Don’t Believe the Hype: Israel Is Not on the Brink of Civil War

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Sources from the Biden White House and Moody’s as well as Thomas Friedman of The New York Times this week said that Israel is in a grave existential crisis. The crisis was not caused by the threat of an Iranian nuclear attack or the violent terror groups operating in Judea Samaria, Gaza, and the West Bank. Instead, it was the Israeli government’s milder reform of its judicial system, which limited the power of the Israeli Supreme Court. It was declared in the 1990s that the Israeli Supreme Court had the authority to unilaterally overturn executive decisions by merely declaring them “unreasonable”. They will now have to base the reasoning of their arguments on actual law, rather than simply disagreeing.

Pew Research data from May 2015 show that 40% of Israelis consider themselves to be hiloni or secular. 23% of Israelis are traditionalists. 10% of religious Zionists. 8% of the population are ultra-Orthodox.

In the 1960s and 1970s, secularists in Israel were willing to make some concessions to religious Israelis. For example, David Ben-Gurion granted military exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva Students. However, this unwillingness led the secular Leftists of the 1990s to launch The Judicial Revolution.

Many secular Israelis are feeling insecure now that a religious-traditional coalition is at the helm. They believe that, if they lost any control over the justice system, they could lose all their power in the country, despite the fact that they are disproportionately in the military, and make up a large part of the economy. In response, protests erupted across Israel, shutting roads and the airport. Many military reservists have threatened not to serve. Left-wing politicians have made the situation worse by claiming democracy would be at risk if changes in the justice system became law. This is a lie.

The media still portrays judicial change as an authoritarian exercise. Israel’s coalition, despite the fact that it is objectively more authoritarian for an unelected judiciary to assume the power of a democratically-elected executive, was forced to pass the judicial reform. They would have had to admit that their coalition was not in power, despite winning the election.

Israel’s crisis won’t be solved by legislation or protests, despite media reports. It will be resolved by the Israeli people. Despite their differences, they share the same history, culture, and traditions. According to the Guttman Institute of Applied Social Research, in 1993, 78% of Israelis lighted Shabbat candles every week or sometimes, and 81% of them fasted on Yom Kippur.

Israel will not collapse. It will not break into civil war. It will continue to be a fractious and chaotic country filled with highly opinionated people who fight with each other, protest each other, argue with each other — and then share arak and chamin and cholent and falafel.