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Israeli Politics

February was a Month of Political Furor in Israel

pro-democracy demonstration in Tel Aviv - clashes with police violence/ screenshot
Pro-democracy demonstration in Tel Aviv – clashes with police violence/ screenshot

What should have been a month to watch for signs that Israel Startup Nation was beginning a comeback from a hard financial 2022 – a year which so drastic cutbacks in investments and many firms laying off employees – instead became a month of political turmoil in the Jewish State. Perhaps, the largest protest movement the young nation has ever seen took center stage throughout February as masses of people took to the streets to protest against a controversial judicial reform plan proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The government’s judicial reform plan would greatly curtail the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to nullify legislation passed by the Knesset and also limit the authority of Israel’s attorney general. Israel’s opposition charges this would harm Israel’s democracy thereby eroding foreign confidence in the country and hurting its economy.

So, what happened in February?

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Well, for starters masses of Israelis came out to protest on 8 successive Saturday nights. Saturday is Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath which begins Friday night. In Israel, there is no public transportation on Shabbat and most businesses are closed. So, Saturday night is the big night for protests; even though, Sunday is the first day of the work week.

And as many as 100,000 people came out to protest in Tel Aviv against the reform plan, sometimes braving cold and rain. And some protestors even dressed up in Handmaid’s Tale costumes because they fear the reforms would allow Israel’s ultra-orthodox parties to pass new laws imposing religious restrictions in the country.

The acrimony in Israel has gotten so bad that even the country’s President Isaac Herzog took the unusual step of addressing the nation not once, but twice to call for calm. This was unusual because the President of Israel is a ceremonial position and he does not get involved in politics. Even former Labor Party icon Shimon Peres refrained from political comments when Netanyahu was prime minister while Peres served as President.

A concerned President Herzog told the Israeli public, “I see the rifts and fissures between us which are becoming deeper and more painful at this time.”

“I am unequivocally certain, speaking from experience and my position: we can reach a consensus,” said Herzog in a call for political compromise. “We all hear the voices from the public, eager for dialogue, eager for responsibility, eager for an outstretched hand. We must not give up on our Israeli togetherness. We must not give up on our Jewish and democratic state.”

The President has also been speaking with leaders of Israel’s various parties, attempting to get them to sit down and work out some sort of compromise. He even went so far to ask Netanyahu to delay the vote on the judicial reforms, but the government has been moving forward with it in the Knesset anyway.

Even Israeli business leaders are concerned with the country’s current state of affairs. Billions in assets are being moved abroad as the Shekel suffered a slide in value against the US Dollar. And when, just days ago, major Israeli firm Wiz raised $300 million its leaders said that the money would not be brought into Israel.

The month ended with the murder of two brothers, Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, in a terrorist shooting in the Arab town of Huwara – located near Nabulus in the northern West Bank. This led to a riot committed by Israelis who entered the town Saturday night where they set fires, burning buildings. One person was reported by local authorities to have been shot to death.

As the month of March begins, Israelis are preparing to observe the celebratory holiday of Purim where the streets are filled with revelers wearing costumes in sort of a national Israeli version of Mardi Gras. But the first of the month brought with it new protest that shutdown the main highway leading INTO Jerusalem as well as the central highway in Tel Aviv.

Some may be wondering today what the country will look like at the end of this month.

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