Readings on the crisis in israel
Updated: Apr 15
An Israeli news outlet put out a piece of satire last February showing Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s previous president, make the comment while watching the political crisis unfold in Israel, that “maybe we’ll have to use [our uranium] for civilian purposes after all”. For those not up to date with Israel’s latest crisis, the satirist suggested that Israel is running the risk of saving Iran a lot of trouble by doing to itself what the Ayatollahs have not so secretly wanted their nukes to do.
Regarding the current crisis in Israel, which got underway when the government attempted to make various changes to the Supreme Court, there have been some, including outgoing defence minister Benny Gantz, who have claimed that Israel now stands on the brink of civil war. Gantz, who is opposed to the government’s proposed changes to the Supreme Court, even said, when urging further protests, that “it’s time to make the country tremble”. Talks of civil war may be a bit extreme, Israel’s President told Gantz and others to settle down, yet nevertheless, commentators have been united in their belief that the current political crisis in Israel is extremely serious, and potentially, extremely dangerous.
The crux of the current kafuffle in Israel lies with Bibi’s plans to curtail some of the powers of the Supreme Court, who currently at least, have been able to strike down government legislation should they feel the need to do so. These proposed changes have been labelled by his opponents as a totalitarian and un-democratic thing to do. While whether this is the case depends in part on one’s views of Bibi, history has proven many times that politicians who want to be dictators inevitably target the court system. In this regard, some of the anger towards Bibi and his right-wing coalition is not entirely unexpected.
To help explain the proposed changes, Al Jazeerea has provided a nice summary here, as has Reuters here. The folks at Jewish Unpacked have also provided a good run down on the changes here, and if all that isn’t enough, they also have a nice Q and A here. For a more in depth rundown, John Podhoretz, commentator of the right leaning Commentary magazine has an excellent summation of the crisis here, and while I know no conservative Israel loving Christian would ever be seen alive reading The New York Times, in the spirit of providing a balanced take on the whole affair, I would also recommend this article, located here, written by Patrick Kingsley, the NY Times’s man in Jerusalem and a man who clearly needs prayer.
Underlying the government's plans for the Supreme Court has been the unique position the court has held in the nation's political and legal architecture, a position that has been unique to other Supreme Court's in western democracies. Israel’s Supreme Court is regarded as one of the most activist and powerful in the western world. And while a standard right-wing verse left wing analysis of the crisis is superficial, there is truth to it. The Court has often tilted to the left and has been accused of favouring minority rights over national rights. Yet before one takes the government line as gospel, one should wonder if this tilt is necessarily a bad thing given that western democracy works because power is checked and counter-balanced to ensure that governments do not rule only for the majority. This left-wing tilt also helps keep the worst impulses of the security state at bay – something we in the west have not been good at, and one must also remember that the government, which only won the recent election by about 30,000 votes, has had to form a coalition with some pretty hard-line right-wing elements who hold some beliefs that are uncomfortable to say the least. The Times of Israel wrote about these elements recently here while Israel’s former deputy Prime Minister, Haim Ramon, gave his two cents worth regarding the election of these elements over at The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune here.
As has quickly become apparent, this crisis has become more than just a fight about the nature of the Supreme Court, as important as that is. Israel has always been a compromise between the Jerusalem vision of Israel and the Tel ’Aviv vision of Israel, between a more secular and pluralist vision and a more nationalist and religious vision. While the two sides have worked together pretty well over the years, as the nation’s demography has changed, Bibi’s plans for the Supreme Court has been the catalyst for the clash we are now witnessing between these two visions of Israel. Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer has explored this side of the crisis here and for some interesting reading on these demographics click here and here.
Despite one’s views on the whole affair, one thing that is certain is that the right-wing coalition in Israel has scored an enormous, spectacular even, own goal in their handling of these proposed reforms. Haviv Gur, at The Times of Israel explains that here.
Interestingly, just prior to these events, Israel was found to be the fourth happiest nation in the world. I think we should, amidst all of this, also spare a thought for the researchers who made this conclusion and wish them well in their job search.