As the rift in Israeli society grows, this is what Christians abroad should know

In the past few weeks, Israel has been experiencing a deep political and societal crisis. For people abroad who feel spiritually close to the Jewish State, the situation can appear confusing. David Parsons, the Vice President and Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, offers his perspective to shed light on what is happening.  

On Friday, the heads of the protests against the judicial reforms proposed by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government vowed to hold a nationwide “week of paralysis” and on Sunday night, it seemed to appear. The mass protests that began three months ago came to a head after Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday. Gallant, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, called for the Prime Minister to compromise on the judicial reforms.

“This poses a clear, immediate, and tangible threat to the security of the state. I will not lend my hand to this,” Gallant said in a televised statement.

Dissent within the coalition would endanger the bill. If four MKs vote to oppose the reforms, it will not pass. But if four MKs abstain, the bill will still have enough votes to pass. 

As word of Gallant’s firing spread, protesters were galvanized into action, blocking major highways and lighting bonfires. 

Police and firefighters were called in to clear the highways.

The protestors broke through barriers set up outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem where the police responded with crowd control measures that included water cannons. 

The protesters then marched to the Knesset where they called for the Prime Minister to resign.

The protests spread to other sectors of Israeli society. Protesters rallied outside the homes of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, and Likud MK Yuli Edelstein’s home in Herzliya. In Raanana, protesters, numbering a thousand according to the Walla news site, broke through police barricades and demonstrated directly outside the home of Likud MK Danny Danon. 

Channel 12 reported that the mayors of Kfar Saba and Herzliya, the heads of the Upper Galilee and Shaar Hanegev regional councils, and the head of the Zichron Yaakov local council, announced a hunger strike. The report said the mayors and community leaders will strike in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

The head of the Histadrut labor federation, Arnon Bar-David, declared a labor strike on Monday, shutting down departures from Ben Gurion International Airport as labor groups in other sectors including health also declared they were joining the strike.

In addition, a group of universities announced a general strike starting Monday morning.

Discussions and negotiations over the judicial reforms are ongoing and the bill is scheduled to be presented for its final readings on Monday night in the Knesset plenum.

Last week, Israel’s Consul General in New York, Asaf Zamir, appointed to his post by then-PM Yair Lapid, was called back to Jerusalem after he voiced criticism of the reforms. On Sunday, he announced his resignation. 

The furor over the proposed judicial reforms has attracted foreign attention.  The spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, Adrienne Watson, stated on Sunday that the protests “further underscore the urgent need for compromise.”

Eugene Kontorovich, a legal scholar specializing in constitutional and international law, was skeptical about the protests.

“The protests were never about the reforms,” Kontorovich told Israel365 News. “So much of the protest was obviously pre-planned, with numerous aspects, down to the ‘Handmaid costumes’.”

He pointed out that abortion is legal in Israel and not a political issue.

“This is all just cut and pasted from anti-Trump opposition,” he added. “And left wing politicians are already planning the Jan. 6th commission to prosecute ‘perpetrators’ of the what they call the ‘coup’.”

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has proven itself to be a strong and faithful ally to Israel, remaining in Israel’s capital in 1980 when many other embassies relocated. Parsons noted that the judicial reforms are complicated as well as explosive. 

“We’ve written about it and done three webinars to keep our people informed,” Parsons told Israel365 News. “Anything anyone says about this can be misconstrued. There is a need for judicial reform. The court got too strong and engaged in too much one-sided judicial activism. The courts need to be reined in but some of the proposed reforms went too far. We would like to see a common-sense compromise.”

The ICEJ wrote an article on the protests, summing up the two sides in one sentence: 

“The roiling dispute centers around the Right’s sense that for three decades now Israel’s self-appointed liberal judiciary has over-reached in usurping power over the elected Knesset and government, and the Left’s sense that the government’s package of judicial reforms now being rushed into law are an overreach in the other direction,” Parsons wrote.

In his article, Parsons was equally critical of both the left and right-wing players for “playing a game of brinkmanship”. But in his article, Parsons was especially critical of the refusal of many IDF soldiers, pilots, and reservists to show up for duty. 

In recent weeks, hundreds of Israeli Air Force officers and military reservists have declared that they won’t report for duty if the judicial reform passes and many have already stopped reporting for duty. On Friday, about 200 reservist pilots notified their units that they would not be reporting for their weekly flying session the following week. Pilots who miss the sessions are not certified to fly operational missions. At the same time, 100 IDF doctors signed a letter, notifying their superior officers that they would no longer be reporting for reserve duty. Two hundred reservists from Unit 8200, the IDF’s main intelligence gathering unit, also said they will halt their service.

“But this week’s pilots protest has brought to the fore very real concerns about the strength, unity and readiness of the IDF, as well as how the judicial reforms now under consideration could expose Israelis to international ‘war crimes’ charges,” Parsons wrote. 

According to the experts, the protests are harming Israel also in other ways. 

“Internally, they are weakening the nation’s accepted social compact on the duty of all families to send their sons and daughters to defend the country and obey orders,” he said. “In addition, the IDF needs its best units, including pilots and intelligence analysts, in top form if they want to confront the urgent Iranian nuclear threat. The protests also are harming Israel externally, as her enemies need only point to the Left’s criticism that Israel’s democracy is being trampled.”

“Modern Israel has spent 75 years now facing one crisis after another, and always seems to come out better,” Parsons concluded. “Let’s pray they can truly celebrate these accomplishments together not many days hence.”

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