Poll says majority of Israelis fear civil war as protests escalate

President Biden is reportedly set to intervene via a call with Netanyahu


Anti-judicial overhaul demonstrators protest against the Israeli government's judicial overhaul, in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ????? ???????? ??????? ????? ?????? ???? ??? ?????? ???? ???? ??? ???

Two-thirds of Israelis fear the country could descend into civil war, a Channel 12 poll has revealed.

Those most concerned were people who voted against Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing bloc – 85 per cent of them fear civil war. 

The shocking new survey comes after the 28th consecutive week of protests last Saturday saw over 150,000 take to the streets in Tel Aviv. Addressing protesters at Karkur junction in the north, Shikma Bressler, a leader of the protests, said that the demonstrations were taking place at the beginning of a “critical week” in Israeli history. 

In Jerusalem, Moshe Ya’alon, a former defence minister, asked: “Do you think it’s reasonable that a person accused of criminal acts serve as Prime Minister? Do you think it's reasonable that the minister in charge of the police could be a criminal and racist?” He was speaking in reference to Netanyahu’s ongoing criminal trial, and Ben Gvir’s past convictions.

Activists also set up what they called the “first democracy outpost” outside the Merzliya Magistrate’s Court and in Tel Aviv, protesters wrote “Biden save us” in chalk on the road. 

President Biden is reportedly planning to call Netanyahu today in advance of President Herzog’s visit to Washington. The President’s office has not confirmed the call, whose purpose, reports say, is to express opposition to the Israeli premier’s judicial overhaul. 

Last week, Biden said that Netanyahu’s coalition had “some of the most extreme members” he has seen. His attitude toward the judicial reforms has prompted Yair Lapid, leader of the Israeli opposition, to state that “the United States is no longer our closest ally”. Speaking to a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party, he said: “The Israeli government is leading us into this crisis”.

Benny Gantz, former minister of Defence, also spoke out against the reforms today. He called on the Prime Minister to freeze the bill, and said Netanyahu had “closed off his heart” to a fracturing Israeli society. “It’s not too late to stop and reign to dialogue,” he said. “Netanyahu, don’t tear the people apart”.

Netanyahu, who was hospitalised over the weekend with dehydration and released yesterday with a heart monitoring device, shows no signs of backing down. His Finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said that the Prime Minister was “very determined” to press on with their judicial overhaul. 

Netanyahu, in his first appearance since his hospitalisation, said that the growing threat of military reservists to strike is “insubordination”. Their actions, he said “directly endanger the security of all Israeli citizens” and he will “act against it”.

This comes after 4000 reservists in key roles threatened to end their volunteer duty, including pilots, commandos, and cyberwarfare experts. According to Channel 12 news, reservists from dozens of units are considering striking. 

The reservist strike has not garnered support from all of those opposed to Netanyahu’s judicial reforms. Gantz has told reservists not to protest, and Likud has thanked both him and Gadi Eisenkot, former IDF Chief of General Staff, for doing so. 

Reportedly, the Prime Minister is concerned about Israel’s operational readiness, as ex-Shin Bet agents also urged him to reverse the overhaul. 800 former agents have written that the reforms will “substantially and immediately be a danger to the soldiers,” in a letter released under “Shin bet veterans for defending democracy”.

Reports say that the Defence minister and military chief are also concerned. They are considering airing their concerns over military readiness to Netanyahu in the coming days.

As protests escalate towards tomorrow’s “Day of Resistance,” the Reasonableness bill continues to move through the Knesset. The bill will likely move to its final reading at the Knesset floor, where it could be brought to a vote, as early as this Sunday.

Opposition MKs have tried to slow this process by submitting what two advisers told the Times of Israel were an “unprecedented” number of amendments. The 27,676 proposals submitted could delay the bill by days.

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