Israel has always been touted as America’s most reliable friend in the Middle East, a bastion of democracy in a region dominated by autocracies. Now that picture is fraying as the far-right coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes power, writes Mel Gurtov, a professor of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of ‘Asian Perspective’, an leftist international affairs quarterly. He explains:
Beholden to the bloc called Religious Zionism, Netanyahu is pursuing a far-right agenda on two fronts: further chipping away at the Palestinians’ fundamental rights of citizenship and property, and pushing for so-called judicial reform.
Arguing that Israel’s Supreme Court is “the most activist court on the planet,” Netanyahu is targeting the judiciary in a way that promises an end to Israel’s democratic experiment, not to mention dismissing plausible charges against him of corruption that are before the high court. His agenda would essentially put the Supreme Court at the mercy of the executive branch.
This descent into authoritarianism has contributed to a new round of violence in the West Bank between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. It’s the usual story: ‘a killing by one group is used to justify a killing by the other.’
Isaac Herzog, Israel’s president—a largely ceremonial post, but one that does carry moral weight—issued a grave warning January 24. He declared: “The democratic foundations of Israel, including the justice system, and human rights and freedoms, are sacred, and we must protect them and the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The dramatic [judicial] reform, when done quickly without negotiation, rouses opposition and deep concerns among the public.”
He added, “The absence of dialogue is tearing us apart from within, and I’m telling you loud and clear: This powder keg is about to explode. This is an emergency.”
In the ‘New York Times’, Thomas Friedman quotes Netanyahu’s former attorney general, the man who brought charges of fraud and bribery against Netanyahu, as saying: “If there is no independent judiciary, it’s over. It’s a different system of government.” The ruler will “have prosecutors of his own, legal counsels of his own, judges of his own. And if these people have personal loyalty to him, there is no supremacy of the law. This is a sinkhole. We’ll all be swallowed up by this.”
Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, and army chief of staff, has warned of a “constitutional crisis.” He urged a response in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King — nonviolent protest, a “duty” when government “breaks the rules of the game and stands contrary to the country’s own fundamental norms and value system.”
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