Throughout the day on Monday, Israel was consumed by protest.
Massive crowds gathered outside the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, and in the streets of its major cities. The economy ground to a halt amid a general strike; everything from airports to Israeli embassies abroad to the country’s 226 McDonald’s franchises shut down. It is the largest protest movement in the entirety of Israeli history, one that has been taking to the streets for the past several months but reached new heights after Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday.
The aim was to stop what Gallant and many other Israelis saw as a mortal threat to its democracy: a judicial overhaul bill that would wreck the country’s separation of powers and allow incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to impose its will on the country with little opposition.
Later in the day, there came signs that the upheaval had an impact: Netanyahu officially announced that he would delay the judicial overhaul until the next legislative session, calling for a “timeout” that could “give a real opportunity for real dialogue.”
How to think about this extraordinary series of events? Is this a sign of Israeli democracy’s strength — or its weakness?
The answer to that question is that it’s both.
Netanyahu’s judicial bill was indeed an existential threat to Israeli democracy. That the country’s people mobilized in extraordinary numbers to block it is a sign of deep support for democracy inside the Israeli population, and a willingness to fight to preserve it.
But at the same time, the fact that they needed to do this at all shows that Israeli democracy truly has been brought to the brink — and that defeat of the judicial overhaul is not the end of the fight. [Continue reading…]