The Israeli majority wants dialogue on judicial reform

The extremists on both sides of the divide must come to their senses and stop the descent into violence.

Israeli students and teachers protest against planned judicial reforms in Tel Aviv on Feb. 5, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Israeli students and teachers protest against planned judicial reforms in Tel Aviv on Feb. 5, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Shuki Friedman. Credit: The Israel Democracy Institute.
Shuki Friedman
Shuki Friedman, Ph.D., is vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a lecturer in law at the Peres Academic Center.

The past week has seen a host of harsh statements from opponents of the constitutional revolution being advanced by the Israeli government. These denunciations, followed by counterattacks from proponents of judicial reform, have moved Israel a few steps closer to the abyss.

The current atmosphere is combustible. In just the past few days, strident, dangerous and reprehensible statements have been made that may not have killed anyone but, as Israeli history teaches us, could potentially motivate “one madman” to take violent action and significantly worsen the situation.

A survey conducted by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) via the Smith Institute has revealed that a significant percentage of Israelis fear a deterioration into violence. A third of respondents believe there is a “fairly strong or strong” chance that the battle over the judicial reforms will degenerate into violence and mass civil unrest

Perhaps not surprisingly, this fear is more prevalent among opponents of the reforms (44%) than among supporters (27%). This is likely because the atmosphere of urgency is stronger among the opposition.

These troubling findings can be explained by the fact that most of those aware of the reforms (44%) oppose them, as opposed to 41% who support them. Moreover, over a third of Israelis (37%) think the government lacks a mandate to advance such an extensive reform package without a broad consensus. Even a significant proportion of right-wing voters (31%) feel this way, though a similar share hold that the government does have a legitimate basis for advancing the reforms, even if they are extremely controversial.

What could keep us from falling into the abyss? It’s simple: dialogue. Half of the Israeli public believes that opponents and proponents of the reforms should sit down and talk in order to reach points of agreement. Fifty-eight percent of those opposed to the reforms hold this view, while 43% of those in favor support dialogue as well.

The survey also asked who Israelis think should play a central role in the effort to impose compromise on the two sides of the constitutional revolution. The findings are interesting here as well: While a third of the respondents feel that the Knesset should and presumably could do so, over a third believe Israel’s President Isaac Herzog is the most appropriate party to lead the effort, along with 39% who believe that legal and academic experts are best suited to the task.

The five election cycles to which Israelis have been subjected over the last three years have intensified and heightened internal discord to a level that feels unprecedented. The government-promoted judicial reforms, which seek to change Israel’s constitutional framework and government structure—and thus the character of the state—are being pushed in the context of an already-polarized society. The government’s use of its power to the fullest extent possible in order to introduce such dramatic changes amid deep controversy endangers our existence.

The survey findings, which confirm the results of similar polls taken over the past few days, chart a path out of the crisis. The public, encompassing both supporters and opponents of the government, wants the two sides to find a way to talk.

On the one hand, we have the “not one judicial inch” proponents, who sincerely fear for our democracy and are unprepared for even the smallest compromise. On the other hand, we have a democratically elected government, some of whose members are determined to exhaust all the means at their disposal to enact the reforms, and are not willing to listen to others or attempt to strike a balance between the two sides.

Both of these groups need to come to their senses, heed the voice of the Israeli majority and, together, stop the downward spiral before real violence engulfs the country.

Dr. Shuki Friedman is vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a lecturer in law at the Peres Academic Center. He is the author of a newly released textbook Being a Nation State in the Twenty-First Century: Between State and Synagogue in Modern Israel published by Academic Studies Press.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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