A Coup in Review
August 18, 2023
The tension in Israel is escalating as the Supreme Court prepares for oral hearings this September on petitions urging the court to overturn the constitutional amendment that removed the reasonableness standard.
The spotlight this week was on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Over the past month, thousands of volunteer reserve officers have informed the army of their intent to withdraw their service if the contentious judicial coup legislation passes. Their concerns have intensified as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other cabinet members have either remained evasive about respecting a potential Supreme Court decision invalidating the amendment or have outright stated that such a ruling would be baseless.
The IDF, particularly its air force, heavily depends on these seasoned reserve officers. The head of the air force has already expressed apprehensions about the force’s state of readiness. Earlier this week, Netanyahu convened a meeting with chief of staff Herzi Halevi and other top-ranking officers. According to media reports, Netanyahu was adamant that the legislation would proceed. He directed the IDF’s top brass to ensure the force remains combat ready, a task that appears overwhelmingly challenging, even for experienced military leaders like Halevi.
Adding to this complexity, some government ministers publicly criticized the Chief of Staff, accusing him of failing to manage the dissenting voices within the IDF. Such overt criticisms of military leadership are unprecedented.
Meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition are considering withdrawing their support for the judicial coup legislation, not out of opposition to the perceived anti-democratic nature of the laws, but due to another contentious issue: the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Torah students into the IDF. They are demanding swift passage of legislation exempting these students from military service. Back in 2014, the Knesset approved such an exemption, but it was later nullified by the Supreme Court, citing equality concerns. After nine years of delays, the ruling that struck down this law came into force at the end of June. Thus, since last July, ultra-Orthodox youth, like all other 18-year olds in Israel, have been required to serve in the IDF. This shift underscores the urgency felt by the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, parents have sent their children to serve and risk their lives for the state. This commitment persisted even if they disagreed with the government or its policies. Now, there’s an unprecedented fear that the IDF might struggle to remain unified amidst these potent political rifts. As the IDF bears the brunt of these pressures, there’s growing unease that many Israelis might hesitate to serve a government they perceive as undemocratic, especially as ultra-Orthodox parties, who abstain from military service and promote anti-democratic laws, gain more budgetary influence.
Amid this tumultuous backdrop, Netanyahu’s decision to vacation near the Sea of Galilee last weekend struck many as an odd and seemingly tone-deaf move, considering the societal fractures Israel currently faces.
Dr. Ido Baum is the legal commentator of the daily newspaper TheMarker. He is an associate professor of law at the Haim Striks Law Faculty at the College of Management in Israel and heads the Louis Brandeis Institute for Society, Economy, and Democracy. He is also a contributor to USA for Israeli Democracy.