jewish immigration and the beginning of Zionism….They invent a fictitious people in the land of Israel and claim fictitious rights in the land of Israel just to fight the Zionist movement,” 

Earlier he had called for the wiping out of the village of Huwara in the ‘West Bank’ which ignited an attack by hundreds of Israeli settlers and ended with the burning of 35 Palestinian homes, the traumatisation of Palestinian families and the destruction of vehicles and other property. A subsequent incursion days later by Israeli forces resulted in the deaths of six Palestinians and the injury of 26 others.

 

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