/ 21 July 2023

Trouble in the Holy Land – will America take a stand?

Israeli Military Reservists Resign Over The Governmentâs Plans For Judicial Reform
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JULY 19: People stage a demonstration against the government's judicial overhaul bill outside the Tel Aviv Art Museum near the Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 19, 2023. Hundreds of Israeli military reservists sign a petition announcing their voluntary resignation from army service during the protest. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The self-proclaimed number one ally for the State of Israel, seems too busy and too quiet to comment on the ongoing troubles in the holy land. Civil strife has rocked the Jewish state since its people rose up against their government’s proposed judicial reforms. 

The protests in Israel have gained momentum over time, with no sign of slowing down or coming to an end soon. The Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) has refused to back down or capitulate to the people’s demands. 

This is the first time in the history of Israel that so many people have risen up in righteous rebellion and taken to the streets against their own government in this manner. The first protests began sometime in January this year and have gone on for over four to five months, with a few short breaks. A record unprecedented in that part of the world since the inception of this so-called democratic state. 

Since the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jewish communities at home and abroad have been made to believe that the greatest threat to the establishment of a thriving Jewish state are Arab Palestinians who seek “self-determination” in a place where they believe to be their homeland as well. 

Arguably, the events of the past few months have proved this narrative to be untrue, if not null and void because the state of Israel today is more divided from within than ever before. This has led to little, or no, attention being paid to the Israeli-Palestine conflict like before, despite the seriousness of the occupation of one by the other. 

It is apparent that the mainstream media, and politicians generally, are seemingly more concerned with what is happening within the state of Israel, regarding protests among the Jewish communities than anything to do with state terror of Israelis on Palestinians. For example, no one cares at all about the recent attack on the refugee camp in Jenin by Israeli forces, as they sought to distract the world from what is really going on in their backyard. 

The people and government of South Africa, both past and present, have had a correct diagnosis of this conflict and support the rights of all Palestinians for self-determination unlike other nations who blindly support the state of Israel regardless of historical facts, truths and international law.

To make sense of the current situation in Israel, we have to realise that the serious threats that potentially can lead to the disintegration of the only democratic state in the middle east comes not from the outside. Rather, it lies from within, which is now between the government of Netanyahu on one side and the people’s wishes on the other. 

The question which requires consideration is straightforward: will the American government take the side of the Israeli people on the streets of Tel Aviv, demanding justice or will the Biden administration continue to be silent on the matter, while it keeps funding Bibi’s military budget?  

So far, the US government has done nothing and is preoccupied with the Russia-Ukraine war and Nato at the expense of the Tel Aviv uprising. This indeed is a betrayal of principle in support of the people’s movement in this democratic dispensation. 

The US government has commented and strongly supported pro-democracy movements everywhere in the world except in countries and places where foreign governments are heavily funded by the US taxpayer’s money, despite their oppression and human rights violations. 

The US rushed to support and sponsor the Libyan uprising, though it turned out to be disastrous. The unbreakable partnership between the US with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with no lectures to the kingdom’s establishment from the US about human rights violations, especially issues concerning gay rights. The silence by the US government when it matters the most is shameful. 

The eyes of the international community are watching everything happening in the capital city of Israel and looking up to the US to speak out in defence of democracy.

According to a report by a Middle Eastern Specialist Jeremy M. Sharp and published on 1 March, the US has spent $158 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defence funding to the State of Israel from 1946. This is a reason enough for most taxpayers to take interest in support of the democracy of Israel rather than choosing to be silent. This is a convincing argument taking root among many US citizens who feel their government should have no business in interfering with the politics of other nations, later on sending billions of dollars in support of military aid for another sovereign nation. 

As Jefferson beautifully puts it “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none”.

Interestingly, in September last year, when Iran’s streets erupted in defiance of the hijab laws, the US was happy to slap the Iranian regime with more sanctions amid domestic unrest. Actually, the West compared these protests in Iran to the revolution of 1978, with the hope that the protest would topple the regime in Tehran. 

On the contrary, when the yellow vest protestors took to the streets in Paris, and then followed by the pensioner’s protests, the US essentially kept a low profile until June when the world witnessed another wave of protests across France, as a response to the police killing an unarmed 17-year-old boy. The US embassy in Paris issued a warning alert to all Americans living in France to take precautionary measures and avoid certain places. A typical US response to an ally whose sins and injustice are bare for the world to see. 

Upon reflection on the chaos caused by the government of Bibi, the only reaction from the White House so far has been a vague statement from Washington DC that “the US is very much concerned about the judiciary overhaul in Israel”. This comment by US President Joe Biden and his commander in chief triggered a response from the Israeli prime minister, which is terribly shocking to say the least. Netanyahu responded saying that “Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends”.

Perhaps Netanyahu has long forgotten that his country’s national security is by and large guaranteed by US military support, vis-a-vis taxpayers’ money in US dollars. Therefore, for Bibi to lash out against Biden in such a fashion is unfortunate. 

Regrettably, Bibi’s administration wants to allow a simple majority of 61 out of 120-seat Knesset to override supreme court rulings and allow politicians to appoint most of the justices on the bench. In essence, the people are opposed to this change because it will strip off or transfer certain constitutional powers from the judiciary to elected politicians, with no just cause. 

This will essentially dilute the doctrine of separation of powers. Furthermore, many people believe that this is a ploy by the government to cover up the prime minister’s tracks, as he faces many corruption allegations. 

The politicisation of the judiciary in Israel will shift the courts far-right — clamping down on certain unalienable individual rights, freedoms and liberties which are supposed to be protected and enjoyed in a free and democratic state. The same rights and freedoms for which the US deeply cares about and lectures everyone to adhere to without fail. As a country founded by protesting against England, and with its own rich tradition of protests, the USs should not be selective in providing the same guidance to friends and foe alike in defence of democracy.  

Aaron Ng’ambi is a geopolitical analyst and newspaper columnist, leadership instructor and a social entrepreneur.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.