A traumatic Israeli ‘awakening’ – POLITICO

A traumatic Israeli ‘awakening’

Welcome back to Global Insider’s Friday feature: The Conversation. Each week a POLITICO journalist will share an interview with a global thinker, politician, power player or personality. This week, POLITICO’s Nahal Toosi talks to Israeli national security expert Shira Efron about the country’s latest crisis of democracy.

Follow Nahal on Twitter | Send ideas and insights to [email protected]

The Conversation

Israelis march on a main road as they rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government plans.

Israelis march on a main road as they rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government plans to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel on March 30, 2023. | Ariel Schalit/AP Photo

For months, numerous Israelis have protested the agenda of their country’s new far-right ruling coalition. Over the weekend, the tensions exploded. Minutes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister, who had spoken out against a plan to overhaul the judiciary, protesters swarmed the streets. By Monday, so many workers went on strike that flights were canceled, Israeli embassies closed and there were serious questions about the readiness of Israel’s military.

Netanyahu paused the judicial overhaul plan, saying he’ll seek a compromise. But many Israelis don’t trust Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges in the courts, or his right-wing allies. They worry the judicial overhaul will defang the judiciary — one of the few checks on the Israeli government’s power — and badly damage their democracy. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden publicly reprimanded the Israeli leader over the judicial overhaul. Netanyahu fired back with a statement basically telling America to mind its own business.

To understand the dynamics, I turned to Shira Efron, the Tel Aviv-based director of policy research for the Israel Policy Forum, a U.S.-based group committed to the two-state solution, consistent with Israel’s security. Efron is a prolific researcher whose expertise includes everything from U.S.-Israeli relations to climate change policy. She described how many Israelis feel the crisis is an existential one, and how it’s far from over. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What is the mood in Israel right now?

We’re all exhausted. I can say it’s PTSD, but we’re clearly not post-trauma. Everyone is so beaten up. Israel wasn’t, like, a quiet place, right? But this rollercoaster has been 12 weeks of non-stop jackhammer right in your brain. The protests and WhatsApp groups and the legislation blitz.

The whole country is being run on WhatsApp groups. You’re bombarded. You go into a meeting without a phone and you come out and you have 562 messages.

What was in the news was mostly the judicial reforms, but there have been over 120 bills at different stages. Many would really hurt what we feel are fundamental basic democratic rights. We are in a lull, but definitely it’s not over.

What do you see Benjamin Netanyahu doing next when it comes to the judicial reform package? And what is really driving him?

On the first question, no one knows. There are two sides here, and they’re in a lull. Both sides know it plays in their favor, the façade to pretend they’re going in good faith to try to find a compromise, but neither side is interested in a compromise.

Netanyahu, he may find ways to make it disappear, to fade away. He’s going to blame U.S. pressure. He’s going to blame what’s happening with the military. He’s going to blame an external threat — Iran? There’s a good chance he could let it drift.

What’s his motivation? It’s really hard to say. There’s always speculation in the local press that his family is driving the policy — his son and his wife basically tell him not to compromise. There’s obviously the court cases moving him. It could be being in power for too long and being surrounded by your echo chamber that you don’t really read the public mood.

NEW PRODUCT UPDATE – POLITICO’s China Watcher now hits inboxes twice weekly (Tuesday & Thursday). POLITICO’s EU-China Correspondent Stuart Lau will be writing this expanded newsletter together with our colleague Phelim Kine from across the Atlantic in Washington. We’re living in a world where geopolitics are shaped and reshaped in Brussels, Washington, and Beijing — China Watcher will attempt to decode these global relationships to give our readers a full picture of the world’s diplomatic relations with China. Sign up to China Watcher

How do Israelis see the U.S. role in all this?

It’s hard to talk about “Israelis.” There are different Israelis. I’ll start with the Israelis on the right.

You have Itamar Ben-Gvir and other people on the right say we are not another star on the U.S. flag. We are an independent sovereign country. You don’t tell us what to do.

There are other Israelis. Israelis who, beforehand, were like, “this is a domestic issue.” I think there’s now a lot of yearning for U.S. intervention, because there’s understanding that the pressure from the outside can really help here.

What matters more to the ruling Israeli coalition: the U.S. response or the domestic response?

There are different parts to this coalition.

There were reports that Netanyahu was going to announce stopping or pausing this plan even before he fired [Israeli Defense Minister Yoav] Gallant but then he was pressured by some other more radical factions in his coalition and his family.

I think for him, the U.S. pressure and being considered a world leader and not a pariah was important. This is on top of how there’s a lot of money going out of Israel, investments going out of Israel. You have Israelis applying for foreign passports. You have the [Israeli defense forces] with people just not reporting for duty — the reservists.

For other members of Netanyahu’s coalition, they don’t care about the U.S. They are messianic, they are religious, they’re xenophobic, they hate Arabs. They want to annex territory — their motivations are really ideological. They’re not national security experts — they don’t understand that Israel is dependent on the United States.

There are critics who say Israel took an authoritarian turn a long time ago, especially in its treatment of the Palestinians. Is that an argument that resonates among Israelis now worried about their democracy?

In the mindset of most Israelis and even Israelis that are on the left — okay, I’m not talking about the left left — the occupation, the conflict with the Palestinians, it’s just not on their minds unless there’s a flare up. It’s just not a topic. They don’t vote on it. It’s just not an issue.

When you ask them, “But look, there are issues with your degree of democracy anyway because of the occupation,” they say “Well, but [the Palestinians] are not citizens.” We still separate between Israel proper where everyone is a citizen, and the West Bank and Gaza.

There are groups saying now is the opportunity to bring back the Palestinian issue to the forefront, and you saw signs in protest: “There’s no democracy with occupation.” But there is a discussion within the protest movement itself saying “Will it help us now? It’s an issue, but should we deal now with the more imminent threat?”

It’s discussed, but it’s really not at the core.

What is something that people should be thinking more about when it comes to this crisis?

You look at this country — 75 years, right, coming from after the Holocaust and stuff. I’m putting the Palestinians aside, because to them Israel’s creation was their catastrophe, and it’s an unresolved issue to this day. But just focusing on Israel for a second: It’s a miracle, right? You have startups, you have academia, you have a great health care system. You have physicians, you have a great military.

We all assumed that everything’s great, hunky dory. Now, within 12 weeks, we feel that things are unraveling.

On the other hand, you’ve had an awakening, a social awakening with connections between the tech community and the physicians and the teachers and the parents and the students. That can lead to discussing these fundamentals. What country do you want to live in, and what is democracy, and what are minority rights? Hopefully, it will also get to those very difficult conversations of what it means on the Palestinian front.

Thanks to editor Heidi Vogt and producer Andrew Howard.

JOIN POLITICO ON 4/5 FOR THE 2023 RECAST POWER LIST: America’s demographics and power dynamics are changing — and POLITICO is recasting how it covers the intersection of race, identity, politics and policy. Join us for a conversation on the themes of the 2023 Recast Power List that will examine America’s decision-making tables, who gets to sit at them, and the challenges that still need to be addressed. REGISTER HERE.

SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family:D.C. Playbook |Brussels Playbook |London Playbook |ParisPlaybook |Ottawa Playbook |EU Confidential |D.C. Influence |EU Influence |London Influence |Digital Bridge |Europe’s China Direct |U.S. China Watcher |Berlin Bulletin

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

Share to...