Israel has plunged into a state of chaos and democratic crisis as critics and protestors ramp up their efforts against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plans to reform the judicial system.

Significant Victory for Netanyahu

Netanyahu, alongside his coalition partners from the religious and political right, celebrated a crucial triumph on Monday as they voted in favor of the initial phase of the judicial reform. This amendment eliminates the ability of Supreme Court judges to veto decisions of Cabinet ministers if deemed “unreasonable.”

As NBC News reports, the law, while seldom used, was instrumental earlier this year when the court deemed a minister’s appointment “unreasonably extreme” due to his criminal history. This prompted the Prime Minister, albeit reluctantly, to dismiss the minister.

Public Response and Concerns

The proposed changes have sparked substantial public outrage, leading thousands of protestors to barricade the streets around the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Some even set up camp overnight in a nearby park, and on Tuesday, leading Israeli newspapers showcased entirely black front pages as a form of protest.

Prominent Israeli politics expert at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Gideon Rahat, voiced concerns over the government accruing more power. He stated, “The only check and balance we have is the courts — we don’t have strong local government; we don’t have constituencies. … And the government is trying to weaken it.”

The ‘Reasonableness’ Bill and Its Implications

Israel’s parliament, unlike the U.S. Congress, consists of a single house, and with the absence of a written constitution, the government enjoys significant autonomy. This is why the ability of judges to intervene was viewed as a crucial check on executive power.

Ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert even claimed, during an interview with Channel 4 News, that “This is a serious threat. This has never happened before, and we are going into a civil war now.”

Ongoing Protests and Future Changes

The protests are far from over, and more legislative adjustments are anticipated. A glimmer of hope arises from the Movement for Quality Government, a good governance group, which has filed a petition claiming the change is illegal. Consequently, Israel’s judges may have a say in deciding the fate of the ‘reasonableness’ bill.

However, as protests subsided on Tuesday, groups have pledged to continue their fight as Netanyahu prepares to bring the rest of his judicial modifications to parliament. Netanyahu’s opponents, on the other hand, argue that he may have underestimated the extent of the public’s rejection.

International Perspective

U.S. President Joe Biden has repeatedly advised Netanyahu against imposing his judicial reforms on an aggrieved public. New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman even suggested that Biden might be the only one capable of halting Netanyahu’s plan.

Amid his longstanding tenure marked by multiple political crises and ongoing trial for charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, which he denies, Netanyahu may ultimately fail in his endeavor to remodel Israel’s judicial system.

In the words of Gideon Rahat, “Netanyahu is riding the back of a tiger, but sometimes the tiger takes him places he doesn’t want to be taken.”