Implications for Israel’s New Far-Right Government

Recently, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shifted the government to follow a strong far-right agenda, and he plans to upend the Israeli judicial system while he’s at it. With an emphasis on more orthodox religious practices and permanent settlement in the West Bank, Netanyahu’s new coalition spells trouble for the Israeli populace, especially secular Israelis and Palestinians in the region.

Conflict in the West Bank between Palestinians and Israelis is certainly nothing new, but a new spurt of violent attacks looks ominous in the wake of the government’s shifting agenda and hard-right politics. According to Patrick Kingsley, a New York Times reporter based in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s new regime has set forth an attempt to overhaul the judiciary, giving the government more influence in judicial appointments and weakening the power of the nation’s Supreme Court — an institution set on “defending the prerogatives of secular Jews in a religious country,” according to the Washington Post. In addition to this structural shift, the government has taken a harsher stance toward Palestinians and secular Israelis. Basically, critics fear that these changes may weaken, or destroy altogether, Israel’s democratic institutions.

Kingsley summarized the potential outcomes of this upheaval: “Critics of the Prime Minister and his allies fear that the agenda threatens Israel’s democratic institutions, its already fraught relationship with the Jewish diaspora and its efforts to form new ties with Arab neighbors like Saudi Arabia, and that it effectively sounds the death rattle for long-ailing hopes for a Palestinian state.”

The dangers this agenda brings to Palestinian-identifying individuals and secular Israeli minorities cannot be understated. In the wake of heightened violence in the state, including the deadliest Israeli raid of the West Bank in years, and a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks that have taken the lives of thirteen Israelis already in 2023, critics are fearful of intensified violence in the region due to the Israeli government’s rhetoric surrounding reshaping Israeli society and moving toward an ultra-Orthodox state.

This dangerous turn toward religious orthodoxy and political extremism somewhat mirrors what has been going on in the United States recently, highlighting the broader trend of democratic backsliding that has gained momentum over the past few years. Take for example the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the rise of voter suppression and the Jan. 6 insurrection — the US certainly has had its issues with democratic integrity lately. Netanyahu’s new regime threatens to similarly mar the sanctity of democracy in Israel, and the implications of this may add to a troubling pattern of global democratic backsliding.

What this conflict means for Jewish communities around the world is unclear, but some Jewish American communities are “voicing unprecedented criticism of the Israeli government,” according to AP News. Netanyahu’s new far-right agenda may be straining relations between Israel and Jewish communities around the world, especially among “predominantly liberal American Jewish communities.”

Considering the fact that there are numerous divergent sects of Jewish people in both Israeli society and among the diaspora, the impact of these reforms will not be uniform. Netanyahu is forging an administration composed of ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders who have “vowed to reshape Israeli society,” according to the New York Times. With the changes implemented to the judicial system, critics fear that the Supreme Court will become a “self-selecting club,” meaning the ultra-Orthodox members will have the ability to hold basically uncontested power, thus repressing the voices of the plurality of Jewish sects that do not follow their ultra-Orthodox and far-right beliefs.

With tensions rising amid Netanyahu’s reforms, Israelis fear for the protection of minority groups including “Palestinians, LGBTQ people and members of the more liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, whose ranks are small in Israel but comprise the majority of American Judaism,” according to AP News. While some supporters argue that the fear of Israel losing its democratic values is “complete nonsense,” others contend that Israel stands at a critical crossroads for the future of its democracy.