James Snell

Netanyahu’s war on lawyers has thrown Israel into turmoil


Chaos reigns in Israel, a country in the throes of an ad hoc general strike called by trade unions, university students, numerous industries across the country, and many military and civil defence reservists. Demonstrators are storming buildings and fighting the police. Some council leaders say they are beginning a hunger strike. If you wanted to fly into Ben Gurion airport today, as tens of thousands of people usually do of a weekday, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. It’s closed. 

Why is all of this happening? In the immediate term, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked his defence minister, Yoav Gallant. Gallant is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and is a loyalist. He said that Netanyahu should possibly cool it with some of his judicial reforms. And so he had to go. 

Gallant was backed by much of Israel’s defence establishment, which has been warning that political turmoil leaves the country less safe. But that didn’t seem to matter to Bibi. In effect, as the Economist’s correspondent Anshel Pfeffer writes: ‘Basically, Netanyahu has now said he has no confidence in Israel’s entire security establishment.’ His actions also signal that forcing his reforms through is more important – at least in the short term – than the country’s security. 

Naturally, the assorted left and opposition in Israel have not been whipped up into a general strike by the sacking of a rightist defence minister. The protests are a culmination of a bid by Netanyahu and his far-right allies to gut the Israeli judiciary and to diminish its political independence. 

Israeli citizens are right to believe they might soon enter uncertain waters

As an aside, the term far-right is completely justified in this case. Likud, Netanyahu’s party, is now on the very edge of mainstream Israeli politics. Bezalel Smotrich, of the Religious Zionist party, is Israel’s finance minister. He’s a self-confessed extremist, someone who simply would not be in government if Likud itself were more mainstream and able to work with centrist and centre-right parties.  

It is clear that, if the government can manage it, it will force through a major judicial reform bill in the coming days.

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