The Israeli polarisation continued until they reached the point of organising large-scale popular protests last Saturday evening, in protest against the current government's policy, amid the increased calls by former senior officials from the political and partisan arena, including former generals, who joined the call to rein in this unruly government. This is despite the fact that such demonstrations, which may expand, could descend this time into a civil war between Israelis, as they warn.
The magnitude of the Israeli involvement in the Saturday demonstrations in 2023, in which the number of participants exceeded 100,000 demonstrators, brings to mind the protests that preceded the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. In both cases, there were tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in public squares. In the first, they accused Rabin of treason and dressed him in the Palestinian keffiyeh, which resulted in the Labour Party losing power. In the second, they directed the same accusation against Sharon, who defected from the Likud party.
In this case, the demonstrators from the centre camp, and what is left of the left wing, are the ones leading the demonstrations and protests, in rejection of the significant violent measures by the government to implement its policies and leading the country, that is witnessing its most dangerous stage, facing the deviation of its political compass. Things may go in the other direction with just one swift blow, with no return.
The opposition leaders are working to ignite the situation, in order to create a wave that they can ride all the way to the leadership of the country. Perhaps the threat of National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to arrest the demonstrators, including their leaders, prompted the opposition to beat the drums of internal confrontation, so its supporters went out to demonstrate, threatening to set fire to the streets, with the Israelis growing increasingly distressed by the policies of the new government.
On the other hand, the Israeli government coalition and its right-wing supporters believe that they are waging a fierce political battle for domination and control of the state, and the streets and public roads have become the
main arena for each camp to respond to its adversary. However, the real battle now taking place is between supporters and opponents of the legal changes, and each of them have started to scream, be hysterical, and feel terrified of the other.
The Israeli conclusion from this ongoing debate is that the political conflict between the coalition and the opposition will intensify, including expanding the arena for inciting propaganda and calls to ignite the streets. This also includes the increased use of the term civil war among the Israelis themselves. However, it is clear that Saturday's demonstrations may have additional effects in terms of further destabilising the internal Israeli situation.
The recent demonstrations are new evidence for Netanyahu's sixth government that the opposition is rising against it, starting from less than a week of assuming its official duties. This is especially regarding its internal agenda related to the "religiosity" of the state and the application of Jewish law, as well as its policies of "politicising the judiciary" and adjusting it to its interests.
In addition to senior generals opposing the new government, such as Ehud Barak, Amos Gilad, Gadi Eisenkot, and Moshe Ya'alon, another prominent official to speak out was the former President of the Supreme Court, Judge Aharon Barak, who warned of the legal changes that the government intends to make, because it will return Israel to the status of Poland and Hungary, and it will cause the outbreak of a fratricidal war. This caused an uproar in the political system, prompting the extreme right to attack his statements calling them "dangerous," and a shift from the level of sin to crime, after describing the government's new measures as a "scandal" that will lead to the destruction of the Supreme Court, because it destroys the concept of separation of powers. He also said that, if this is accepted, lawsuits will be filed before the International Criminal Court.
These successive developments in recent days confirm that Israel is witnessing major polarisation, heading, with rapid steps, towards an occurrence that has not been witnessed since its founding more than seven decades ago. This is through the calls to take to the streets, and the threat of right-wing ministers to arrest anti-government demonstrators, and one of the right-wing members running them over, leading to the call by the opposition to declare civil disobedience. The Israelis do not know where and how this escalating political crisis will end; a crisis that is dragging the entire country into a state of internal conflict.
Perhaps a quick look at the nature of the political positions announced by the opposition against the government indicates the slope down which the state is heading, in terms of limiting its dealings with it in only one way, i.e., the announcement of civil uprisings, because it destroys the judicial system, and it is a malicious and evil government. Nothing else can be achieved with it through respectful demonstrations and empty leaflets, only through actions and results. Services and roads will be closed to respond to the corrupt and extremists.
The Israeli opposition accuses the Netanyahu government of having chosen to act in a shameful manner, not wanting a balanced judicial system, and deciding to destroy balances, burn the brakes, and press the gas pedal in a race towards the abyss. They said that, with the passage of time, it will lose its legitimacy in most parts of Israeli society and, as a response to this, the opposition decided to take to the streets to rein in what it described as a "brutal government", meaning the time has come to cause a shake in the country.
There were many slogans raised during the Saturday demonstrations in the cities of Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, including that the Netanyahu government is sowing the seeds of disaster, seeking complete control of the Knesset, transforming the judicial system into a corrupt one, bringing about a radical change in the state, cancelling the Declaration of Independence, and separating Israel from the liberal states. This means that the prices it will pay will be atrocious, in terms of economy, security and foreign relations.
It is clear that these unprecedented levels of mutual incitement between the government and the opposition are taking the Israelis into unchartered territory for them. Will the matter be limited to weekly protests every Saturday, and the accompanying closure of main roads or the organisation of opposition protests at the same time and place as the pro-government protests, or will it take more dangerous turns?
Although there are some Israelis who expect matters to reach a repeat of the scenario of political assassination, as was the case with Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, considering it the magic solution to this conflict, and although the left and liberal opposition circles rule out this violent option, the right wing is used to this policy and may resort to it. In this case, no one knows where Israel will head in this worsening crisis.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.