By Karolina Pajdak
Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. This is how the state has been called since its founding in 1948. And now – 75 years later, many of its citizens see this democracy in great danger – a danger they fear it might not survive.
Since the beginning of the year, every week, thousands of Israelis have been demonstrating against the religious right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (73). Thousands of people are protesting against the planned restructuring of the judiciary, which aims to weaken the Supreme Court’s control over politics so that the government can operate virtually unimpeded in the future. “Save Israel’s Democracy” say the signs held by the demonstrators who have been gathering every Saturday evening since January – in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but also in Israel’s smaller cities. After the end of Shabbat, thousands demonstrate before the Knesset in Jerusalem and in front of the Supreme Court. This is where all 15 judges have been meeting since mid-September – a first in Israel’s history. They need to decide on eight petitions against the adopted amendment to the Constitution and ultimately decide whether Israel remains a democracy or whether the Netanyahu government will be “allowed to rule” without any checks in the future. The protesters fear that if the Supreme Court is no longer allowed to take action against “inappropriate decisions by the government, the Prime Minister or individual ministers,” there will be no way of stopping corruption and abuse of power.
“Last winter, our Minister of Justice presented a plan that would allow a simple majority in the Knesset to override a Supreme Court decision. This law would essentially destroy the work of the court and make it a puppet of the ruling coalition,” explains Yael, 58, who comes to the demonstrations in Jerusalem every Saturday evening. “Now the government has taken this particular idea off the table and is trying to present the remaining plan in smaller chunks. But how can anyone trust a justice minister who proposed such a law?”“We have to stay particularly vigilant here because this government is trying to introduce its changes in small steps and that’s how democracy will die – in very small steps,” warns Gershom (77), who has also been demonstrating every week since January.For many of the protesters Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is the symbol for this danger to democracy. He was elected Prime Minister for the 6th time on December 29, 2022. Netanyahu repeatedly reiterated that the reform will not weaken Israel’s judiciary, but rather strengthen democracy. “Israel will continue to be liberal and democratic, it will not become a state of religious law, and it will protect the rights of everyone,” he promised in a televised speech. Protester Gershom smiles wearily: “Bibi would sell his own grandmother in order to stay in office.”Opposition leader Yair Lapid (59) also sees the reform as the end of the rule of law. “This government has lost all inhibition,” he warns.It will possibly take months for the judges in Jerusalem come to a decision and then – the demonstrators are sure – it will not be the end of the protests, but possibly the climax: What if the government ignores the Supreme Court order?
Picture: Omer Toledano, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons