Protestors take to the streets as unrest grows in Israel. Courtesy of the Associated Press.

Protests and strikes against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have erupted across Israel, with many criticizing a proposed set of bills meant to overhaul the Israeli judicial system. The bills, pushed by Netanyahu and his coalition, include proposals to restrict the powers of the courts and judges. Netanyahu and other supporters of the bills see it as a necessary step in reigning the power of an unelected judiciary, while others see it as a power grab that would destroy important systems of checks and balances and allow Netanyahu to pursue his party’s ideological agenda uninhibited. 

Protests, to a lesser extent, have been raging since the plan was announced, when Netanyahu’s confidant Justice Minister Yariv Levin first shared the judicial platform in January. However, mass unrest broke out when Netanyahu abruptly fired the defense minister for opposing the plan. 

Prior to his dismissal, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had shared concerns that the plan was creating political division within the military and was hurting morale. 

“I see how our source of strength is being eroded,” said Gallant. After the firing of Gallant, Israel’s Consul General, Assaf Zamir, resigned in protest. Within the hour, protesters organized with tens of thousands of people blocking the main highway in Tel Aviv, while others protested outside of Netanyahu’s home. 

Members of Israel’s military reserve have joined the protests, with nearly all 40 reservist pilots in the Israeli air force squadron 69 participating in protests and refusing to continue their training exercise, claiming they weren’t going to serve a “dictatorial regime.”  

The pilots, flying F-15 planes, are essential to the military force of Israel, raising serious questions about the operational competence of the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Security officials are reportedly raising concerns about possible refusal to follow orders and other acts of insubordination occurring within the serving military ranks. 

It is inconceivable for me that I would ever do something like this. I was in the air force for 31 years; 16 of those were under Netanyahu, even though I never voted for him,” said Omer Denk, a retired 51-year-old F-15 fighter jet pilot. 

“This isn’t about politics or policy,” said Denk. “This is about a crisis in trust in a leadership that wants to destroy Israel as a liberal democracy.” 

Protesting has continued to spread with Israel’s largest trade union, Histadrut, declaring a general strike. The union, which represents more than 800,000 people, includes workers in healthcare, government services and transportation. 

McDonald’s in Israel also said it was joining the strike, tweeting on Monday that they would begin closing stores. Industry leaders in Israeli tech have spoken out against Netanyahu’s proposal. Eynat Guez, CEO of software company Papaya Global, tweeted that she would “be removing all of the company’s money from the country” due to the proposal. Two venture capital firms in Israel have reportedly decided to do the same. 

Israel’s national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced that the plan to gut the judiciary system had been postponed until the Parliament’s summer session. Netanyahu issued a statement saying that the postponement was “to avoid a civil war.” He said that he was looking to find “a real opportunity for real dialogue,” but also stated that he was planning on going forward with the proposal. 

In a speech to the nation, Netanyahu compared himself to the historical figure King Solomon. In the Biblical story, two women come to King Solomon arguing who is the true mother of a baby. In response, Solomon says he would cut the child in half so that each woman would get half. While one agreed, the real mother opposed the idea. It is revealed that Solomon’s decision was a test and the mother who didn’t want the baby cut in half got custody. 

“Today, two sides of a national disagreement claim to love the baby; To love our country,” said Netanyahu. “I am attentive to many people’s desires to end this tension.” 

“When there is a chance to stop civil war through dialogue, I as prime minister am taking time out for dialogue. I am giving a real opportunity for real dialogue…We stand by the need to bring about necessary changes to the legal system, and we will give an opportunity to achieve them through broad consensus,” continued Netanyahu, claiming that the overhaul was “out of a national responsibility and a will to avoid dividing the nation.” 

The Biden administration has reported that they have been watching the situation in Israel carefully with White House Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying that the White House was “deeply concerned” about the situation and were encouraging compromise.

“Compromise is precisely what we have been calling for, and we continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible,” said Jean-Pierre “We believe that it is the best path forward for Israel and all its citizens to find this compromise. Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”