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‘Netanyahu becoming Pharaoh’: Arab media reacts to judicial reform

"Israeli democracy is now facing real danger that threatens the country's very existence," one commentator wrote, adding that Israel's image as the region's only democracy is at stake.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, from left, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Energy Minister Israel Katz and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (with his back to the camera) attend the votes at the Knesset on proposed changes to the "reasonableness bill," July 24, 2023. Photo by Yoav Dudkevitch/TPS.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, from left, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Energy Minister Israel Katz and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (with his back to the camera) attend the votes at the Knesset on proposed changes to the "reasonableness bill," July 24, 2023. Photo by Yoav Dudkevitch/TPS.

The recent legislation passed by the Knesset as part of the Israeli government’s judicial reform push—a bill that effectively restricts the courts’ ability to strike down government decisions on the grounds that they are unreasonable—elicited a host of reactions in the Arab world, including among refugees and exiles in Europe.

“Why is [Benjamin] Netanyahu insisting on becoming Pharaoh?” wrote Mohamed Khirallah, a commentator who is part of the Egyptian exile in Sweden.

“Everyone knows the threat of tyranny, its catastrophe, and its implications. But only those who tasted it know how bitter it is. I was one of them. I had to leave my country to save my life. Today Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East. We struggled to become like it, and we continue to do so. So when the Israeli government passes the first station on the railway to a tyrannical Middle Eastern state—we recognize that path,” he wrote.

He added, “Israeli democracy is now facing real danger that threatens the country’s very existence. Ever since the first bill was passed, the risk of civil war has been increasing. In that sense, the date of the passage—July 27, 2023—is the Israeli equivalent to Egypt’s August 31, 1969, when President Gamal Abdel Nasser carried out the so-called ‘Massacre of the Judiciary’ to consolidate his tyranny. Some 200 judges were fired [during] that incident on the grounds that they were hostile to the 1952 officers’ coup that Nasser led.”

Tariq al-Homayed, a Saudi journalist and writer, as well as the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper (which is indirectly owned by the Saudi government), wrote: “Israel has long been described as the ‘democratic’ state of our region, and this is why it is the United States and the West’s trusted ally. However, amid the ongoing battle over judicial reform led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite mass opposition, its image is changing.

“Today, we can say Israel has succumbed to the rules of the game in the region, becoming a quintessential Middle Eastern state. A third of its electorate votes for religious parties steeped in mysticism, and its prime minister is leading the push to curb the judiciary’s authority and autonomy. He is doing this in the name of ‘democracy,’ although Netanyahu’s coalition is shaky and was built after a deeply divided Israel voted in several elections.

“Indeed, the abolition of what is known as the ‘Reasonableness Doctrine’ law lacks genuine majority support…. The point here is that Netanyahu’s Israel is increasingly playing the rules of the region, where power corrupts, and corruption is enshrined into all, all under the veneer of state legitimacy.”

He added, “By ‘the region,’ I am referring to the countries that have undermined their stability under the pretext that they were working on wiping Israel off the map, as well as with other slogans. Insidiously exploiting democratic slogans, the authorities in these countries have given rise to the state of affairs we see today, which speak for themselves. Someone might ask: ‘Are you also referring to the Arab Gulf states?’ The answer is no. I am a staunch royalist… The Gulf states, first and foremost Saudi Arabia, seek stability and prosperity. They want development in a region plagued by the lies of nationalists, Islamists, those claiming to be democrats, and others exploiting the various slogans that have been bombarding the region since the early 1970s.”

The London-based al-Quds al-Arabi wrote in an editorial, “The bill limiting the reasonableness test will severely cripple judicial review on the government and will make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to intervene in matters where ministers make decisions that are arbitrary, corrupt or severe, as well as those that violate human rights. Even though we believe the current system of government in Israel is not democratic but ethnocratic—the Jewish citizens enjoy some elements of a democratic regime, including the protections afforded by the justice system.”

Jordanian commentator Ayman al-Khanity expressed bewilderment over the selfie taken in the Knesset plenum by some of the coalition lawmakers after the bill passed. “A victory selfie after the first bill of the judicial reform passes. This is a picture that angered many Israelis, who began to ask, who is the real prime minister: Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, or MK Simcha Rothman?”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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