So, Israelis know how to protest. They can be roused.
Generally quiescent and indifferent to burning injustices – the murderous iniquities – that their state daily perpetrates against Palestinians, when their own interests are pricked, they know how to yelp.
And yelp they do, furious at the impending curtailment of their freedoms, the potential diluting of their God-given right to live in a democracy. A tainted, exclusionary democracy, a Jews-only democracy, to be sure. But it’s theirs and they intend to keep it. Hands off! One hundred thousand Israeli citizens in Tel Aviv marched in protest against the new government, with notable, but smaller demonstrations in Jerusalem, and smaller towns.
The newly formed Netanyahu government comprises, at its core, an amalgam of overt racists, homophobes, religious ultras, along with proponents of a Greater Israel eager to annexe all, or great swathes of, the Occupied West Bank. They will brook no impediment to their malign intent. Secular citizens, Palestinian citizens of Israel and the LGBTQ community, to say nothing of asylum seekers and refugees, have every reason to fear the policies and consequential actions that are about to be unleashed.
Netanyahu, of course, has his own very personal reasons for denuding the Supreme Court of its powers. He has skin in the game and will sup with the devil if needs be, a necessity realised in the new government’s unsavoury line-up. Thus he hopes – intends – that the proposed new judicial arrangements will finally enable him to cancel, wash away, the charges of corruption currently laid against him.
Beyond Netanyahu’s personal judicial travails, Israel’s Supreme Court features large in the new government’s demonology. It is accused of thwarting the democratic will of the people, as interpreted by the now elected racists, homophobes and fellow-travellers cited above. Therefore, its powers are to be curtailed.
The ‘Supreme’ court will no longer be supreme, the final judgment on matters brought before it now open to further adjudication by the elected Knesset (Parliament). The Supreme Court in any case offered, at best, flimsy to ultimately non-existent protection to those one would generally think should benefit from its judgments. For example, the Palestinian Jerusalemites of Sheikh Jarrah facing eviction from their homes; the Bedouin whose homes have and are being demolished to make way for more Jewish-only settlements and army firing zones.
‘Now of all times, at its most difficult moment, we must not forget the Supreme Court’s shameful collaboration with the occupation…. Through its support for the occupation, the court sowed the poisonous seeds whose fruits we are reaping today. If it had refused to legitimize the occupation back when it had the power to do so, there would be no Itamar Ben-Gvir, there would be no settlements and there might even be no occupation.’
But absent is protest about the occupation, about the besieging of Gaza, about the daily killings of Palestinians at the hands of the IDF and Border police. Over the past week [as at 21 January] Israeli occupation forces killed eight Palestinians, the youngest being a 14-year-old boy, bringing the total death toll from Israeli fire, in the West Bank, to 18 in the first twenty days of 2023. This was not worthy of protest. Nor was any other week replete with cruel injustices against Palestinians – child, woman, man – worthy of protest.
Still less was even a murmur to be heard about the Apartheid Israel practices against the ’48 Palestinians, the Palestinian citizens of Israel. A flawed, partial citizenship, not comparable to the meaning and status of citizenship as we understand the designation here in the UK and other countries more generally.
Israeli Jews erupted on their own behalf, afeared that their notionally liberal democracy is now under existential threat. A whole world, an entire worldview that seemed deep-rooted, suddenly feels fragile, potentially lacking the tensile strength to resist the incursion of alien values.
But what weight and credence should we attribute to those values when they are so securely gated within an exclusive ethnoreligious realm?
A Jewish democracy is a self-cancelling proposition, one that should be the legitimate and necessary target of strident protest. But that is not what the protesters are thinking about now.