Judicial overhaul chaos threatens to unravel Bibi's legacy
Within three months of returning to the Prime Minister’s Office, Benjamin Netanyahu with his judicial overhaul plan led the country into an unprecedented crisis inside Israel's military, prompted harsh international criticism, and oversaw unrest that destabilized the economy and threatened to tear Israeli society apart.
Why it matters: Many commentators and members of Netanyahu’s party have expressed shock over how Israel's most experienced and savvy politician made what they see as every possible mistake since returning to office.
- The prime minister's approval rating plunged this week, reflecting how the judicial overhaul could be the very thing that destroys Netanyahu as a politician and unravels his legacy.
Flashback: Netanyahu barely spoke about the judicial system during the last election campaign, instead focusing on other issues that were more important to his voters, mainly the economy, the price of housing and fighting crime.
- When he was elected, Netanyahu said he would focus on improving the economy, countering Iran and bringing more peace deals with Arab countries — first and foremost Saudi Arabia.
- But over the last three months, his political agenda was totally taken over by the judicial overhaul, which took his attention away from Iran, led to a sharp decrease in the value of the shekel and created doubts in the Arab world about whether Israel is a reliable partner.
Driving the news: Public opinion polls published on Monday and Tuesday by all four Israeli television channels showed a sharp decline in Netanyahu’s popularity and a dramatic drop in public support for his party.
- The four polls suggested that if elections were held today, his coalition would see an unprecedented defeat.
- A separate poll conducted by a right-wing pollster and published by the pro-Netanyahu channel 14 shows the current coalition with only 58 seats — six less than it has today.
- But one poll showed perhaps an even more worrying trend for the prime minister. About 55% of voters in Netanyahu's Likud party believe the prime minister's overall performance was bad.
- 58% of Likud voters objected to Netanyahu's decision to fire Gallant, and 60% said the judicial overhaul should be suspended.
Between the lines: The polls underscore what many inside Likud have been saying in private: The judicial overhaul has become a threat to the Likud staying in power.
The big picture: Netanyahu’s decision to suspend the judicial overhaul was a major boost for the opposition and a huge achievement for the civil society organizations that led the protests.
- Israel has seen the revival of the center-left, which just three months ago was devastated after its defeat in the elections.
- At the same time, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz has emerged as one of the biggest winners of the last three months. The former defense minister has taken a moderate line by opposing Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul while also calling for a national dialogue on the issue.
- Polls show that many moderate Likud voters are starting to switch their support to Gantz's center-right party. If elections were held today, polling suggests Likud would only win between 25 and 26 seats in the Knesset, down from its current 32. But Gantz's Blue and White party would win between 22-23 seats — up from its current 12.