On April 17-18, Israel observed Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. Sirens sounded across the country while people stood for two minutes of silence in remembrance of six million murdered Jews. Wreaths were laid at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech calling on Israelis for unity.
The speech, however, was apparently not heard by everyone. Protests against his government soon resumed. A week later, on April 24-25, on Memorial Day, when Israelis pay their respects to soldiers who have fallen so that Israel might live, Netanyahu once again called for unity. The next day, when Israel celebrated Independence Day, some people decided not to participate in the official ceremony, holding a “protest celebration” instead.
Following its November 2022 election, Israel was plunged into turmoil. Massive demonstrations both in support of and against the government have been organized for weeks. Ostensibly the demonstrations are concerning a proposed judicial reform bill, but in reality appear to be about retaining or overthrowing the newly elected government.
Some demonstrators want to overthrow the government and permanently eliminate Netanyahu from Israeli politics. Others, even more, believe he is the best prime minister to lead them through a time when the entire Muddle East, including Israel, is facing the threat of nuclear destruction from a relentless Iran.
It is the first time in Israel’s short history that a large-scale movement has been launched using undemocratic means to overthrow a democratically elected government.
It is also the first time that Israeli opposition political leaders, including former military chiefs of staff, have issued calls for civil disobedience and incited IDF reservists to not report for duty. In a country under constant threat, such a move was considered inconceivable.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, in the United Kingdom on March 27, outlined, with no visible shame, his strategy to topple Israel’s government, which he incorrectly defined as “basically a dictatorship.” For a citizen of a democratic country to go to a foreign country to say he wants to topple his own government could be considered an act of treason. Barak did not even try to hide that those who follow him are a tiny minority: 3.5% of a population, he stated, is enough to overthrow a government.
Yair Lapid, former interim prime minister until December 2022, was in New York in April, to meet the leaders of American Jewish organizations. He also urged the overthrow of Israel’s democratically elected government. “You have a voice,” he encouraged leaders of American Jewish organizations, “and you have the right to use it.”
The leaders of the nonprofit organization Am Echad, committed to strengthening the connection between Israel and Jews outside it, replied:
“It is disingenuous of you to accuse the government of undermining Israeli democracy and calling on American Jews to get up in arms to protect Israel from its own leadership.”
Other Israeli politicians and former military chiefs joined in. Moshe Ya’alon, a former defense minister and former IDF chief of general staff, accused Netanyahu of “sacrificing democracy” and of being “ready to burn down the country and its values.” Former IDF chief of general staff Gadi Eisenkot claimed that Netanyahu and his government are “badly harming the national interests of the State of Israel.” And so on.
By contrast, Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, said that “Lapid’s traitorous trip is a disgrace that has cemented his status as head of the ‘disloyal opposition.'” Klein accused Lapid of “sowing anarchy and fomenting outside foreign pressures that trample upon the will of the Israeli public.”
Palestinian terrorist organizations, meanwhile, took advantage of the disruption to kill more Jews. The year 2022 had been one the deadliest years in recent memory in Israel—which is the reason a strong government, led by Netanyahu, was elected in the first place.
For Israel’s enemies, damage to Israel’s international reputation is always near the top of the wish list. The international media, always ready to show its contempt for Israel, also seems to enjoy what is happening. Articles in the European press blindly describe—incorrectly of course—the Netanyahu government as “extreme right-wing with fascist tendencies.”
On March 30, journalist Joshua Leifer wrote in Britain’s The Guardian that “Israel hasn’t been a democracy for a long time. Now, Israelis need to face this fact.” In France’s Le Monde, Netanyahu, along with Cabinet ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, are described as racists and “Jewish supremacists.”
“Israeli Democracy Faces a Mortal Threat,” Israeli novelist David Grossman wrote in The Atlantic. The threat he speaks of is the Netanyahu government—which he, too, incorrectly describes as wanting to “abolish democracy.”
The new government, in fact, is trying to restore democracy—by reforming Supreme Court practices adopted in the 1990s, which allow unelected, unaccountable Supreme Court justices to deliver rulings based on “reasonableness” rather than on written law—often meaning, “whatever I think is reasonable.”
Israel’s Supreme Court currently asserts the right to veto both political appointments and military decisions; it has no mechanism for recourse and no requirement for “standing”—meaning that the litigant need not be directly affected by the decision. On the contrary, anyone can directly petition the Supreme Court, anytime, about anything. This has opened the floodgates for lawsuits by “concerned” non-governmental organizations dissatisfied with decisions that Israel has taken.
In addition, it is sitting justices—not the electorate and not the parliament—who have the power to approve or veto any appointment of new justices, leading to a closed “club” in which no one is flustered by dissent.
In short, Israel’s Supreme Court currently has almost limitless power.
As far as economic damage goes, 255 American Jewish business leaders an open letter on March 13 published saying that they “feel compelled to reevaluate their reliance on Israel as a strategic destination for investment.” On March 8, an Israeli technology company, Riskified, announced that it had decided to transfer $500 million out of the country, and offered relocation packages to staff members. On April 16, Moody’s credit rating agency downgraded the credit outlook of the Israeli economy from “positive” to “stable.” The move was seen by many as just the continuation of ongoing efforts to overthrow Israel’s government by “economic warfare.”
U.S. President Joe Biden on March 28 harshly criticized the Israeli government. “I’m very concerned. … They [members of the Israeli government] cannot continue down this road. And I’ve sort of made that clear.” He added that he would not invite Netanyahu to the White House “in the near term.”
“Israel,” Netanyahu answered, “is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”
The Biden administration, staffed by many of the same people who comprised the Obama administration, has behaved as an enemy of Israel from day one. The administration quickly restored U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority without asking it to stop supporting terrorism or even to stop inciting violence. It then opened a U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs and installed, as “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” Hady Amr, who has admitted being “inspired by the Palestinian intifada.”
The 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices published by the U.S. Department of State describes Israel as a country that does not respect the most essential human rights: those who wrote the report base their accusations on leftist and pro-Palestinian NGOs, which are cited extensively throughout the text. The report alleges—without any reference to the threats of extermination from and terrorism perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and, behind them all, an openly genocidal Iran—that “the Israeli government or its agents commit arbitrary or unlawful killings,” “use torture,” and practice “arbitrary arrest and detention.”
The administration’s hostility to Israel has grown since the day Netanyahu won the Israeli elections in November 2022, and it seems now to be directly trying to bring down the Netanyahu government while supporting Netanyahu’s enemies both inside and outside Israel. The administration has even used U.S. taxpayer money to fund the Movement for Quality Government (MQG), an Israeli NGO that organizes protests and disseminates propaganda hostile to Netanyahu and his government.
The Biden administration has, to its credit, during the hundreds of recent missile attacks—more than 1,200 rockets over five days, launched at a country the size of New Jersey—said that “Israel has the right to protect itself and defend its people from indiscriminate rocket attacks launched by terrorist groups”—yet for the past two years, has done nothing to eliminate Israel’s most serious threat—Iran’s nuclear program—apart from seemingly trying to have Iran not use any nuclear weapons during the current administration’s term.
The Biden administration has, additionally, considerably eroded America’s influence in the Middle East, thereby creating a situation of extreme peril for Israel and other erstwhile U.S. allies in the Gulf. Biden, even during his 2020 presidential campaign, repeatedly vowed to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah.” Just weeks after his inauguration, his administration removed from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations the Houthis, one of Iran’s proxy militias that had been waging a civil war in Yemen for years on the way to the real target: Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis reacted to this courtesy by ratcheting up attacks on Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi—while the Biden administration refused to put the Houthis back on the terror list. This rebuff was followed by the administration’s refusal to promise that it would stop negotiating with Iran for a deal enabling the mullahs to have unlimited nuclear weapons, and amid fears that the United States would not protect Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies in the Gulf from Iran.
The seemingly unremitting desire of the Biden administration to reach an agreement with the Iranian regime at almost any price and to realign American foreign policy in the Middle East toward a policy led by Iran was evidently what led to Saudi Arabia’s restoration of ties with the Islamic Republic. Biden’s eagerness to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” had turned an ally into a question mark.
Meanwhile, despite the decidedly unsavory murder of Osama bin Laden’s friend and Muslim Brotherhood acolyte Jamal Khashoggi, the Iranian regime is revealing day by day that it is far more dangerous than Saudi Arabia to the stability of the region and beyond, as well as more hostile to human rights (here, here, and here) than Saudi Arabia ever was.
As many of the U.S. sanctions on Iran have been lifted, it has grown even more aggressive, accelerating its quest for nuclear weapons. Iran can now enrich uranium to 84% purity, or weapons-grade. Moreover, the strategic cooperation agreement signed in March 2021 between Iran and China has deepened the ties between the mullahs and the Chinese Communist Party, geopolitically and economically, to the detriment of the United States. The means of payment on which they agreed will not be the world’s reserve currency for oil, the U.S. dollar, but instead, China’s yuan.
Iran’s mullahs also can see that the United Arab Emirates in 2021 signed a contract with the Chinese company Huawei, now building a 5G network in the Gulf state and thereby rendering the UAE totally vulnerable to Chinese intelligence penetration. That contract was followed by the cancellation of a $23 billion arms purchase from the United States. The mullahs also saw that the UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan welcomed the deal between Saudi Arabia and them, and called it “an important step for the region towards stability and prosperity.”
As for Israel, Iran’s mullahs can see that their access to nuclear weapons is considered by Netanyahu and his government a mortal danger to Israel, and hope that the current turmoil in Israel might make Israeli action against Iran more difficult.
The official Iranian media headlined statements by former Israeli premiers Barak and Lapid claiming that Israel was on the verge of collapse.
Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas most likely hope that a rain of missiles far more intense than that launched by Hamas in May 2021 against Israel could exhaust Israel’s stock of Iron Dome air defense interceptors. The mullahs apparently hope that such an attack would have catastrophic consequences.
If an attack were launched against Israel, China, Russia and European countries would most likely protest verbally, but would not act to defend Israel.
The mullahs probably assume that the Biden administration, already involved in Ukraine and anticipating trouble from the Chinese Communist Party in the Indo-Pacific—such as trying to take over Taiwan—would, like Europe, fail to react. Biden, hoping to win the 2024 election, will most likely tell the cameras that “Israel has the right to defend itself”—but he would avoid intervening at all costs.
Recently, the United States removed munitions stored in Israel and shipped them to Ukraine; the materiel has not been replaced. A few weeks ago, when a key official in Israel’s defense ministry was in Washington to request more American support for Israel in case the Israeli government thinks it necessary to attack Iran’s nuclear program, no answer was given.
“Hezbollah, Hamas and their Iranian bosses believe they can attack Israel with impunity,” wrote Israeli journalist Caroline Glick last month.
“Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Hossein Salami, along with various Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders and preachers, have given speeches declaring that Israel is falling apart and its destruction is imminent and calling for their jihadist forces to prepare for victory,” she wrote.
In a later column, she wrote:
“With our ruling class in full revolt, Israel’s most important institutions—first and foremost, the IDF—are reeling. Our ability to defend ourselves on the battlefield and in diplomatic circles is constrained as never before. With our elites declaring our government illegitimate, and lobbying American Jews and politicians to boycott our leaders and reject the morality of the public that voted them into office, the government must fight against our enemies, against anti-Semitism, against BDS campaigns and anti-Israel propaganda machines with both hands tied behind its back, its mouth gagged while hopping on one foot. This situation is unsustainable.
” … we must find a way to restore sanity and a sense of common destiny to our national life. We don’t have a spare country. Our ruling class needs to return to its senses and remember this obvious fact.”
On April 27, hundreds of thousands of Israelis poured into Jerusalem for a rally to support the government. One protester said: “Who wants to destroy Israel? Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, of course, but the Israeli left today is also a danger for the country.”
“Look how much strength we have,” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told the crowd.
“They have the media and tycoons who finance demonstrations. We have the majority of the people, who demand and give us full backing to fix what needs to be fixed … We will not give up,” he said.
On April 24, Netanyahu said: “The land of Israel and the State of Israel are acquired through many trials and tribulations,” adding, “They will not overcome us; we will overcome them.”
A terrorist had carried out a car-ramming attack at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market a few hours earlier. Netanyahu was talking about terrorists, but his words could be addressed to all enemies of Israel and to all those who want to destroy it.
Guy Millière is a professor at the University of Paris and the author of 27 books on France and Europe.
Originally published by the Gatestone Institute.