Netanyahu’s push to overhaul the judiciary is a play with fire

Opinion: The meaning of the government's constitutional revolution, the break-neck pace of legislation and the obstinate refusal to hear opposing opinions are unprecedented in Israel's 75-year history, and the fissure starts there

Nahum Barnea|
Speaking at the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared road closures by protesters in the days leading up to the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 to those against his government's overhaul of the legal system.
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  • Netanyahu is into comparisons now and had only last week compared the demonstrations against his government's judicial shakeup to the rioting settlers who torched dozens of Palestinian homes in the West Bank town of Huwara.
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    ישיבת ממשלה
    ישיבת ממשלה
    Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: EPA)
    The prime minister should be losing sleep over the growing number of IDF reservists who have said they would no longer volunteer for service of a non-democratic regime.
    He should also be concerned with the ramifications of his government's actions on the economy and the growing tensions with the United States.
    All three issues are interconnected and reflect on each other.
    The Air Force is reliant on its pilots in the reserves as well as those on active duty. The reservists normally clear one day a week, sometimes more, to fly operational or training missions. They are volunteers.
    In fact, the entire IDF reserve force is mostly based on volunteers who would simply stop serving if disrespected.
    Government ministers and their vocal supporters in the media have maligned as "anarchists" and "terrorists" the 100-odd Air Force pilots who warned against what they see as an assault on democracy.
    They can swallow the insult but cannot help but wonder, who is it they are risking their lives for every week. Netanyahu's cabinet is chock full of people who never served in the military, and national security has never been at the top of their priority list, and on top of that, they bash and degrade them.
    Last Friday, Air Force Commander Tomer Bar issued an unusual statement defending his reservists from the abuse directed at them by politicians. His words left some hoping for more. By Sunday, 37 F-15 pilots said they won't report for this week's training.
    They argue that by eliminating the authority of the Supreme Court, they would be left defenseless from prosecution abroad. Some are pilots for Israel's flagship airliner El Al and leave Israel for different countries a couple of times a week.
    In the morning they may be sent on a mission to bomb Gaza or Syria, and in the evening they may land their planes in London or Paris. Why would they want to be exposed to litigation abroad? Let Netanyahu find others to do the job.
    Refusing to serve is not an easy choice and is not easily accepted by me and many others.
    But the meaning of the government's constitutional revolution, the break-neck pace of legislation and the obstinate refusal to hear opposing opinions are unprecedented in Israel's 75-year history, and the fissure starts there.
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    הפגנה נגד המהפכה המשפטית, קפלן, תל אביב
    הפגנה נגד המהפכה המשפטית, קפלן, תל אביב
    Anti-government rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Meanwhile, the economic ramifications of the reform are already beginning to threaten to dry up investments in the local high-tech industry, which will pinch the pocket of every Israeli citizen.
    The world's confidence in Israel's economic stability is evaporating and investments are being diverted away from Israel while money is being taken out of the local market.
    People will be next to go. Reservists see their livelihood at peril. Investors see the security threatened. This is a perfect storm.
    Even if unwittingly, the American administration is a party to the crisis. The immunity enjoyed by consecutive Israeli governments in Washington over the years is no longer a given.
    Biden has punished Netanyahu in a way only the prime minister understands. He refused to invite him to Washington and snubbed his calls.
    Netanyahu has been downgraded by the White House and after his finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, suggested that the West Bank town of Huwara should be wiped off the face of the planet, the State Department called his comments "repugnant". No less.
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    נד פרייס
    נד פרייס
    U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price
    (Photo: AP)
    Smotrich will not receive an audience in Washington and may not travel to the U.S. at all as a result.
    U.S.–Israel relations stand on shared values, common interests and the political power of the Jewish and evangelical communities. The Netanyahu government's machinations have endangered all three.
    These shared values are cracking; the Jewish American community is divided and drifting away from Israel; and the shared interests are built on military power and economic stability which have both been put into question.
    For now, Biden has made do with public comments only but that will not be the case forever. If the United States so chooses, it can punish Israel severely.
    Complete cooperation on all things Iran related, may also be put to the test.
    If Netanyahu decides to launch a strike on Iran's nuclear program, it would require American refueling jets which were purchased last year but are due to be delivered only in 2024. Washington could decide to delay delivery.
    The UN, where the U.S. had prevented sanctions against Israel, could also see a change.
    Past Israeli prime ministers have all squabbled with Washington in their day, but those differences in positions surrounded Israeli national security interests. Now, these relations are tested for nothing.
    A group of elite reserve officers is currently working on a letter addressed to the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress, asking them to stop the judicial overhaul and save Israel from itself.
    The move is not easy, even in their eyes. It demonstrates the gravity of the chasm. This is not a reform — this is a play with fire.
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