After three years and four unstable governments, Israelis in November 2022 elected a right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with 64 seats in the country’s 120-member parliament, the Knesset. The new government first tried to reform the country’s judicial system. Under the proposed package, Israel’s unusually powerful Supreme Court would no longer override government decisions on the sole grounds of unreasonability; the selection committee for Israel’s judges would be composed mostly of elected politicians, rather than unelected justices and bar-association members, who lean left and usually vote together; and the Knesset would be empowered to override high-court rulings with a simple majority.
The legislative proposal was met with the largest protests in Israeli history—and starkly underlined the social weakness of conservative and religious Israelis.
At the end of March, Netanyahu, the shrewdest and most dominant Israeli political figure of the last half-century, suspended the reform push and called for compromise. The government and opposition have now negotiated for some weeks, and the premier recently said judicial reform will be prioritized, now that the budget has been passed. But the protests seem to have lowered the ambitions of Israel’s right-wing government, which would likely lose power to a center-left coalition if elections were held today.
The protests went far beyond professional activists in liberal Tel Aviv. Army reservists refused to show up for duty. Captains of Israel’s high-tech industry warned that the reforms would cripple a pillar of Israel’s prosperity and security. Their warnings were seconded by major investors in Israeli companies. The Israeli shekel lost 5 percent of its value in February, the month the reforms passed a preliminary Knesset vote. The Israeli economy is doing fine now, but the numerous supporters of the judicial reforms wonder how, exactly, a government with a commanding majority could blunder so badly, so early, on something that seemed to matter to it so much.