By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It appears that the formation of the most religious and right-wing Israeli government in Israel’s history, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has caused unprecedented reactions in the Israeli community. Senior political and military Israeli leaders, such as Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya‘alon, Dan Halutz, Amos Gilead, Yair Golan, Yuval Diskin and Avigdor Lieberman…, called for various forms of protests to bring down the government, including protests, mass demonstrations and civil disobedience.
Former Chief of General Staff and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has, for example, called for blocking roads and civil disobedience to stop the government’s “plan to crush democracy.” While former Chief of General Staff, former Defense Minister and former Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya‘alon said that “a criminal coalition has arisen, which aspires to establish a criminal government that will change the regime in the State of Israel.” Furthermore, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, former Chief of General Staff and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Avigdor Liberman, who held several ministerial positions, and Labor Party Head and former Minister Merav Michaeli, stated that they “will together wage a fight against the dark and anti-democratic government being established these days, which will tear Israel apart from the inside.” Gantz even warned against the “civil war that is brewing in Israeli society.”
On the other hand, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, condemning the government and its policies, and calling for its overthrow. Calls continued for the continuation of protests and demonstrations, and some even called for “leaving the country” and immigrating.
Since Israel’s establishment, differences, political conflict and struggle over positions, as well as the frequent establishment, merging, disintegration and re-formation of parties, have been all part of Israel’s structure. Israeli leaders were usually able to accommodate each other and manage their differences in a flexible system that takes into account the higher interests of the Zionist project. However, for nearly four years now, Israel has been living a state of political instability; Elections were held five times, and the escalation against the new government has reached unprecedented levels.
Where’s the Problem?
The key reason for escalation against the government is not for being a right-wing, for the latter has dominated Israeli politics for most of the period since the Likud won the elections in 1977, i.e., 46 years ago. As a matter of fact, in the past twenty years, the whole Israeli society has become more right-wing, and the competition for the leadership of the government has become between right-wing forces, whereas the left forces have been fading and some of them have even adopted many right-wing stands. Polls have found that 66% of the Israelis identified themselves as right-wing.
The complexity lies in the rise of extreme religious and national right-wing forces, particularly Religious Zionism. Not only are these forces interested in being part of the government, but they want to resolve the identity of Israel and its major paths, especially in sensitive issues that were usually bypassed or skipped through some deals and agreements. These issues are related to the relationship between religion and the state, the application of the Torah to the daily life of the Israelis, and the strictness in defining the Jew, as hundreds of thousands of Israelis would be branded as non-Jews. They also want to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, and control al-Aqsa mosque, Jerusalem and the West Bank (WB), while being indifferent if the Palestinian Authority collapses and the remaining “illusions” and formalities regarding the peace process and the two-state solution fail.
Another complexity is that these forces have assumed ministerial positions that serve directly their plans and their implementation on the ground, including overlooking the police and the Civil Administration in WB, advancing settlement expansion plans, imposing curriculums, having quite an influence on the army and dominating the judiciary.
What helps this government to implement the above is the fact it has, for the first time in years, a reasonable majority in the Knesset with which it can pass its programs (64 seats).
Therefore, the main concern is the attempt of these forces to restructure the society and the “state” according to their extremist vision, which opponents believe that this may drag Israel into internal conflict and external isolation, and that it would spoil the image of Israel that it has tried to portray for the past 75 years, thus, revealing the ugly face of occupation and colonization without “make-up and cosmetics.” Nevertheless, Religious Zionism believes that these fears are unreal, and that Israel, with its global influence, no longer needs to appease anyone, while history has proven that Arab and international reactions have no value. It believes that Zionists must be fully consistent with their religion and the core of their project.
Concerns are increasing as the Zionist forces and their allies in government are systematically trying to adapt the legislation and legal system so that they would get control of the judiciary institution or weaken its influence on the executive authority. This evident in the draft bill published by Justice Minister Yariv Levin that would restrict the High Court’s capacities and would include an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate laws and change the process for choosing judges, and others. Even the Supreme Court President Esther Hayut has considered Levin’s bill, “a plan to crush the judicial system. It is intended to deliver a fatal blow to the independence and autonomy of the judicial system and silence it.”
This has also prompted more than thousand former senior Israel Air Force officers, including former Israeli army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, to deliver a letter to the country’s top jurists, stating that they “fear that the democratic state of Israel is in danger.” Some Jurists also saw that the proposed legislation is a coup against the institutional structure of governance and dangerous to certain segments, for it may lead to a direct conflict between the secular and religious parties.
This time, the concern over Israel’s external image seemed so real, that why 105 former Israeli diplomats and ambassadors signed a letter to Netanyahu expressing their “profound concern at the serious damage to Israel’s foreign relations, its international standing and its core interests abroad emanating from what will apparently be the policy of the incoming government.” At the same time, the US and EU expressed their concern about the Israeli government’s policy and the damage it might cause to the peace process and normalization. The US even hinted, in an unprecedented move, that its officials may not be able to meet with some Israeli ministers because of their extremism. As for the famous journalist Thomas Friedman, he expressed the Americans’ sentiments in an article headlined “The Israel We Knew is Gone.”
Internal Situation Explosion is Unlikely:
Despite all of the above, the Israeli internal crisis would not lead to the explosion of the internal situation, or to internal strife, chaos and turmoil in the near and foreseeable future, and that’s for a number of considerations, most notably:
• The Zionist system is still highly efficient in its ability to coexist and manage differences.
• In a Zionist society, the majority of which is right-wing and religious affiliated, and that uses institutions to impose its vision, the chances of an explosion are diminishing, by gradually expanding their influence in the legislative, executive and judicial institutions.
• Israel still has an advanced economy, where the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per Capita is about $55 thousand, higher than most of the Gulf countries and mirroring Western European countries, while poverty and unemployment rates are limited compared to others. Hence, the use of internal violence is unlikely.
• Israelis are highly aware of Israel’s higher interests. They are highly sensitive to external risks, and are willing to overcome their differences when it comes to crucial issues. This is supported by having agreed-upon institutional structures that manage disputes.
• Despite the government’s extreme tendency, the national liberal right is the most powerful, as there are 18 ministers affiliated with it (the Likud has 32 members of Knesset (MK)); 6 ministers, who are of the religious conservative right (Shas and United Torah Judaism have 18 MKs); and 7 ministers who are Religious Zionists. This means that there are important differences between the partners themselves with regard to religion, society, the management of political life and foreign relations. At a certain point, Netanyahu and the national right will agree only on some points with the Religious Zionists, that’s why he assured that “there won’t be a Halacha state here…We were elected to lead in the path of the national right wing and the path of the liberal right wing, and that’s what we will do.” The Likud also deliberately reassured the liberals and secularists, and even the LGBTQ community, by having the openly gay Amir Ohana a Knesset speaker.
There are also religious disagreements between Religious Zionism and traditional Orthodox Zionism, which controls the religious establishment in Israel, and refuses the Zionist “rush” to control al-Aqsa mosque; … and others.
• Netanyahu took control of the foreign relations dossier, to adjust as much as possible the external image of Israel and continue with the normalization files and the “imaginary” peace process, just to avoid any clash with the US.
• There is no official Palestinian, Arab or international environment capable of interfering in the Israeli internal situation and exerting real pressure to fuel an internal conflict. For the degree of Israeli “immunity” is so far higher than what we have in our Arab countries and the “third” world.
• Despite of the current gaps of the Israeli society, the Israeli system was able to accommodate, to a reasonable degree, the ethnic and cultural diversity, and absorb the religious-secular dispute, and the repercussions of globalization…; All of which are elements of a potential social explosion.
In any case, based on an extrapolation of the situation in the past few years, Israel is moving towards more internal political and social aggravation, which will increase if the current Israeli government continues with its program. However, it is premature now to talk about an internal situation explosion.