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regular-article-logo Saturday, 15 June 2024

Devour all: Editorial on Israel’s new law curtailing the authority of courts

Today, Israel stands at a crossroads because for far too long, too many of its citizens, including those protesting today, ignored Leibowitz’s warning. Citizens of other democracies must not repeat that mistake

The Editorial Board Published 27.07.23, 04:24 AM
Benjamin Netanyahu.

Benjamin Netanyahu. File Photo

Israel’s halo as a rare, robust democracy in the Middle East has always been limited by its treatment of its Arab citizens and of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, West Bank and the blockaded enclave of Gaza. Now, even the democratic image that Israel’s Jewish citizens could recognise is crumbling. The far-Right coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed a bill through Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, this week that aims to fundamentally alter the power balance between the executive and the judiciary. The law curtails the authority of courts to pronounce verdicts on policies and could set the stage for further erosion of judicial powers. The passage of the law followed months of protests in which tens of thousands of Israelis came out to the streets against the so-called judicial reforms. Serving soldiers, police officers and diplomats publicly demanded that the government withdraw the proposed legislation, risking their professional careers to oppose what they argued was a strike at the heart of Israeli democracy. Undeterred, Mr Netanyahu — who was briefly hospitalised and operated upon just before the vote — went ahead; he now has the law that he wanted. Yet his battering ram approach threatens to only deepen Israel’s political fissures.

Opposition groups have said they will continue and even intensify their protests against Mr Ne­tanyahu and the new law, which threatens to erode key checks and balances on the power of the executive. With neither side backing down, Israel’s future direction is unclear. But none of this should be surprising. Decades ago, Yes­hay­ahu Leibowitz, one of Israel’s leading thinkers, warned that the country’s brutalisation of Palestinians, its illegal occupation, would eventually come back to bite those who believed they were safe from the State’s racism. Today, that prophecy appears to be coming true. And therein lies a lesson for other democracies pursuing majoritarian agendas. It is easy for those in the majority to tell themselves that State-sponsored discrimination against a minority community would not hurt them and might even be in the interest of a faux national project sold to them by those in power. But a State apparatus built on violence and impunity is never satiated: it invariably seeks new victims and devours those who thought they were safe. It knows no other way. Today, Israel stands at a crossroads because for far too long, too many of its citizens, including those protesting today, ignored Leibowitz’s warning. Citizens of other democracies must not repeat that mistake.

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