More than half of Israelis, 56% to be precise, are concerned that their country may descend into civil war due to nationwide protests over new legislation that limits the power of Israel’s supreme court. This was the finding of a poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 13. The fear of civil war has been fueled by the passing of the first part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform package, which restricts the court’s oversight of government actions and limits its ability to veto political decisions and appointments.
Prime Minister Netanyahu argues that these reforms are necessary to rein in what he sees as an overpowered judiciary. However, opposition leaders argue that these measures threaten Israel’s democracy itself. In response to the passing of the law, demonstrations erupted in several cities, with clashes between protesters and riot police witnessed in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In Kfar Saba, three people were injured after a driver drove his car through a group of protesters blocking a highway.
The survey conducted by Channel 13 also revealed that 54% of respondents believed that these reforms threatened Israel’s national security. This sentiment was supported by the refusal of over 10,000 military reservists to serve in protest and the threat of nuclear scientists quitting their positions. In addition, 28% of respondents admitted that they were considering leaving the country.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed his willingness to engage in talks with opposition leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid regarding the remaining proposed reforms. Although only 33% of respondents believed the prime minister’s commitment to compromise, 55% still called on Gantz and Lapid to return to negotiations with Netanyahu. Gantz, leader of the centrist National Unity party, pledged to reverse Netanyahu’s reforms entirely if his party comes to power.
The protests and strikes against the judicial reforms began in January and lasted until March when Netanyahu agreed to temporarily suspend them and engage in negotiations with opposition parties. The intensity of the demonstrations prompted Israeli President Isaac Herzog to publicly implore Netanyahu to accept a watered-down set of changes. Herzog warned that a “real civil war” was “within touching distance.”
The concerns over civil war and the potential threat to national security reflect the deep divisions and anxiety among Israelis regarding the judicial reforms. The passing of the first part of the reform package has ignited widespread protests and prompted individuals to debate whether they should leave the country. It remains to be seen how the government will address these concerns and whether further compromises or changes will be made to appease the opposition.