A law passed in Israel’s parliament on Monday to limit the power of the judiciary has left the country in something of a cliffhanger, with the real effects of the government’s decision likely to remain unclear for weeks or even months.
The opposition fears a slow descent into authoritarianism, while the government – which dismisses such concerns – waits to see how disruptive and protracted the response from its critics will be. The law strips Israel’s Supreme Court of the power to overturn government actions and appointments it deems “unreasonable,” which opponents fear is a first step toward gutting the power of an independent judiciary.
Some hardliners in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government have said they want to fire the attorney general, a key gatekeeper appointed by the previous government. It is also possible that the government is now trying to reinstate Aryeh Deri, the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker whose appointment to Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet was blocked by the Supreme Court earlier this year.
On the other side of the political divide, leaders of the protest movement, which has held mass rallies for 29 consecutive weeks, have vowed to keep fighting. The main trade union in the country is still considering whether to organize a general strike. Hundreds of executives from Israel’s vaunted high-tech industry say they are considering moving their businesses overseas. And thousands of military reservists have said they will stop reporting for voluntary service.
Then there is the Supreme Court, which has already been petitioned by several civil society groups to strike down the new law – a decision which could cause a constitutional crisis.
In reality, however, it could be weeks or months before the crisis reaches a new crescendo.
Netanyahu’s Likud party said earlier this month it would not fire Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, even though some lawmakers continue to call for her removal. Likud also on Tuesday rejected an effort by ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers to advance a bill that would have declared the study of Torah, the Jewish Bible, an “important service to the State of Israel,” a move that would have infuriated secular opposition.
Parliament is set to recess on Wednesday until October, creating a window in which new legislation cannot be passed. That in turn creates a challenge for protesters: With few lawmakers inside parliament during recess, the rallies and encampments that have sprung up outside the building in recent days will have no one to directly challenge.
For now, the umbrella alliance that coordinates the various protest groups says it will continue to hold weekly mass protests on Saturday evenings. But protest leaders could delay organizing more protests until the Supreme Court convenes to review the new law.
“People are still trying to figure it out,” said Josh Drill, a spokesman for the alliance. “Because yesterday was such an intense day, the different groups are still in deliberation,” he added.
The effect of the resignations of reservists may also take time to be felt. Only a few hundred reservists are thought to have explicitly refused to report for duty when asked directly. The others only threatened to quit.
And the country’s largest union, despite all its warnings, has still not called a general strike, even as a small union of 30,000 doctors cut medical operations, saying its members outside the capital Jerusalem would only handle emergencies and intensive care on Tuesday. Analysts say the more time passes, the less likely the union is to take significant action.