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Editorial: Israel’s Enemies Feel Emboldened Since They Sense Internal Weakness

by Rhonda Spivak, April 23, 2024


Watching  what appeared  to be the coordinated attacks launched against Israel by Hamas in Lebanon (from areas under Hizbollah control) , Hamas in Gaza , Assad in Syria and Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank, during the recent Passover holiday  I  couldn’t  help but wonder whether Israel’s enemies chose this time to act since they interpreted Israel as being weak given the deep internal divides among Israeli society that have emerged over the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial reforms. It appears that Iran through its proxies has started a significant escalation.
Remember that Netanyahu  announced that he was firing his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after the latter  spoke out in favour of pausing the judicial reforms due to the security situation and the internal strife it had caused in the IDF.   It wasn’t until after the attacks on Passover  that Netanyahu announced on April 10th that he was rescinding Gallant’s firing. One has to wonder whether Israel’s enemies thought it might be a good time to attack since the status of Israel’s Defense Minister was  ultimately unclear for close to two weeks. It’s no doubt a good thing that Netanyahu didn’t actually go through with the firing of  Gallant as Gallant has the Israeli public’s confidence and during a time of enemy attacks,  Israel needs a properly functioning Defense Minister(In fact a  poll done by Channel 12 Israeli TV showed that Gallant is far more popular than Netanyahu himself, which probably explains why Netanyahu decided to keep him in his post.)
Of course, another reason why Israel’s enemies may have chosen to attack over Passover has to do with the fact that daylight has emerged between  the United States and Israel over the Netanyahu government’s  proposed judicial reforms. The United States  has expressed concerns that the proposed reforms will compromise the independence of Israel’s judiciary,  thereby weakening Israeli democracy (On the other hand the Israeli government says the reforms will rein in an all powerful judiciary that has gone unchecked.) Biden said he hopes Israel “walks away from” plans to pursue the reforms. He further stated rather pointedly that Netanyahu would not be invited to the White House in the “near term.”   One can only imagine how the fact that Netanyahu can not get a White House invite has been interpreted by Israel’s enemies.(Additionally, Israel's enemies have recognized the United States' withdrawal from the Middle East, which has included removing advanced aircraft from the region and replacing them with less advanced aircraft.)
Biden has also said he hopes Netanyahu will make a genuine compromise such that the judicial reform contemplated can garner a broad base of support within Israeli society. Some argue that Biden was willing to be openly confrontational with Netanyahu over the judicial reforms since he believes that most Jews in the United States who vote for the  Democratic Party oppose the judicial  reforms which they see as weakening Israeli democracy. Under these circumstances there was no domestic political cost for Biden to speak out on this issue-in fact, quite the opposite is true. 
One political commentator has suggested that Biden spoke up on the issue of judicial reform, because in was his way of telling  Netanyahu’s government to acquiesce to Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb without daring to attack Iran, or else the U.S. will make Netanyahu’s life miserable on other fronts such as the judicial reforms. The administration has said they remain committed to preventing Iran from going nuclear, although there are those who doubt this to be the case. 
Israel needs the United States to keep its military edge. As  the Jerusalem Post reported  on April 14, a top Israeli defense official sought U.S. support to bolster IDF forces  since Israel might have to strike Iran within the year to halt its nuclear program. Israel will also need the U.S. if it wants  to enter into a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia any time soon, and ought to be concerned by Iran’s apparent renewed ties with Saudi Arabia. Iran is also reportedly seeking to renew ties with Egypt,  and Syria appears to be returning to the Arab fold. The political landscape is changing, and not to Israel’s advantage.
There is no question that the subject of judicial reforms has taken much of the Israeli government's energy in the last the months, and I wonder whether Netanyahu will stop the proposed reforms as long as the overall security situation in Israel remains  fragile. It is noteworthy that, a recent poll  by Channel 12 Israeli television showed that most Israelis, including Likud voters, want Netanyahu to tackle the issue of the high cost of living in the country more than the issue of judicial reform.
On the subject of the protests, it’s interesting to note that they have attracted some support from some Israeli conservatives, including from Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and the family of Menachem Begin who became  Israel’s first Likud prime minister in 1977.
On the economic front, the leading credit agency Moody’s downgraded Israel’s credit outlook rating  from positive to stable because of  what it cited as " the deterioration in governance" in Israel regarding the proposed reforms.
A Khan survey showed that a majority of Israelis believe the controversial judicial reforms are harmful for the country-53%. Some 32% think the reforms are beneficial and 15% said they didn't know.
Netanyahu was on CBS Television recently and said that he "does not accept a blanket ability of the parliament [Knesset] to overcome judicial Supreme Court decisions..." It thus appears he has walked away from the "override clause" that was in the initial judicial reform package.
I am not sure what the future will bring, but I am of the view that especially in a time of  increased threats from the outside, it would be best if Israel could enact reforms  in a way that garners a more broad consensus, as opposed to a narrow one, and this may well require both sides to compromise.  A more united and cohesive Israel,  will no doubt serve to prevent  Israel's enemies from sensing weakness.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.