Honestly, it sounds like this showdown would have happened sooner or later, Bibi or no Bibi. Should your “New Caesars” thesis differentiate between opportunists like Trump and Bibi, and folks like Putin and Orbàn who create their own opportunities?

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Well, this is a fun crowd. A few key points: I'm well aware that there were 5 elections in recent years. To say that Likud "won" them all is factually incorrect. With respect to the last election, which led to him forming a coalition, the "right wing bloc" is many things but not that. It is an opportunistic alliance of religious interests. Some want money and to be legally free to contribute zero to the sate - militarily and financially. Others are hell bent on a more scorched earth approach to governance. As for Likud, well, let's just say the quality left the room. Even Likudniks say that now - privately and publicly.

But perhaps most importantly - the so called judicial reform - was never presented to the electorate. It was a platform only for the RZ party. Not Likud. Certainly not publicly. So the position that the majority voted and endorsed this dramatic reshaping of liberal democracy in Israel is also factually untrue.

What the reform has done - and the undemocratic manner in which it has been shoved down the nation's gullet - is to highlight long neglected tensions in Israel. It has also highlighted the vulnerability of liberal democracy in this country.

As for Bibi's alliance with fringe lunatics because he had no choice......cry me a river. There's a reason he had no choice. Just look at what his new pals are saying about being in government with him.

Israel's judicial system sure does need reform. But not this and not in this way. Israel also needs reform of the Chief Rabbinate. And education system. Even Yariv Levin is saying that maybe they didn't handle this so spectacularly well. You do not undertake comprehensive reform with no issue management or comms plan. Nevermind the major gaps in logic and knowledge of the system they proposed.

As for being tedious and tendentious. Noone forced you to read. And I'm not a clever lawyer - who ever said that?!?!? I'm just a tendentious tedious ill-informed crazy person with an agenda.

Oh., And we didn't even get to the economics of it all. Even Bibi gets that. As do to the haredim. Their entitlements cannot be funded. Tell you what. Come to Israel and see what's going on.

What is going on in France is completely different. Pretty darn impressive that Israel faces an assault on liberal democracy - not the retirement age - and you see nowhere near the degree of violence as in France.

Thanks to all in this thread for reading and commenting.

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“Pretty darn impressive that Israel faces an assault on liberal democracy - not the retirement age - and you see nowhere near the degree of violence as in France.”

Hmmmm. Either you’re being sarcastic? (I always miss social clues.) Or I’ve got to ask: why is it impressive that people won’t fight any way they need to for liberal democracy? If they had a critical mass the election results would be different and they wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. But they clearly don’t - so what’s a demo or two going to achieve?

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Not being sarcastic at all. It is impressive that week after week hundreds of thousands of citizens are demonstrating peacefully and peaceably to make a point. It's a lot more than "a demo or two." If you're not familiar with the civil unrest that has rocked Israel since January then I invite you to check out my substack stateoftelaviv.com

And I have to ask. What will mass arson accomplish? Not the template I'd advocate for social or policy change.

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Zaf, this is for you--for some reason, it's impossible for me to reply to your comment below. The "reply" option isn't there--the only option is "like." Do you have any idea why? Is this a glitch that I should report to Substack?

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Claire, I am 59 and I don’t have any idea. I work in an office full of younger people who rescue me in situations like this, I suggest asking a friend’s teenager, if you can locate one, and they will resolve in two minutes or less.

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Well, I seem to be able to respond to this comment, so I think it was just a weird blip.

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May 7, 2023Liked by Claire Berlinski

I can’t fault the demonstrators’ principles or dedication. I’m just asking how effective you expect them to be, with the numbers in the Knesset as they are. Or to put it another way, what do you expect them to accomplish beyond making a statement? Also worth pondering, maybe: the State wasn’t made just by demonstrations and declarations. The Yishuv fought the Palestinians, and when they had to they fought the British.

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I think that it's just missing the point of the moment to dismiss the demonstrations as accomplishing nothing. Or just making a statement. I think that when hundreds of thousands of citizens, month after month, across the political spectrum, ethnic and racial communities and socio-economic statuses.....consistently protest and maintain discipline and focus that is much more than just "making a statement." That is activism and has already led to change. Had everyone sat at home then the reforms would have passed two months ago. Gallant would not have been "unfired". So many additional quite extreme and offensive laws would have been passed (like the Deri 2 law). I'm not quite sure what you're saying - that people should do nothing when faced with such an extreme challenge to liberal democracy?

Your comment about the Yishuv having fought is unintentionally ironic, I think. You should understand that the protesters/resisters are overwhelmingly fighters; those who serve, work and pay taxes. When they say - enough. It sure seems that the "numbers" listen. Who is going to pay for haredi entitlements without those who work and serve? I would hardly characterize these protests as having no impact.

Finally, with respect to numbers - are you aware that 70% of Likud voters oppose the reforms and the manner in which they have been brought forward? That there is a barely repressed revolt in Likud at the moment because the party is outraged by what Bibi has been doing? That Israelis NEVER had an opportunity to actually vote on this extreme and radical overhaul/reform? The particulars were contained int he RZ election platform but certainly not in Likud's. Something of this compehensiveness and importance should be considered carefully and appropriately and/or put to a referendum. There are numbers and there are numbers. And at the moment the haredim and RZ are VERY focused on the price of basic food products, housing and the possiblity that if they try to push through this "reform" that the economy will tank.

I'm dropping a podcast - likely tomorrow - on stateoftelaviv.com in which me and my guest discuss this issue precisely.

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“Thanks to all in this thread for reading and commenting.”

You’re welcome.

And finally you’ve said something I agree with. The French do seem to be uniquely nuts.

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Pretty sure I didn't say that the French are "uniquely nuts."

Have a lovely weekend.

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There is definitely an identity politics aspect to it. But the main anger is primarily not about the judicial reform. It's about the unacceptably far-right nature of the coalition that Netanyahu as forced to form to keep his government afloat, instead of heading toward yet another election. For example, far more wacky than any judicial reform is the demand, and Bibi's accession to that demand, from Ben Gvir (a small fringe party) for a (bogus) "national security" portfolio and an unnecessary and possibly dangerous "national guard" under Ben Gvir, in addition to the well-established IDF and paramilitary border police (similar to their Italian and French counterparts).

The essential problem is that, since 2015, when Bibi came under criminal investigation (a whole issue unto itself), the main, more moderate parties won't form a government with him. Likud remains the single most popular party in Israel, with about a quarter of the vote. To it goes first dibs in forming a government. Toward the end of Bibi's last government, we saw this situation already give rise to Bibi making crazy concessions to crazy people (like the annexation plan, sent to committee to die; and the nation-state bill, passed eventually in a watered-down form). The "old" Bibi would not have made these concessions, and he said so many times in recorded interviews that you can find on the internet. But the "new" Bibi is desperate and refuses to retire from politics.

The "culture war" interpretation of what's going on is overblown, whatever grain or two of truth it has in it. The reality is that a small but growing minority (the ultra-orthodox) and a tiny fringe (the Kahanists under Ben Gvir) have had a window in time, an opportunity to exercise extreme leverage because of their outsized importance in holding Bibi's coalition together. A Likud led by a younger someone else would not have this problem.

This is apart from the merits or demerits of judicial reform. Ever since the Israeli supreme court arrogated to itself various powers in the early 90s, including the power of self-selection and a complete co-optation of the Israeli bar association (that supposedly provides independent advice), politicians of many stripes in Israel have vowed to "do something" about the situation, which is highly anomalous in Western democracies (the supreme court's insularity and sweeping powers). That doesn't justify these reforms pushed by this government, and it's the unexpected extreme nature of the cabinet that has riled up Israelis (including a significant number of voters on the center-right).

(As of the last few days, it seems Bibi might end up dumping Ben Gvir anyway. It's a small faction in Israeli politics. It's ultra-orthodox who are the problem -- what happens when you have a significant non-Zionist or anti-Zionist presence in your cabinet, people opposed to a modern state and who won't contribute to it? There's Israel's real demographic time bomb. Ironically, the ultras became important in Israeli politics in the 1980s, when Labour needed them as a coalition partner to pursue the two-state "peace process" -- the ultras being religiously far right, but dovish on peace. A good example of why you should be careful what you wish for.)

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Like many secular Israelis, Vivian Bercovoci’s understanding of the demographic time bomb is completely wrong. She’s terrified that fecund religious Zionists and the amazingly fecund ultra orthodox will end up controlling the Government before too long. Instead she should be genuflecting to those communities for doing what secular Jews can’t or won’t do; make Jewish babies.

To be fair, secular Israeli families make more babies than any secular community in the West or Asia. Their fertility rate actually exceeds replacement values. But secular Israeli Jews can’t keep up with the fertility of Israeli Arabs or Palestinians living in Judea, Samaria or Gaza.

The only reason Israel will remain robustly Jewish within the 1967 borders and maintain a slight Jewish majority west of the Jordan is that Religious Zionists and the ultra orthodox seem to spend a lot more time engaged in sexual relations than secular Israelis do. Large numbers of Jewish babies are the natural result. Maybe this will change somewhat as more ultra-orthodox women enter the work force or a maybe it won’t.

Could it be that Ms Bercovoci thinks that a Palestinian majority in Israel or the surrounding area would be better for the Israeli economy or her personal security than a religious and ultra-religious Jewish majority would be? She can’t be that dense.

Here’s a hint for secular Israelis; forget drafting the ultra-Orthodox; they do their most important work in the bedroom.

Of course, unhappy secular Israelis could try to emigrate to North America or Europe, but they shouldn’t do it if they have any aspiration of living even a marginally Jewish life. The fertility rate of American, Canadian and European Jews is so low that within a generation, Western Jewish communities will be extinct. As for Canada, Ms Bercovoci’s country of origin; Montreal once had one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the world; those days are gone. The community in Toronto is doing marginally better but not great.

Prime Minister Netanyahu understands this; why doesn’t a clever lawyer like Ms Bercovoci?

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May 5, 2023·edited May 13, 2023

Interesting points. Although I don't think the Palestinian Arab birth rate is above replacement any longer. The ultra orthodox now pose the most serious threat to the future of Israeli democracy. They're just large enough to disrupt electoral politics in a state they don't like or contribute much to. Their "religion on welfare" model (which has no basis in rabbinic tradition) exploits everyone else in Israel in a manifestly unfair way. It's not new; it has its origins in the 19th century, as an alternative to building a modern, self-supporting state. At that time it exploited the more secular and wealthier diaspora. Today, it's the demands they make on the larger society that create the conflict.

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What’s the point of all those babies if they won’t grow up to fight, and you’re determined that the only way forward is to fight?

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Admittedly I'm an outside observer of this business in more ways than one, but it seems to me that what is being modelled in Israel is a home truth: Demography is destiny. Israel is evolving in a more conservative, more religious direction, and this is understandably distressing to the Ashkenaz Jews who long dominated Israeli politics. Their fight against judicial reform is really an expression of despair over the realization that their time at the summit of power is up.

If Israel had a written constitution, this political and cultural transition could perhaps have been managed with less acrimony. But when one considers the equivocal position of the Israeli Supreme Court, which lays claim to authority on dubious grounds, the current crisis becomes understandable. This is a fight for power in a democratic state that has no constitutional guardrails. As far as I can see, it can end in one way only: the victory of the majority.

I will add that though I'm not an optimist by nature, I do believe that Israel will weather this storm. On the bottom line all Israelis, if not all Jews, will prioritize the survival of the Jewish state over lesser considerations. Given the history involved, I can't see how they could do anything else.

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May 4, 2023·edited May 4, 2023

Yes on victory of the "majority" -- but that majority is not properly represented by existing parties and the existing make-up of the Knesset. The majority of the voters don't like the Netanyahu cabinet and are dubious about the judicial reform. Remember, there's always a gap -- sometimes a big one -- in a fragmented, multiparty, parliamentary democracy between what people vote for and what they get after the coalition sausage is made.

It is true that the newly energized and empowered supreme court that emerged in the early 90s (in part, ironically, by basic laws passed by a Likud-led government) has become the guardian of the more individualistic, neoliberal, less conformist and traditionalist, but also markedly more globalized and unequal Israel of today. The socialist grandparents had entrepreneurial grandchildren who built the "start-up nation" that Bibi himself helped to midwife. Now he's turned his back on it in a desperate bid to maintain himself in power.

Older center-right figures elsewhere (think of Boris Johnson) have tried to make the same transition, from the libertarian-ish right of the past to the populist, nationalist conservatism of the apparent future. In the US, no conventional Republican figure managed that transition, so we got a hostile takeover by a Perot/Buchanan-inspired figure (Trump).

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Vivian Bercovoci’s essay could not be more tedious or more tendentious. Here’s what she forgot to mention:

1) Israel held five Knesset elections in four years. Likud (Netanyahu’s Party) came in first by a mile in each of those elections. At the very least, a large plurality of Israelis wanted Netanyahu to be their Prime Minister. If polls are to be believed, it was a majority who wanted that. Not once or twice but all five times.

2) Netanyahu would have happily formed a coalition with any of the mainstream political parties. Yesh Atid, New Hope, Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor and even Meretz would all have been welcomed as coalition partners of Likud. While these parties have political differences, those political differences had nothing to do with the failure of Netanyahu to form a coalition. Those parties refused to join a Netanyahu Government because the leaders of those parties hated Netanyahu personally. Those parties used Netanyahu’s indictment as the excuse to refuse to serve with him. Of course, the indictment was a political hit job designed to do exactly that; provide an excuse to political leaders motivated by little more than their animosity to Netanyahu.

3) Those political leaders put their own remarkably selfish political aspirations over the clear will of the Israeli people (expressed in 5 elections in a row) that Netanyahu should be their Prime Minister.

4) The only way for Netanyahu to become Prime Minister was to align with extreme political parties that he would have preferred not to join with. The fact that the two crazies are Ministers in the Israeli Government is exclusively the fault of the leaders of the mainstream parties that refused to join the Netanyahu Government over and over again. These parties are led by rubes and charlatans, especially Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid).

5) Israel’s judicial system is in desperate need of reform though the reform package the Government is putting on the table is far from perfect. The Israeli judicial system is far more removed from democratic input than the judicial system of the United States federal government or any American State. It even is more illegitimate than the judicial systems in Europe including the EU. As an institution the Israeli Supreme Court has far more in common with autocrats like Viktor Orban than with systems that divide power between different branches of Government.

6) The Israeli culture wars are not all that different from the culture wars taking place everywhere in the West. Whether it’s the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands or elsewhere the managerial class has declared war on working people. The comity required for the survival of liberal society is breaking down everywhere. Who’s to blame? The managerial class, that’s who.

7) To see what happens when things really get bad, take a look at what’s happening in France.

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Yes points #2 #3 and #4 -- be-di'uq -- exactement -- hits the nail on the head.

Partial agreement on #6 -- here's where Claire and people like her just don't get it. Globalization and neoliberalism have created in Israel -- as elsewhere -- major divides between largely secular and college-educated winners plugged into the global economy, and everyone else. No one wants to talk about this.

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Exactly right.

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