Posted in The Jerusalem Report on March 20, 2023.
Photo: When hundreds of thousands of Israelis at the core of society come out to demonstrate for weeks on end, it becomes a US national security concern, the writer maintains. (photo credit: SHIR TOREM/FLASH90)
Advocates of the judicial reforms in Israel, which will completely change the balance of power between the Knesset and the judiciary, say that they are not only needed but are an entirely domestic issue in which Americans should not meddle. Opponents of the reforms are passionate and in large numbers claim that it undermines Israel’s democratic process and that national disunity dangerously undermines Israel’s security.
Israel’s allies, including the United States, as well as its adversaries, perceive the fracturing of Israeli unity.
So would AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations that are loathed to take sides in internal Israeli disputes be within their rights to express a viewpoint, if it significantly affects both American and Israeli security interests? AIPAC’s policy mission is to “support pro-Israel policies that strengthen and expand the US-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.”
Why would Israeli judicial reform dispute impact US national security?
From an American national security standpoint, a divided Israel is perceived as more vulnerable and weaker by its shared adversaries. It increases the chance that radical elements will take more risks, which can destabilize the region. American interests in the Middle East are primarily about constancy and supporting allies, as strength is respected and internal discord creates security vacuums that radicals are all too happy to fill.
Beyond the American Jewish community’s concerns about judicial reforms, the American security establishment wants and needs a rock-solid ally in Israel. America counts on Israel’s intelligence services, participation in CENTCOM, shared R&D in defense industries, the Haifa port for our Sixth fleet and forward storage of munitions in Israel.
When the prime minister advances a judicial agenda and hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are the core of the technological sector, the IDF reserves, business, academia and secular society come out to demonstrate for weeks on end, it becomes an American national security concern. A Democratic or Republican administration is correct to be concerned for American security interests and, as a close friend, to have some influence on stability. This is a slippery slope when domestic issues blend into national security ones.
There is not a Right vs Left issue. According to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 47% of Netanyahu’s Likud voters are against the current slate of reforms being advanced. Changing the balance of power in any democracy without a large consensus is dangerous. So when Israel’s president utters the words “civil war,” it gets the full attention of American politicians, diplomats and defense and security officials.
Whether Netanyahu has lost control of the radical far-right coalition he rode back into power, agrees with what is being proposed or uses it as leverage to get an advantageous compromise, the damage it has already done in threatening the nation’s most important resource: national cohesion.
If that is the case, America has a right, mainly behind the scenes, to urge Netanyahu to unite the nation in a compromise to put an end to this strife. Judicial reform can wait but Iran’s nuclear program cannot.
Three of Israel’s leading security thinkers at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, Major Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, Prof. Efraim Inbar and Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman have urged the PM to remember, “Now is not the time to deepen Israeli society’s divisions and push parts of the public into dangerous alienation…. National cohesion is a necessary condition for Israel’s resilience… How the disputes in Israel are seen by its enemies could harm Israel’s deterrent power. We already hear sounds of jubilation in Tehran… Projecting a credible military threat requires Israel’s enemies to perceive the country as united… National cohesion is more important than winning political arguments.”
Netanyahu needs America on his side with Iran, especially with the new Saudi-Iran detente. Precipitating such an internal crisis at this time, trying to advance profound judicial changes in a nation without a constitution, especially the 61-seat override clause, hurts US-Israeli relations at a time when Iran is already a threshold nuclear state.
Why should the American president feel he should prioritize Israel’s Iranian threat when its PM chooses judicial reform over the danger of a nuclear Iran?
At a time when the majority of Democrats now sympathize with the Palestinians over Israel and when American attention is focused on Ukraine and China, if Netanyahu wants the US to take his concerns on Iran seriously, he should show leadership, pause the rush to pass legislation that does not have a national consensus and bring all sides together to negotiate without preconditions.