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Democracy or a Divided Zionist Movement: Subtext of the Israeli Pro-Democracy Protests

April 6, 2023

Latest Israeli shameful, racist attack on Al Aqsa Mosque. Israeli occupation troops beat Palestinian worshippers as they attempt to flee the Al Aqsa compound. As usual, this flagrant thuggery was met with mealy mouthed, hollow statements by Israel’s Western patrons, leading to today’s escalation

(This article by Cassis Tingley appeared in April 3, 2023 edition of The Clarion, the University of Denver’s student newspaper of longstanding. I am quoted here and there)

Democracy or a divided Zionist movement: the subtext of the Israeli pro-democracy protests

After three months in power, the polarizing effects of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition are coming to a head. Since entering office, Netanyahu has clearly stated his plans to reform the Supreme Court by bestowing the power to override Supreme Court decisions and nominate judges to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

By removing the courts’ power to make decisions independently from the Knesset, Netanyahu hopes to give his ruling coalition absolute power in Israeli policy-making. The Knesset vote for the reforms was scheduled for last week.

As the day of the vote approached, Israelis came out to the streets to protest in increasingly larger numbers. Last Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant became the first high-profile member of Netanyahu’s cabinet to cave to public pressure and publicly advocate for compromise on the reforms.

Netanyahu responded by firing Gallant, sparking uproar across Israel. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reservists refused to report to duty; hundreds of thousands of Israelis blocked highways and protested in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; a general strike across Israel was announced for Monday, March 27.

The immense public pressure pushed Netanyahu to announce the postponement of the vote for one month. However, there is no indication that the reforms are off the table.

The events surrounding the judicial reforms have sparked a global conversation about the state of Israeli democracy. However, these conversations often neglect to discuss the effects on Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

Omar, a representative of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Working Group on Palestine who did not wish to be identified by his last name for this article, noted the implications of the protests. “The Israeli population is demonstrating a capacity to challenge its government,” he said. “That capacity has always existed, but it’s never been utilized to challenge settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing.”

Retired DU professor Rob Prince pointed out that, while the reforms debate rages within Israeli society, violence at the hands of Israeli settlers and the IDF continues to intensify across Occupied Palestine. “The settlers have been given the green light to wreak havoc over Palestinian lands and Palestinian farms,” said Prince. “Israel wants to keep the Palestinians down even more harshly now so it can deal with its own internal struggle.”

Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank since the first Intifada, raising alarm bells across the international community over escalating repression. As of March 12, 80 Palestinians have been killed in the Occupied West Bank this year. This puts 2023 on track to be 2.5 times as deadly as 2022.

Netanyahu and his ultranationalist coalition show no signs of curbing these violent trends. To keep the peace within his coalition, the vast majority of which supported the judiciary overhaul, Netanyahu promised National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir he would propose the creation of a National Guard to be headed by Ben-Gvir to the Israeli cabinet. Ben-Gvir had threatened to resign following the postponement of the judicial reforms, and many believe the proposed National Guard force would be a formalized entity for settler violence.

The discourse surrounding the pro-democracy, anti-Netanyahu protests rarely addresses these issues because the protests themselves are about the effects of Netanyahu’s policies on Israelis rather than the occupation of Palestinian land and repression of Palestinians.

“The different elements of Israeli society are in conflict with one another,” explained Prince. “The Palestinians have no place in this internal struggle.”

Omar agreed, saying “the struggle is not of what [Israeli government officials] are doing, it’s how they look when they’re doing it.”

To the U.S., whose power is dwindling in the region, internal Israeli issues are bad for business. Following the China-brokered Iran/Saudi Arabia deal, which Prince called a “blow to the head” of American and Israeli influence in the Middle East, the U.S. has become increasingly desperate to hang onto its regional power.

In the American/Israeli bilateral context, this means halting what has become a catastrophe of Israeli optics. Despite Biden’s long standing tolerance of Netanyahu, established support for Zionism and continuation of billions of dollars in annual U.S. military aid to Israel, he issued a statement last Tuesday asking Netanyahu to compromise on the judicial reforms.

The protests come at a time when Israel is already in a weak place. The Zionist movement is, for the first time in years, publicly divided. Moreover, Israel is increasingly isolated by its neighbors and unable to attack other countries in the region with impunity.

Prince acknowledged the duality of the tension and opportunity posed by these events. “Even… in these dark days for Palestine, there is, for the first time in decades, some hope for change,” he reflected.


In addition – a message from Beit Ummar under seige:


We received the following message from Bessan Adi, Director of the Center for Freedom and Justice in Beit Ummar.
“Yesterday, Israeli soldiers attached Al Aqsa Mousque and all the people who were praying there or breaking their fast. they broke many windowns and burnt many things and they hit women and shot one in the head and I head that they arrested many.
at the same time here in Beit Ummar, lots of Israeli jeeps were at the entrance and then a strong attack has happened, they were shooting randmoly indicating that they want to kill. theyn they caused the electricity to go off in the whole town, and it was possible that there were settlers disguising as palestinians to sieze the chance that there’s no electricity and to attack Palestinians.
after that they closed all the intrances to the town and wend to houses and stores to take their cameras and see who were throwing stones at them.
until this morning, Isaeli soldiers are at the entrance preventing people from going to work or moving.
it is very much possible that the attacks will go on,”
One Comment leave one →
  1. Phil Jones permalink
    April 6, 2023 11:48 am

    While I agree with your comments, I find it odd that the student newspaper quotes a retired member of the university’s faculty. Are there no active faculty members that can comment on events in Israel? Why did the writer contact you? Family friend or what?

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