The Crisis in Israel. A Real or Staged Tipping Point?

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In Israel, a tense political situation just got even more complicated. For the first time since the crisis started, seven lawmakers from the Likud party have openly spoken out against the legislative push led by extremists in Netanyahu's current cabinet.

Here's why this is so significant. Israel's current government has a narrow majority of 64 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. This includes all of Likud's delegates, Haredi parties aligned with Netanyahu, and religious Zionist groups. If these seven Likud parliamentary members withdraw their support, the government could fall, paving the way for another election.

Several members of Netanyahu's Likud party, most notably Justice Minister Yariv Levin, are leading the most recent efforts to reform the powers of Israel's Judicial Branch. Coalition partners, especially from the religious Zionist group, are also backing this initiative.

The members of Likud that have broken their silence are demanding an end to the government's pursuit of unilateral legislation. Some of them have even gone so far as to threaten that their support for Netanyahu's government is not guaranteed.

Some of the Likud legislators currently criticizing the push for one-sided legislation are the same ones who recently voted to review the “reasonableness” of government decisions, limiting the Supreme Court's powers. This has led some to believe that this criticism might be a planned move, possibly guided by Netanyahu himself, to calm the public protests that have been going on for 30 weeks.

But Israel’s democracy protesters are looking for action, not words. They will not stop until they are convinced  that the unilateral legislation which they see as an “assault on Israeli democracy” ends.

Some believe that Netanyahu likely orchestrated this move in an attempt to create a faux uprising within Likud. A move designed to pressure the more extreme members of his government into restraint, fearing that this internal 'uprising' could cause the government to fall.

To support the theory that Netanyahu might be orchestrating the visible rifts within Likud to control the party's extremist members, there was a notable development. Alongside the public criticism from seven potential defectors, Israeli weekend newspapers – perhaps not coincidentally – highlighted a severe warning to Netanyahu from the Israel Defense Forces’ Intelligence Directorate. This agency, tasked with gauging Israel's national security, emphasized that Israel’s adversaries view the current political instability as a prime chance to act on their longstanding desire to threaten Israel's very existence. Because the security threat is one of the few issues around which there is wall-to-wall consensus among the divided Israeli public, ignoring the warning from the agency that is legally responsible for Israel's security, will unite both government supporters and opponents in outrage. This further bolsters the argument that the supposed leaking of the intelligence warning is intended to exert pressure on the extremists within the government.

There are others on the other hand, who maintain that the criticism from Agricultural Minister Avi Dichter, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, and Knesset Members David Bitan and Eli Dalal is a genuine "mini-revolt" within the ranks of the Likud, and this could indicate that a defection and potential collapse of the current government is imminent.

In my view, the criticism from within the ranks of Likud is genuine. The unilateral, aggressive legislation advanced by this government – in which Likud is the largest party – has led to a severe crisis that jeopardizes Israel's very existence. When the ship  sinks, everyone drowns. No reasonable person can be oblivious to that simple truth, and particularly Likud politicians can’t afford to be.

Polls show declining support for the Likud. It is evident that many Likud supporters are outraged by the extremist axis' takeover of Netanyahu's government. The agenda and priorities of the extreme axis in this government is not what Likud supporters voted for. Likud politicians are aware of their constituents’ anger, and they fear that they will pay the price for their government’s actions - especially if they continue to stand idly by.

At this point, it is not clear whether the criticism within Likud ranks marks a real tipping point, and how that could play out. All polls seemingly indicate that the Israeli public wants an end to the current crisis, and the majority of voters oppose the government's aggressive unilateral judicial reform.

If Netanyahu continues to capitulate to extremists and drag Israel into the abyss, Akunis, Bitan, Dalal, Dichter, Edelstein, Gallant, Gamliel, and any others who join their group will face their moment of truth. They cannot continue to hold the stick at both ends. They cannot call for legislation through dialogue and broad consensus, and at the same time support aggressive unilateral legislation.     

They will be judged by their actions, not statements.

Avi Melamed is a former Israeli intelligence official who went on to serve as deputy and then as senior Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem Mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert, operating as a negotiator during the first and second intifadas. He is the author of "Inside The Middle East | Entering A New Era,” and his latest docuseries, “The Seam Line,” available on the IZZY streaming platform, focuses on Jerusalem’s flashpoints and his work during the intifadas.