March 17, 2023


Netanyahu Holds the Key to De-escalating Israel's Crisis (Neri Zilber, March 16, 2023, New/Lines)

Because of mass demonstrations along the highways, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced last week to use a helicopter instead of what is usually the 20-minute drive from Jerusalem to Israel's international airport near Tel Aviv. Like a tinpot ruler afraid of his own people, the long-serving Netanyahu also deployed an empty helicopter as a decoy against protesters and to ensure the logistical shame wasn't caught on camera.

In another sign of ignominy, upon arrival at the airport, Netanyahu met with visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who was unable to leave the airport and flew out after only a few hours. The Israeli premier then embarked on a diplomatic trip to Rome, where he and his wife used the long weekend to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Israel these days feels like a country on the brink. In the face of massive public opposition to proposed curbs in the supreme court's powers, Netanyahu's far-right government -- just over two months in office -- is pushing ahead with its plan to radically overhaul the judiciary and arrogate nearly unchecked power to itself.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets for 10 successive weeks, in demonstrations and strike actions, as part of the largest and longest protest movement in Israel's history. The twin pillars of the country's military strength and economic power -- elite combat reservists and tech workers -- are in open revolt and have taken highly public leadership roles in the protests. The shekel has depreciated, Israelis are moving money out of the country, and global credit rating agencies warn of further negative repercussions.

On an almost daily basis, the government appears to be in open warfare, not only against the court (its first and immediate target) but also its own attorney general, legal advisers and national police. Senior ministers have been forced to cancel multiple public appearances because of demonstrations, while Netanyahu's wife, Sara, was recently besieged at a hair salon in swanky north Tel Aviv and had to be extracted by riot police.

"Whoever thinks that a real civil war, of human lives, is a limit that we will not reach, has no clue," said President Isaac Herzog in yet another harrowed primetime address to the nation on March 15. "Precisely now -- in the 75th year of our independence -- the abyss is within touching distance. We are at a crossroads: a historic crisis or a defining constitutional moment."

Posted by at March 17, 2023 9:23 AM