Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel can survive without a couple of air squadrons but not without the government, according to reports over the weekend after a growing number of air force pilots and navigators said they would no longer volunteer for service amid the prime minister's push to change Israel's democracy.
Netanyahu's comments mean that his government comes before the air force, and provide insight into his recognition of the fact that it is not the judicial overhaul being legislated by the coalition, but the very future of the country, that is at stake.
The original change to the judicial system that was presented to Israelis, has been reduced to the reasonability clause which would block the courts from ruling on unreasonable government decisions including appointments. This clause enjoys near consensus and is even acceptable to former Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak but Netanyahu is not seeking consensus and neither is his political base.
They want legislation of the magnitude presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin that would transform the system of governance and change the balance of power between branches. Netanyahu understands that desire. The protests, although directed at his legislative push, reveal a deeper and more dangerous rift that is splitting Israeli society and undermining the foundations of the state.
The intent of one camp – considered to be elitist, to cause organized chaos that endangers the economy, along with the refusal of many, to volunteer to serve in the reserves is the greatest challenge facing the nation. This sector of society is breaking the unity of the country apart and is more dangerous perhaps even than a nuclear Iran or the saber-rattling from Hezbollah or Gaza. Israel is under the strategic threat of breaking up into tribes.
This makes Netanyahu's challenge different from the one he expected when he formed his right-wing coalition. But it is not the protests that have delivered this challenge. There has been a long process over many years, that has divided Israelis into sectors. The protests just illustrate how the nation has been taken hostage by tribal politics that has now even infiltrated the military.
Drastic measures are needed to repair. The Zionist idea sought to repair the tribal character of the Jewish people who were spread around the world in different cultures always rebellious against their flesh and blood rulers, in the diaspora. The reasonability clause, therefore has more of a symbolic value than a practical one and can be seen as a step towards disbanding a system of separate sectors in uniting the society.
By historical references, Israel is facing the same crisis it had faced in the early days of statehood in 1948, when the Irgun refused to allow its forces to merge into the newly formed IDF and the fight culminating with the sinking off the coast of Tel Aviv, of a boat carrying weapons for the Irgun. Israel's founding leader David Ben Gurion chose to create a state comprised of one collective and not separate groups. Netanyahu must make a similar decision and repair a fractured society.
Dr. Doron Matza is an expert on Middle Easter studies at Achva College