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Anti-government protests in Israel

By Mahir Ahmed, MA Global Media and Communications

The previous Israeli government was characterised by various anti-Netanyahu factions such as Yesh Atid, Labour, and Blue and White, all of whom sought to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from office. 

This alliance was not without its problems, as inner political turmoil caused the Bennett–Lapid government to collapse. Israel has been marred by government instability for the past few years. Five snap elections were held in 2019 alone, contributing to the rise of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, who largely served as an alternative to Likud and Netanyahu.

However, the anti-Netanyahu coalition collapsed, and Yair Lapid was forced to dissolve parliament as political differences between the various anti-Bibi factions became untenable. This outcome ultimately led to a fresh set of elections that were held in November of last year. 

As a result, Netanyahu came back to office, partnering with various far-right parties in order to regain a majority in the Knesset. Many left-wing parties suffered losses. The parties involved with Likud’s right-wing bloc are Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) and Religious Zionist Party, which are led by figureheads such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Yoel Smotrich. Both have expressed intensely bigoted, anti-Palestinian views. 

Credit: Avshalom Sassoni

Newly appointed Ministry of National Security Ben-Gvir has previously expressed anti-Arab sentiments, saying, ‘Arab citizens of Israel who were not loyal to Israel must be expelled.’ Meanwhile, Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, has said, in response to Arab Israeli lawmakers, ‘You’re here by mistake, it’s a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.’ Ben-Gvir was recently implicated in a provocation at Temple Mount, where the al-Aqsa Mosque is located. Many critics have accused him of further inflaming tensions. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry stated in a recent statement, ‘Jordan condemns in the severest of terms the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and violation of its sanctity.’ 

Many other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Turkey, had also condemned the visit for similar reasons. In Israel, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef criticised Ben Gvir for the visit, ‘As a minister representing the government of Israel you should be acting according to Chief Rabbinate instructions, which have long forbidden visiting the Temple Mount,’ writing in a letter to Ben Gvir. However, the Prime Minister’s Office maintained that they would be ‘strictly protecting the status quo on the Temple Mount without any change.’ The statement also said that Israel ‘will not surrender to Hamas directives.’ It is not uncommon for MKs to have visited the Temple Mount in the past, including former public security minister Gilad Erdan.

“Justice Minister Yariv Levin newly announced plans to overhaul the Supreme Court system, which would allow rulings to be annulled by a majority in the Knesset.

However, the lurch to the far right has been characterised by democratic backsliding. Justice Minister Yariv Levin newly announced plans to overhaul the Supreme Court system, which would allow rulings to be annulled by a majority in the Knesset. 

These changes would enable the Israeli government to pass legislation without it being impeded by the judiciary. As a result, protests have erupted across Israel, and huge crowds gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the proposed reforms to reduce the Supreme Court’s powers.

These reforms come in the midst of Netanyahu’s ongoing trial over corruption and fraud – something he strongly denies. Some fear this judicial reform would scrap the trial. The government has stated that it wouldn’t interfere, while others worry that these reforms would allow for the government to directly control judicial selection and eliminate ministry legal advisers appointed by the attorney general. Justice Minister Yariv Levin has said that ‘unelected judges have too much power.’

Opponents of the plan say the proposed changes will undermine Israeli democracy. Yael Lotan and Avner Gvaryahu, the heads of Breaking the Silence, a non-governmental organisation that specialises in recounting the experiences of discharged Israeli personnel and reservists in the Occupied Territories, told protesters on Saturday: ‘This evening, friends, we have built a new democratic camp. One that includes Jews and Arabs, men and women, straight people and LGBTQ people, secular and religious — united against one evil government and for the sake of a better future in this place.’

If these reforms come into effect, it would allow for the Israeli government to legislate in favour of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank without facing legal challenges in the Supreme Court. 

Featured Photo Credit: Getty Images

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