Political turmoil in Israel
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
So much happening in the world right now. I think I want to focus in on Israel. Why? Well, because it is unprecedented in scale, the demonstrations, people's power taking to the streets, particularly in Tel Aviv. This is a population of less than 10 million in Israel, and hundreds of thousands are saying that they strongly oppose the efforts by Bibi Netanyahu and his coalition government to rest control of the judiciary, allowing the parliament to overturn judicial decisions from the Supreme Court and also allowing more control of executive appointments to Supreme Court justices. This is not just about opposition from the population at large. It's also been the Minister of Defense who publicly opposed the first cabinet official to do so, in part because large numbers of enlisted men and women are saying that they will not serve in the military if this judicial reform passes, unprecedented in a country where you have an enormous patriotism around mandatory national service that all Israeli men and women participate in.
Suddenly you've got hundreds that are saying, maybe thousands, hundreds that we know of that have said publicly that they are not prepared to serve if this goes through. You have the head of the Tel Aviv police force demonstrating publicly with the protestors yesterday. All of this has led to huge moves against the Israeli shekel, against Israeli ETFs, against the Israeli investments in the markets that we've really not seen. Usually the marketplace kind of shrugs off anything that happens in Israel or military challenges with the occupied territories, the Palestinians, even wars that we've seen historically with Syria because they think that the Israeli economy is going to power through it, not this time. And Netanyahu, we are waiting. At any moment, it looks reasonably plausible that he is going to announce a suspension of this reform.
We'll see if he makes that announcement. He's supposed to speak earlier in the day. He hasn't. I expect part of this is because he needs his entire cabinet on board. He has a relatively slim majority in the parliament, in the Knesset, only some eight seat majority total. That means his parties have four more than the majority. You already have the National Security Minister publicly saying in past hours that he would bring the government down if they were to withdraw this proposed legislation. Though you also have the judicial minister who was the author of this judicial reform saying he's prepared to support Netanyahu if he decides to go ahead and suspend. And in part, it's because of just how angry the Israeli people are. Perhaps the biggest issue here, even more than the defense minister, is the fact that the largest union in Israel has, for the first time in Israeli history, called for general strike. They have over 800,000 working members.
This is in a country again of about nine plus million. So we're talking about almost a quarter of the total workforce involved in a general strike. That means you're not getting a Big Mac today in Israel because all of the McDonald's are closed. It means that you're not leaving on a plane or going to Israel because all the airport workers are striking. Shopping centers, city hall, municipalities, you name. It is an economic suspension of activity and that can't last for long. If Netanyahu persists and decides that he's going to go ahead with this reform, it would not only be a significant erosion for Israeli democracy, but it would also be an enormous hit for the Israeli economy. So at this point, I think it's hard to imagine that he's going to do that. Of course, the other side of the coin is that if he pulls back, is he going to maintain support?
Will Likud MPs, his party all stick with them? It wouldn't take many to flip to bring the government down. Will all the remaining cabinet ministers decide that they're going to stay, including those from the hard right parties that are aligned with him necessary for this government? Where do we see the demonstrators going from here? They're very, very angry about the undermining of an independent judiciary, but they're also angry about other things. Very little in terms of the Palestinian issue that we've seen over the course of the past weeks, but a lot in terms of women's rights that also have taken a significant hit over the course of this new government and lots of other social issues that are significant to large numbers, particularly of young people in Israel today.
Ultimately, I feel more bullish about where this is going than not, and what I mean by that is Israel is a more resilient democracy than a country like Hungary, than a country like Turkey. So the ability of one leader, even though he's an enormously smart leader and very strategic, to be able to single-handedly change institutions for his benefit and undermine democracy, I suspect that Bibi is going to end up more like Bolsonaro in Brazil, more like Trump in the United States. Also, by the way, more like AMLO in Mexico, not able to do significant structural damage to these institutions and as a consequence ending up out of power.
But it's hard to bet against Bibi. This is a guy who has come back and come back and come back again. Also, Israel is a very fragmented political system. Lots and lots of political parties, lots of ways to get to a majority. And of course if Bibi's out, you could end up with yet another series of electoral cycles where Israel's not able to get a functional majority in place in parliament. So not necessarily going to be easy or strong governance in Israel anytime soon, but also Israel's democracy is not fighting for its last gasp and the people of Israel and the military of Israel showing that very clearly today.