The government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary could undermine democracy and set Israel on a collision course with United States, potentially endangering crucial strategic ties with its greatest ally, a leading think tank warned Monday.
In an 86-page report, the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University also warned that the increasing polarization in the country could have a substantially detrimental impact on the country’s security.
The report noted that Israel continues to maintain a qualitative military edge over its regional rivals but expressed concern that this advantage could be undermined by the political turmoil.
The unrest could not only endanger Israel’s ties with the Biden administration, which has repeatedly expressed concern, bu also harm Israel’s security, said INSS director Tamir Hayman, a former Military Intelligence chief.
“In the geo-strategic field, we identified the special relationship with the US as the most significant challenge facing the decision makers — it is a very significant anchor in Israel’s perception of security and any damage to it will directly affect Israel’s dealings with the other arenas,” said Hayman as he presented the report to President Isaac Herzog.
“The deepening social polarization in Israel is expected to make it difficult for Israel to deal with external threats,” he added.
According to INSS, Israel’s relationship with the US will largely depend on a commitment to safeguarding its democracy and preventing violations of minorities’ and Palestinians’ rights.
Israel’s new hardline government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “presents a clear right-wing agenda that is perceived by large sections of the public as being extreme and as threatening Israel’s ethos as a Jewish and democratic state,” the report read.
The authors noted the deep societal polarization that has emerged from four years of “political instability, incitement and mutual de-legitimization.”
“These factors raise disturbing questions about [the state’s] very ability to preserve the foundations of democracy, the independence of the judicial and law enforcement, balances between the state and religion and individual rights,” the report read, also warning of the real prospect of internal violence.
Netanyahu and his far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies are pushing for controversial changes to the judiciary, seeking to give lawmakers a pathway to override court decisions striking down laws or government moves.
The plans have sparked massive weekly protests and warnings by officials, industry leaders and others that the overhaul could turn Israel into an international pariah.
The report also warned that harm to democratic rights could spark unrest among the country’s Arab minority.
“The potential damage to the democratic regime might lead to an exacerbation in internal tensions, such as with the Arab sector, in a way that could project not only inward but also outward on the relations with the Palestinians and on Israel’s foreign relations,” the report warned.
The INSS report was presented to Herzog, who said that while parts of the report were optimistic, he was also deeply concerned by the findings.
“An area that is of particular concern is the area that you call the ‘internal arena’ in the report. The security of the State of Israel is closely related to its national resilience. We are in a period of crisis and particularly dangerous internal conflict, and we have to be able to face and deal with the deepest differences of opinion, without giving up our belief in ourselves,” Herzog said.
According to the INSS, the other two main challenges facing the Jewish state in 2023 are Iran’s developing nuclear program and the volatile Palestinian arena. The institute said that both, but especially the latter, could also become a source of friction between Jerusalem and Washington.
“Despite the solid foundation of the special relationship between Israel and the United States, it may be put to the test in regard to the conflict with the Palestinians,” the INSS said, especially in light of steps adopted by Israel that could be conceived as changing the status quo or violating human rights, it added.
It also noted that the weakening of the Palestinian Authority could lead to a flare-up of violence in the West Bank and Gaza, and potentially spark a wider conflict.
In regard to Iran, the report said Tehran’s effort to push forward its nuclear program over the past year has practically made it a nuclear threshold state. The Biden administration, however, is more focused on China and Russia at the moment and is thus reluctant to fully engage with Iran and present a credible threat, according to the INSS.