Israeli Judicial Reform Passes Amid Massive Protests

What Happened

Following last nights 100,000 person protest outside the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, the Knesset has voted 64-0 to pass the first portion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Judicial Reform. The vote was boycotted by opposition parties, which resulted in the 0 votes against. Already protests have erupted, primarily in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which have completely blocked the main streets of both cities. A majority of the protests have thus far been peaceful, however police have deployed water cannons both before and proceeding the vote in an attempt to disperse people from unapproved areas. Prior to the vote, 6 people were arrested outside the Knesset.

What is the Reform..?

The bill is apart of a larger reform of Israel’s supreme court by PM Netanyahu, seeking to curb its power. The bill passed is repealing the “Reasonableness Standard”, which allows the Supreme Court to overrule government actions that it determines to be unnecessary, something the government says is becoming increasingly common. Opponents accuse Netanyahu of a distinct overreach, due to the power it gives the executive branch over the judicial.

Opposition to the Bill

Opposition both within government and the populace has resulted in months long protests against the bill, some of Israel’s largest ever. Protest has taken place across all sectors of Israeli society. Some of the nations largest unions have called for mass strikes/protest, meanwhile upon several occasions components of the military have launched varying forms of protest, usually either through refusing to show up for training or refusing volunteer duty. Last week, 170 reservists of the Israeli Sayeret Matkal commando unit halted their service in protest of the reform. Widespread refusals have brought up worries that Israel’s military may be unprepared in the event of an emergency.

“We are aware of the potential harm that could be caused by our cessation to volunteer for reserve duty in the unit, but where things currently stand we have no other course of action available to stop the destruction that the planned laws will cause to all of us”, reads an excerpt from the soldiers letter.

Previously in April plans for the judicial reform were temporarily halted due to the immense size of the protests, in some cases involving hundreds of thousands of people nationwide. Tel Aviv has been one of the primary spots for anti-reform protest, and remains to be so after the bills passing.

Protestors against the reform pictured in April during a protest numbering 200,000 in Tel Aviv (Photo from JACK GUEZ/AFP).

Opposition leader Yair Lapid in a release after the bills passing stated that “This is a complete violation of the rules of the game”. Further adding “We will not give up. We will not surrender. We will not let them turn Israel into a broken, undemocratic country, which is run by hatred and extremism”.

The American Response

American foreign policy regarding the reform has not exactly been positive, with a White House National Security Spokesperson referring to the reform as “unfortunate”, stating “we believe that for major democratic changes you need to work for consensus. We urge Israeli leaders to work toward a consensus-based approach through political dialog”. Last week, as well as yesterday, President Biden held two calls with PM Netanyahu, urging him not to rush the reform.

“From the perspective of Israel’s friends in the United States, it looks like the current judicial reform proposal is becoming more divisive, not less. Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this — the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus”, said President Biden on call with PM Netanyahu.

President Biden has continually urged Netanyahu to slow up on the reform in order to avoid further division within Israeli society.

A statement from the White House Press Secretary may be read below:

Statement from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on
Israel Judicial Reform

As a lifelong friend of Israel, President Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible. It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority. We understand talks are ongoing and likely to continue over the coming weeks and months to forge a broader compromise even with the Knesset in recess. The United States will continue to support the efforts of President Herzog and other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue.

Civil Instability in Israel

In February the Jewish People Policy Institute carried out a poll in which 35% of people had fears of a civil war erupting in Israel, largely over the reform. From February’s poll, 60% of people believed some sort of violence would result from the legislation. Last week Israel’s Channel 12 released another poll asking the same question, which shows that the problem has become distinctly worse. According to the recent poll, a whopping 67% of Israeli’s have fears of civil war. Israeli President Isaac Herzog stated that Israel is “in a state of national emergency” before the vote. Whether or not there is a credible threat of violence within Israel remains to be seen, however the severity of the poll shows how deep the division is within the Israeli populace.

What Happens Now..?

As previously stated, the bill passed is only one piece of a much larger judicial reform. Netanyahu and his Knesset allies will seek to pass the other portions of the reform. Protests have erupted across Israel and are likely to continue, as they have been going steady for several months now. While protests remain largely peaceful, video has emerged of protestors being hit by water cannons and Israeli police forcibly removing them from streets.

Updates to follow when they become available.


Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.


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