Israeli Defense Minister Urges Netanyahu To Halt Far-reaching Judicial Reform Yoav Gallant’s call to pause the government’s overhaul of the legal system marks the first break within Netanyahu’s party, Likud, and could threaten the parliamentary majority required to pass the laws comprising the reform By Keren Setton / The Media Line Israeli Defense Minister Yoav […]
The Media Line: Israeli Defense Minister Urges Netanyahu To Halt Far-reaching Judicial Reform
Israeli Defense Minister Urges Netanyahu To Halt Far-reaching Judicial Reform
Yoav Gallant’s call to pause the government’s overhaul of the legal system marks the first break within Netanyahu’s party, Likud, and could threaten the parliamentary majority required to pass the laws comprising the reform
By Keren Setton / The Media Line
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant may have just put the first dent in the government’s plan to swiftly push ahead on a far-reaching judicial reform in the country.
Speaking on Saturday, Gallant urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the legislation on the reforms immediately.
“For the sake of Israel’s security … the legislative process must be stopped at this time,” he said.
Gallant was the first to publicly break ranks with Netanyahu. He immediately received support from several members of the Likud party, which Netanyahu heads. This could threaten the parliamentary majority that the coalition requires to pass the laws that comprise the judicial overhaul.
The statement was also met with criticism from other Likud members who demanded that Gallant resign. Netanyahu himself has yet to react.
The government’s plan for a judicial makeover has sparked Israel’s largest protest movement ever. For months, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to demonstrate. As Gallant spoke, over 200,000 people in Tel Aviv and tens of thousands in other cities around the country rallied in opposition to the proposed judicial reform.
The government is expected to finalize some of the legislation this week.
Since the swearing-in of the government, its members began a legislation barrage on a wide range of topics. This has increased the public outcry and has further raised fears in the opposition that Israel is heading toward a regime change.
“Every day, a new law proposal only escalated the situation,” Professor Asher Cohen, from the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line. “If the ultimate goal is the judicial reform, the other laws should have been postponed.”
This week, in addition to the law that will give the coalition power over judge’s appointments, the plenum is expected to pass several contentious laws that further deepen the rift in society. One will allow public hospital administrators to ban leavened goods ahead of the Jewish Passover holiday, another will restrict the Supreme Court’s ability to exercise judicial review over the appointment of cabinet ministers.
Another law that several ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition are promoting will equate the status of religious seminary students with that of serving soldiers. This will cancel any benefits citizens receive for serving in the security forces. Such a law, along with other proposals, hit some of the core issues that threaten the delicate fabric of Israeli society.
“This law hits the most sensitive nerve in Israel,” said Cohen.
It comes at a time when nerves are already shot.
Most ultra-Orthodox Jews have an exemption from military service. This exemption has become increasingly divisive in recent years, as calls by secular Israelis for a more equitable sharing of the defense burden have gotten louder.
Gallant spoke about the internal unrest in the military which has been sizzling since the reform process began. The tensions within the Israel Defense Forces began when military reserve officers, particularly older ones who serve in elite units on a volunteer basis, said they might not show up when called upon for training sessions.
The defense minister also referred to external security threats Israel is facing, saying there are “great threats – both near and far.”
“Israel is in one of the most sensitive periods it has ever been in,” Brig. Gen. (res). Amir Avivi, founder and chairman of the Israel Defense and Security Forum, told The Media Line. “There is great fear of deterioration and the conjunction of several arenas into one greater conflict.”
According to Avivi, the armed groups Hizbullah and Hamas, in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively, could simultaneously spiral the region into a wider conflict. Add to that Palestinian unrest in the West Bank, it is the recipe for a perfect storm.
Constantly in the background, but at the forefront of planning by Israel’s defense establishment, is the Iranian nuclear program. Many consider this an existential threat to the Jewish state.
“There is a growing understanding in Israel that it needs to prepare for a decision on what it is going to do regarding the Iranian nuclear threat,” said Avivi, who has held several senior positions in the IDF. “A scenario in which Israel attacks will clearly drag the region into a war with both Hizbullah and Hamas and even other militant organizations in the Middle East.”
In such a scenario, Israel would rely heavily on its air force and intelligence.
Discontent in the military, especially in those units, has become increasingly public as the government continues to push forward with the reforms.
Fighter jet squadrons rely heavily on their volunteer reservists. In times of war, this is especially evident. While many Israelis believe the reservists will show up in case of a war, if they don’t attend training sessions, this poses a major challenge.
“It harms the military’s ability to maintain its readiness for combat,” Dr. Idit Shafran Gittleman, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line. “This is critical, especially in the air force. You can’t just show up for war without training first.”
“Insubordination endangers the cohesiveness of the military, but also weakens its deterrence,” said Avivi. “In the end, all of this harms the military’s operational capabilities.”
Israeli media outlets have reported that Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has warned Netanyahu on several occasions that military competence could be affected if the reservists follow through on their threats.
Israelis often pride themselves on their military being a “people’s army.” For many, military service is consensual and sacred. The army has been shielded almost religiously, transcending the many political divides that exist in society.
“There is a feeling that the vehicle of the people’s army is not driving as smoothly as it used to,” said Shafran Gittleman. “During heightened security tensions, the ramifications of this are really extreme.”
The military, together with the police and other security agencies, are already entrenched in heightened tensions with the Palestinians for several months, stretching their abilities to the limit.
There are already warning signs that other adversaries are warming up on the sidelines.
In mid-March, Israeli security forces killed a man who infiltrated from Lebanon. Found dozens of kilometers south of the border, he was carrying a large amount of explosives. Hizbullah did not directly take responsibility for sending the man.
Had the explosives detonated in a crowded area, a different scenario would have played out, including a possible Israeli retaliation. In the past, an incident in which Hizbullah fighters abducted two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid triggered a war between the armed group and Israel.
Since that war, there have been numerous incidents between Hizbullah and Israel. Israel’s almost muted response has reflected its interest in a quiet border, sending a message to the armed group.
“The deterrence has begun eroding,” Avivi said. “Hizbullah feels it has greater maneuvering room and understands that Israel fears a confrontation. The infiltration incident proves that Hizbullah believes Israel would have not retaliated.”
“This is very disturbing,” he added. “We haven’t seen such an operation in years.”
Israelis are used to living under constant security threats. Their sense of safety often rides on the confidence they have in the security forces’ ability to thwart threats and stave off enemies. Unrest within the army is thus especially unnerving.
“I see how the source of our strength is being eroded,” Gallant said in his televised statement. When speaking of the judicial reforms, he proceeded to issue a stark warning.
“This is a clear, immediate, and tangible danger to the security of the state.”
The coalition claims the judicial overhaul is needed to make Israel more democratic in a state where the Supreme Court has accumulated too much power. Critics say the reforms will injure Israeli democracy. They also believe that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has a personal motive for politicizing and weakening the judiciary.
The series of laws that are being legislated will increase the coalition’s control over judicial appointments and severely limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws that the parliament passes.
For now, the growing protests and the potential ramifications of the reforms seem not to faze Netanyahu, who has vowed to continue. While he has said he is open to dialogue, neither side has begun to negotiate seriously on a possible compromise.
One of the cornerstones of Israel’s security is its strategic alliance with the US.
Increasing US criticism of and dissatisfaction with the Netanyahu government could in the end translate into a lack of political backing and military support.
For now, Gallant’s move does not threaten the coalition. However, the situation is fragile. Budget deliberations are coming up and without a budget, the government automatically falls.
Netanyahu leads Israel’s most right-wing government ever.
“There is ideological coherence within the coalition,” said Cohen. “This does not automatically translate into stability.”
Already in the short time the government has been in power, it has become increasingly clear that its plans have far-reaching implications for the country. Stability is not one of them.
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Sun, May 28, 2023