Israel’s Protests Are a Battle Over the Meaning of a Jewish State

Israel’s Protests Are a Battle Over the Meaning of a Jewish State
Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul Israel’s judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 18, 2023 (AP photo by Ohad Zwigenberg).

The so-called judicial reform launched by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has roiled Israeli society, setting off massive protests that possibly constitute the largest social unrest the country has ever seen. Whole swaths of Israeli society that were previously proudly apolitical have taken to the streets, including the business sector—most notably, the booming high-tech industry—and military reservists. Start-up companies are withdrawing their funds from Israeli banks, and air force pilots are withdrawing from active service.

The energetic and resolute reaction by a liberal public that had been considered politically moribund for years likely took Netanyahu by surprise. Netanyahu expected smooth sailing, having secured a robust majority in the Knesset with a new coalition that finally delivered on his promise of a government that is “fully right-wing.”

The election that brought Netanyahu back as prime minister in November—Israel’s seventh in 10 years—was called when the previous government fell apart under relentless pressure from the right. The coalition of then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett comprised parties from the right, center and left that were united only in their determination to keep Netanyahu from power.

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