‘Fraternal War’ Is the Alarm in Israel as Opposition Takes to the Streets

Protests engulf the Jewish state over proposals to reform the supreme court.

AP/Oded Balilty
Israeli police officers scuffle with protesters against plans by Prime Minister Netanyahu's new government to overhaul the judicial system, at Tel Aviv March 1, 2023. AP/Oded Balilty

As the most widespread protest in Israel’s history engulfs the Jewish state, Prime Minister Netayahu is warning of “anarchy,” while others warn of a “fraternal war” that could tear the country apart. 

Legislators of both parties are scrambling to find a compromise over a set of legislative initiatives meant to overhaul the country’s traditional relationship between the Knesset and the supreme court. Mr. Netanyahu and his top rival, Yair Lapid, a former premier, are at daggers. 

“We can promote legislation for judicial reform that would be agreed by a large Knesset majority, including from the opposition,” a top Likud legislator, Danny Danon, tells the Sun. “No Knesset legislative action is scheduled for the next 12 days. Let’s take this time to find a compromise.” 

Earlier, Mr. Danon and a fellow Likudnik, Yuli Edelstein, joined two Knesset members of the opposition National Unity party, Gadi Eizenkot and Chili Tropper, in a public call for compromise based on a plan earlier promoted by President Herzog. It proposed a halt to all legislative initiatives while leaders from all sides work out a plan.

Mr. Netanyahu, though, declined to mention a legislative pause Wednesday. Even while calling for a “compromise,” he ignored Mr. Herzog’s initiative and omitted from his speech mention of Mr. Danon’s attempt at bipartisan compromise.   

Addressing the nation in what is widely seen as a tipping point in its history, Mr. Netanyahu was instead defiant, accusing his political opponents of undermining Israel’s rule of law. Unlike the right-wing opposition to a withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, he said, the current widespread protests cross “red lines.”

The prime minister accused opponents of fomenting violence and recruiting overseas allies to undermine Israel’s economy as part of an attempt to overthrow an elected government. “I understand that there is someone here who is attempting to generate anarchy, he is called Yair Lapid,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

The opposition leader, Mr. Netanyahu added, wants to “create a governmental crisis, I would say a constitutional crisis, because through this he intends to reach new elections.”

Mr. Lapid shot back on his Twitter account: “Netanyahu, the only anarchy here is created by the government, which you have lost control over,” he wrote, adding, “Bibi, the one who gave Ben Gvir explosives to play with, knew it would end in an explosion”

The internal security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, was convicted earlier in his career for incitement to violence and is now the right-most member of Mr. Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. Critics have warned that Mr. Ben Gvir’s command over the national police force and other security bodies is a recipe for disaster.      

In clashes with protesters Wednesday, the police for the first time used stun grenades as they tried in vain to disperse a crowd. “Where were you during Huwara,” some of the protesters chanted at the police line, in a reference to last week’s attack by right wingers at the West Bank village where Palestinian residents murdered two Jews from a nearby settlement.

Israeli security forces were accused of arriving too slowly at the scene, and mostly standing by while settlers burned houses and cars. The Huwara marauders were condemned across almost the entire Israeli political spectrum. Some called them Jewish “pogromists.”

Mr. Netanyahu, in his Wednesday address, said the government “will not tolerate a situation in which people act against the law as they please, neither in Huwara nor in Tel Aviv.” The speech was jeered by opponents who were outraged by being compared to unlawful extremists on a violent rampage. The Huwara incident interfered with attempts by the army and other security forces to quell escalating Palestinian violence.

The Biden administration has called on Israel to curb its anti-terrorism measures even as on Monday a Columbia University graduate and Hartford resident, Elan Ganeles, was shot dead while driving in the West Bank. He had attended the wedding of an Israeli friend.

Israeli security veterans fear for the country’s ability to face military challenges — from Iran, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon — while the country is facing such internal strife.  

“I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Ohana and called on them to immediately close the Knesset to stop all debates and legislation and to arrive at the president’s residence tonight,” a former defense minister, Benny Gantz, tweeted. “Fraternal war is coming. Will it only end when blood is spilled?”

Mr. Gantz, who leads the National Unity party, added that “history will not forgive those who do not try to prevent that fraternal war. We have nothing to lose by talking. We have a lot to lose if the situation further deteriorates.”

For now, though, the growing rift among Israelis seems too wide to be overcome. Politicians and their followers say that compromising their principles would endanger the country’s future more than fighting for them.


The New York Sun

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