Things Tumbling in Israel

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Keep an eye on the events out of Israel. It seems possible they’re reaching some kind of turning point, though one hesitates to use that phrase about a country which has been in such an extended political paralysis for so long. The key to understand is that whatever crisis or shift may be in the works isn’t driven by the issues animating coverage in the U.S. To the extent it is tied to the Israel-Hamas war it is about the hostages and the widespread belief that the Netanyahu government isn’t that focused on striking a deal to get them home. Hovering around this is the fact that the government has at best tended to ignore and shun the hostages families. The communities along the border with Gaza tend to be made up of left-leaning Kibbutznik types. So they’re not Netanyahu’s people by any stretch of the imagination. That’s been a subtext to much that has happened over the last six months.

You also have the anti-judicial coup coalition which was holding massive weekly protests for almost a year before October 7th going back to the streets. All of that had stopped cold on October 7th. It’s been slowing reassembling since. But the protests this weekend are bigger than any since just before the massacres in southern Israel. They are now a coupled message for the government to resign and to bring the hostages home.

Then there’s the issue of the continuation of the draft exception and public subsidies for the ultra-orthodox community. This is too complex a topic for anything but a thumbnail description. But here goes. Men from the ultra-orthodox community are exempted from the draft and a great proportion of their families live on public assistance, notionally because they spend their days in religious study. This has been a simmering issue for years. But for a complicated set of reasons it came to a head last week when there was a deadline to formalize a new system which would either continue these privileges and benefits, scrap them or do something in between.

The critical context is that over the last three decades the ultra-orthodox parties have become a central pillar of any right-wing government. They supply about a quarter of the seats. The issue is basically irresolvable if you rely on those votes and seats. No them, no majority. That all hit the fan last week. There was no decision Netanyahu could make and hold his government together. So basically he just didn’t. And we’re now seeing how long that lasts. This seems to have both thrown new light on the precariousness of Netanyahu’s government and shown again that the whole country is hostage to the Prime Minister’s need to give them basically anything they demand. In the context of a national emergency the existence of a whole community that refuses to serve in the army and lives off everyone’s taxes is simply too much for many people.

In the current government you basically have the Likud — the right-wing party of government, the parties of the ultra-orthodox and the parties of the settler crazies. Netanyahu will almost certainly lose the next election. And without a Netanyahu, these other parties are basically toast. Toast in the sense that they’re probably not going to see another government with this kind of radical dependence on them for a long time. So they need to get every dollar and every favor out of it they can right now, while the getting is good. So they will keep him in power as long as they can and basically cart out everything that isn’t nailed down. Meanwhile everyone else looks on and sees this is happening, during wartime, and basically all so the prime minister can stay out of jail, or at least squeeze out a few more months or a year in power. It’s a recipe for a highly combustible situation.

Now, on top of all that, in just the last few hours, Netanyahu announced that he’s going in for emergency hernia surgery. Not emergency in the sense of rushed to the hospital but in the sense that they found it during a routine check yesterday and he’s going into surgery today. So not nothing.

Again, no idea how this all plays out but Netanyahu has been juggling nine plates since the war started. Now he’s probably juggling 13. It can only go on so long.

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