Watching Israel tear itself apart this week has been like seeing your best friend embarrass himself at a party. The world has looked on while the Netanyahu government, in hock to a small cabal of religious chauvinists, pushed through the first stage of its judicial reform agenda, sparking the biggest street protests the country has ever seen. Whatever happened to the start-up nation?
Last night and this morning was the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and the subsequent exile from Israel. To mark it, firebrand minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Western Wall to the sound of messianic songs before provocatively ascending Temple Mount, the place where tensions are highest. He has described the passing of the legislation this week as the ‘salad course’ before the main meal, which if served in its entirety, would profoundly change the face of the country.
Around the world, Jews have looked on in horror. Netanyahu, who is facing corruption charges, has been reduced to relying on fringe extremists to prop up his coalition government (supporters of proportional representation take heed).
First on the agenda has been taming the power of the Supreme Court, which acts as the sole check on the parliament, the Knesset, since the Israeli system is unicameral and has no equivalent of the House of Lords or Senate. Netanyahu’s allies have been planning to pass a new law to protect a prime minister from criminal charges for as long as he remains in office. It doesn’t look good.
Yet the right-wing has a point. The government has no ability to control the appointment of Supreme Court judges, and they tend to be drawn from a pool of liberal, Ashkenazi elites.