For almost three months straight, Israelis have been protesting in the streets with steadily increasing fervor against the government’s proposed “judicial reform”—or what the opposition calls a “legislative coup.” The so-called reform proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners would give members of Israel’s government the power to overturn rulings by the Supreme Court, collapsing the separation of powers. For the protestors, which include myself and many others not affiliated with the Left, this would fundamentally undermine Israel’s democratic character.
So many of us were relieved this week when Israeli President Isaac Herzog laid out a compromise between Netanyahu’s judicial reform and its opponents. For example, when it comes to selecting judges, current judges have a veto power over the appointment of new ones, which was one of the main things the Netanyahu coalition wanted to get rid of, and which Herzog’s compromise granted them.
But our relief was short lived. Netanyahu and his coalition rejected the proposal out of hand, not even offering to discuss it or present a counter-offer. Netanyahu is determined to march forward with the revolutionary overhaul as is.
And in so doing, he’s leading Israel down the path to civil war.
Even as I write this, protesting Israelis are being pepper-sprayed by angry motorists from their cars. Scenes of violence throughout the country are increasing and expanding at a frightening pace, not just in the media but even according to security services, who are more fearful than ever that society is on the verge of collapsing from within—maybe not today or tomorrow, but sooner than anyone wants to believe.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sean Gallup/Getty Images
All of it is driven by fear. The heart of what’s bringing hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets week after week is the very real fear they have of their fellow Israelis, with who they share little in common besides a Jewish identity and for 20 percent of Israelis not even that.
Imagined or not, there is a deep-seated fear felt by half of the country that the other half is enacting a legislative coup designed to keep themselves in power interminably.
Their fear is driven to new heights by Netanyahu’s camp, who have already let slip their intentions to go after prosecutors who dared to put Netanyahu on trial, throw women in jail who aren’t dressed according to their liking, bar 13-year-old girls from singing if there is even one ultra-Orthodox man in a crowd, ban secular hospital patients from eating bread during Passover, reverse two-decades-old Israeli laws to progress West Bank annexation, take more billions than ever from hardworking Israelis and give it to the ultra-Orthodox so they can study Torah all day instead of working or providing any kind of service to society—plus politicize the police so they can enforce this all.
This is only a partial list—and they’ve only been in power for three months.
The current group of misfits walking Israel’s halls of power have been signaling for decades in clear, precise language how they intend to make use of unchecked power should they ever attain it. They finally have their chance.
Of course, the fear is hardly one-sided. Ultra-Orthodox Jews fear being forced to live in a blasphemous world governed by secular laws. The messianic extremists in the West Bank have a deeply rooted fear that their Jewish identity cannot be fully realized unless they claim every root in the land for themselves. And the current coalition is filled with people in great fear that they will never again in their lifetime have an opportunity quite like the present to create the kind of holy state where they have always euphorically lived in their imaginations.
There is no clear answer about how to achieve unity between two groups with such starkly opposing worldviews, perceptions, ideas and ideals about how a Jewish state should look and feel in a modern world, let alone how it should act.
Only one thing is for sure: If Israelis can’t figure out a way to live together in peace and move forward in harmony as Israel approaches its 75th year of existence as an independent polity in an independent state, then, as with the two previous Jewish kingdoms, the possibility that Israel will once more fail to make it to year 80 becomes every bit as real as it is biblical.
Netanyahu’s refusal to compromise only brings us closer to a tragic past the Jewish people do not want to revisit.
Yoni Leviatan is an American-Israeli musician, writer, and marketer with songs licensed to MTV, CNN, ESPN, PBS and Lifetime television networks. He blogs regularly at Times of Israel and is the nephew of Yaakov Buchaltar, one of the founders of the Irgun and Herut, the movement that gave birth to Israel’s Likud party. Follow him on Twitter @songsofyoni.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.