Israel’s Knesset on Monday voted on the first major bill related to the government’s judicial reform, and it was even more dramatic than expected.
The coalition promptly voted down the opposition’s reservations, and the process of voting on the bill itself began.
But almost right away, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other senior government ministers called for a possible review of at least one of the opposition’s reservations, and the continuation of compromise talks.
This was supported by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
The deal on the table was to halt all additional judicial reform legislation for up to a year, and to soften the “reasonableness” bill before passing it in a vote next week.
Most of the coalition seemed to be on board with this proposal, except for Justice Minister Yariv Levin and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who blocked any agreement and pushed forward the vote.
After the vote on the reasonableness bill passed, there were angry confrontations between government ministers, with Gallant openly shouting at Levin, while Netanyahu tried to stay out of the fray.
Other coalition voices attacked Ben-Gvir on social media.
So why didn’t the majority of government ministers who wanted compromise simply override Ben-Gvir and Levin? Because they can theoretically bring down the government.
Levin in a member of Likud, but removing him from his post would weaken the party’s right-wing support base.
Ben-Gvir can do more immediate damage. The coalition has a healthy majority of 64 out of 120 seats in Knesset. But Ben-Gvir’s party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) has six of those seats, so his pulling out of the coalition would put it in the minority and almost certainly lead to its immediate downfall.
Knesset under seige
Outside the Knesset the scene was even more chaotic, as anti-government protesters got violent in their efforts to disrupt the legislative process.
In the morning, protesters blocked all entrance to the Knesset in a failed attempt to keep lawmakers from entering. Police had to forcibly remove them.
Later, as the voting got underway, the protesters tried to break through police lines and enter the Knesset, forcing police to use riot control means to prevent them.
One social media video clip showed a group of protesters using tools to breach the sterile security zone around the Knesset.
In a particularly worrying incident, one anti-government activist waited outside the room of Likud lawmaker May Golan at a nearby hotel and verbally and physically assaulted her before being arrested.
Dissent in the anti-reform ranks
While cracks are showing in the coalition, as noted above, the ranks of the anti-reform movement are also turning on one another.
It became apparent early in the day that opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz were not coordinating their positions. In recent days, Gantz had come across as the more willing to compromise, but suddenly Lapid offered the coalition even more favorable terms for compromise.
Gantz reportedly told Lapid that if he intended to reach a deal with the Netanyahu government, he should first inform and consult the rest of the opposition.
Lapid is officially the “opposition leader” since his Yesh Atid party is the largest in the opposition. But recent polls showed that if elections were held today, Gantz’s National Camp would overtake Yesh Atid, so there is a bit of tension between the two over who is true head of the opposition in Knesset.
The bigger problem, however, is between opposition lawmakers and leaders of the popular anti-government uprising.
As Gantz and Lapid negotiated with the coalition on a compromise version of the reasonableness bill and the overall judicial reform, which even President Isaac Herzog admits is necessary, protest leaders insisted there can be no compromise, and started attacking opposition leaders in Knesset for not standing their ground.
Prominent protest leader Dr. Shikma Bressler tweeted that by negotiating with the Netanyahu coalition, “Gantz, Lapid and Herzog are the worst servants of the dictator.”
And this is the point we have been trying to highlight in much of our reporting – the ill-advised use of extreme rhetoric.
When you delegitimize someone as a dictator, fascist or post-Zionist, you preclude genuine negotiation and compromise. You turn the entire affair into a zero sum game. One side must win and the other lose.
The longer these hateful slogans are shouted from the rooftops, the more they seep into the Israeli psyche, and the closer we inch toward violent internal conflict and possibly civil war.
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