Analysis: Why Israel’s Instability Matters to the United States
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The images from Israel are incredible: seas of protesters are rising across the country.
A general strike interrupts daily life and threatens to cripple the economy.
The country’s defense minister was sacked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The flashpoint of all this is Netanyahu’s controversial plan to change the country’s judicial system, weaken its Supreme Court and give Israel’s parliament – the Knesset, which is currently controlled by his government – more power. power over the appointment of judges.
Netanyahu’s government has acknowledged the backsliding and paused for a month on the judicial overhaul plan late Monday, perhaps trying to calm things down without abandoning the plan.
Read updates all Monday.
Frustration with the court goes beyond Netanyahu, but his efforts coincide precisely with his corruption trial. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and any connection between the judicial changes and his trial — but not everyone takes his denials at face value.
“He’s embraced this judicial reform movement – it’s actually a revolutionary movement – to try to give him the ability to stack… the Supreme Court in a way that people, Israelis in general, suspect of ‘be designed to protect him from the consequences of the accusation, of the trial he is currently going through,’ former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk noted on CNN on Monday.
“So it looks like it’s more a personal program than a national program that he pursues.
Netanyahu has defended the plan, which he said in a recent interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper maintains the independence of the judiciary without allowing it to be “unleashed.”
Indyk noted that other members of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition have their own reasons for wanting to overhaul the country’s Supreme Court.
Netanyahu’s far-right allies don’t want the court to protect Palestinian land rights in the West Bank, Indyk said, and religious parties don’t want the court to force their Orthodox religious students to serve in the military like others Israelis.
CNN’s Hadas Gold, who has been covering the protests all day, has an in-depth look at the judicial review effort, who is backing it and why it has created so much controversy. Read his story.
Protests have been mounting for months, but it is a general strike that has disrupted daily life and Netanyahu’s dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that appears to have changed the game.
“Clearly he lost control of the country,” Indyk said. “There has never been a general strike like this, which closes the ports, the airport, the hospitals, the schools.”
Netanyahu has few options for opting out of the judicial overhaul plan, Haaretz newspaper editor Amir Tibon told CNN International on Monday.
“On the one hand, he has a coalition that is based solely on Israel’s right wing, ultra-religious and far-right nationalist political elements,” Tibon said, noting that these elements have long wanted to limit the power of the Supreme Court, which they see as a liberalizing force in Israel that has pushed for LGBTQ and women’s rights in the country.
“On the other hand, people protesting in the streets of Israel against this judicial overhaul, it’s really the backbone of Israel’s economy,” Tibon said. “It’s the high-tech industry, it’s academia, a lot of people are from the top military ranks.”
Gallant, before his dismissal, warned that the country’s military could disband if there is a perception that it is moving away from democracy.
Tibon was considering another push within a month if the judicial overhaul plan returned, and feared the Knesset was on a collision course with the courts.
“Israel’s enemies are watching this and rubbing their hands in joy,” Indyk said. “And it also affects American national security interests because we depend on Israel to stabilize the region.”
President Joe Biden, who Indyk says has a long history with Netanyahu, “must take the ‘friends don’t let friends drive drunk’ approach, put his arm around Bibi (a commonly used nickname for Netanyahu) and say, listen. Dude, you have to back down and you have to do it quickly – not just for the sake of Israel, which we care deeply about, but also for the sake of US national security interests.
Netanyahu may bristle at Americans trying to influence the judicial overhaul plan, but he has also involved himself in US domestic politics. He actively campaigned in the United States against the Iran nuclear deal under the Obama administration and grew close to former President Donald Trump, who ended it. The relationship between Trump and Netanyahu has since deteriorated.
Efforts by the Biden administration to restore the deal have so far failed.
The United States subsidizes Israel’s security to the tune of billions of dollars. In addition to a 10-year deal to give Israel $3.3 billion a year in funding, the United States also spends $500 million a year on the country’s missile defense system. In fact, Israel is “the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign aid since World War II,” according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service.
Biden, like most American politicians, likes to say that American support for Israel is absolute, but there is growing frustration with Israel within his Democratic Party.
In fact, Democrats’ sympathies are now more likely to shift to the Palestinians vis-à-vis Israel for the first time since Gallup began tracking the issue in 2001. This shift is driven primarily by young Americans – millennials born between 1980 and 2000.
There is more vocal opposition to Israel’s political movements among Democratic lawmakers.
“What Bibi is doing is alarming, appalling and perilous to the relationship between our two countries,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii. said on Twitter. “We defend democracy.
The Biden administration is set to convene its second virtual summit to promote democracy this week, an incredible coincidence as it watches a key democratic struggle. Israel has been invited to participate and Netanyahu is expected to attend the summit on Wednesday, although he is not on the public schedule for the event. US officials familiar with the planning told CNN’s White House team that there are no plans to change Netanyahu’s attendance at the event at this time.
Ultimately, the stakes are much higher than the push for judicial overhaul that has put recent events disabled.
“It’s about knowing what the nature of Israel is,” former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday. “Will Israel remain a democratic Jewish state or (become) an undemocratic dictatorship… or a more religious country?