There has been a lot in the news lately, from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and the Ukraine War entering its 2nd year to more uplifting events like the 95th Annual Oscars and the start of the World Baseball Classic (where Israeli won its first game). However, unless you've been paying close attention, you may not have seen as much coverage of the ongoing demonstrations that have taken place almost daily on the streets throughout Israel – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and other cities. These protests have been in reaction to plans of the Israeli government to overhaul and reform Israel's Judicial system.
So what exactly are people protesting? The current Israeli coalition government has proposed and begun to vote on a bill that would remove the Israeli courts' power from serving as a check of power on the country's other branches of government. If this bill passes, it will give the Knesset, Israel's parliament, the ability to overrule the Supreme Court with a simple majority. And instead of the current process of appointing judges, which began in 1953, of the Judicial Selection Committee, made up of judges, legal experts, and a handful of politicians, the government would now have the sole power to nominate judges.
Proponents of this are deathly afraid that if this bill passes, all hopes of Israel remaining a democratic country will be gone. This is why Israeli citizens are protesting week after week, and their numbers continue to climb.
This past Sunday, 500,000 Israelis, roughly 5% of the country's population, took to the streets. To put this in perspective… that would be the equivalent of over 16.5 million people protesting in the US. This protest, considered to be the largest public outcry in Israel's history, was astonishing. And it is critical to note that others are also conducting their own forms of protest. For example, earlier this month, nearly all 40 reservist pilots from Israel's 69th Squadron, considered one the country's most elite forces, vowed not to attend a training exercise. In another sign of people being against this action, ten former Israeli Air Force chiefs published an open letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu demanding that his government stop this attempt and find a different solution to this issue in light of the current climate it has generated.
Opposition to this situation also came from a significant individual, Israel's President Israel Herzog. Last week he made a special address to the nation, warning the country that the current bill as it is written is not only oppressive and divisive but will also be a nightmare for the country. In his remarks, he urged the government to take the bill off the table and look at other options.
Perception of Israel throughout the world is precarious. Often the country is held to a higher standard than any country and expected to act differently than any other country. And as a Jewish state, it is seen as THE representative of worldwide Jewry. And yet, in this role, the Israeli government does not seem too concerned about how these actions can and will affect not only Israeli citizens but also Jews worldwide, let alone the optics that a decision like this will have. I wish they would recognize and comprehend the severity of what a decision like this will have.
As an Israeli recently shared with me, "if this bill passes, Israel will no longer be democratic. This one bill will eliminate the only barrier between the government becoming an only power, similar to other autocratic nations. That is why we are fighting."