The Irish Times view on protests in Israel: Netanyahu buys time

The campaign against the judiciary is about far more than legal procedure - it is a battle about the nature of Israel

Binyamin Netanyahu has bought himself some time – though not very much. The Israeli prime minister’s deferral to the next parliamentary session of controversial legislation to “reform” the judiciary may temporarily take some steam out of a debate that has prompted huge rallies and strikes, dissent in the army and business, and risks tipping the country, many say, towards a kind of civil war. But it is a precarious juggling act, calculated above all to preserve the Houdini of Israeli politics.

While promising time for discussion on the issue, Netanyahu has also moved to placate coalition allies, who were threatening to quit and bring down the government, with a promise to his extreme-right minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to set up a national guard under his aegis as security minister. This fills Palestinians and civil rights supporters with dread. Gilad Kariv, from Labor, insists a national guard should be under the control of the police and that establishing it under Ben-Gvir would be “a serious threat to democracy”.

For many Israelis the sacking of defence minister Yoav Gallant over his opposition to the Bill was the final straw. On Monday they poured on to the streets in their hundreds of thousands in Israel’s biggest ever protest movement. Trade unions called a general strike. Netanyahu saw the writing on the wall.

Opposition groups remain wary of promises that the prime minister will actually engage with them and make any concessions on the legislation. Netanyahu needs the defanging of the judiciary to help him stay out of jail on corruption charges, while his far-right coalition partners, who want to entrench Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, also see the court as an obstacle. The religious parties are angry that the court has opposed certain privileges and financial subsidies for the ultra-Orthodox.


The campaign against the judiciary is about far more than legal procedure. It is a battle about the nature of Israel as a secular, democratic state. That battle will ultimately only be resolved by a general election.