Jan 25, 2023 - World

Netanyahu's chaotic first month

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Photo: Ronen Zvulun/AFP via Getty Images

Mass protests. International condemnation. The sacking of a trusted minister. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first month in office has been nothing short of chaotic.

Why it matters: Even before Netanyahu was sworn in, the Biden administration had expressed concern over what the most right-wing government in Israel's history would mean for the Palestinians and U.S.-Israel relations.

  • U.S. concerns have only intensified with Netanyahu's plan to overhaul his country's judicial system and the actions of some of his ministers.
  • In many ways, the political atmosphere in Israel bears similarities to the chaotic first few weeks of the Trump administration, when the U.S. government announced new controversial policies that angered the public.

Where things stand...

An unprecedented battle with the Supreme Court:

  • Netanyahu's government rolled out its plan for the judicial overhaul much sooner and much faster than many expected.
  • The trigger was the expected Supreme Court ruling on whether Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, could serve as a minister due to his past criminal convictions. That ruling came last week, with 10 of the high court's 11 judges voting to revoke Deri's appointment, forcing Netanyahu to fire one of the most experienced ministers in his government.
  • The government used the Supreme Court’s decision as a pretext for escalating its attacks against the judicial system and accelerating the efforts to push forward with its plan.
  • “People use the immense power they were given in order to replace the will of the people — this will turn against them," Justice Minister Yariv Levin said at an event Monday night held by Netanyahu and his senior ministers in the Knesset to express solidarity with Deri.

Growing public discontent:

  • The judicial overhaul plan has angered the Israeli public. More than 130,000 people across Israel rallied against Netanyahu's government last weekend. The protests are expected to continue.
  • The Israeli tech sector, which is the backbone of the Israeli economy, has joined the protests. Several hundred tech companies went on a symbolic strike on Tuesday. Tech workers, who demonstrated in Tel Aviv, blocked one of the main roads for a few minutes.
  • Many in the business and financial sectors have also joined the protests and expressed concerns that the weakening of the democratic system will harm the Israeli economy.
  • One of the leading economists in the country resigned from the central bank monetary committee in order to join the protest and criticize the government freely.
  • Meanwhile, the head of Israel's central bank met Netanyahu on Tuesday and reportedly expressed concerns about the effect of the judicial plan on the country's credit rating. He told Netanyahu that he received worried messages about it during the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last week, according to Israeli media.

International condemnation:

  • Netanyahu's government hadn't even been in power a week when it faced international condemnation over ultranationalist minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's visit to the Temple Mount, also known as the Haram al-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
  • The visit raised already high tensions, and the relationship between the new Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank appears to be on a collision course.

The big picture: The chaos surrounding Netanyahu's government is happening while the prime minister is standing trial for bribery, breach of trust and fraud. He denies any wrongdoing.

  • The Israeli opposition argues that Netanyahu is pushing the new plan as part of his effort to stop the trial.

What to watch: Israeli President Isaac Herzog is trying to facilitate talks between the government, the opposition and the president of the Supreme Court to reach an agreed-upon plan for judicial reform. For now, Herzog has made little progress.

  • "The lack of a dialogue is tearing us apart from within. This powder keg is about to explode. It is a time of emergency and the responsibility is on all of us," Herzog said on Tuesday.

What’s next: The government’s goal is to pass the first phase of the judicial plan legislation in a first hearing by April.

  • Many in the coalition and the opposition think that only then meaningful talks on a compromise formula can start.
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