04/04/2023, 12.47
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Israel, Bendkowsky: unjust reform has awakened the 'sleeping majority'

by Dario Salvi

Head of the Rossing Centre reflects on the situation in the country with "extremist politicians" with "criminal convictions" that distort the nature of the State. There is a desire to turn the Supreme Court into a 'paper-pusher' for the executive. The reaction of those fighting for liberal values and the future is positive. The haredim seem to have embraced the radical right. For extremists, more freedom to strike, minorities at risk and attacks on Christians 'underestimated'.

Milan (AsiaNews) - A government controlled by "extremist politicians", some of them with criminal convictions" who risk upsetting the "democratic nature" of the country with this law that has had the merit, at least, of awakening "a large majority that had been dormant until now" who took to the streets to "protest". Hana Bendcowsky, an Israeli expert in interreligious dialogue, head of programmes for the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations and a leading figure in the Rossing Centre for Education and Dialogue, rejects the controversial justice reform and its promoters. The law was wanted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and strongly supported by the radical and religious wing, first and foremost the Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir against the decision to freeze the approval process until after Easter. And who, in return, has received the go-ahead and money to form a sort of 'personal militia' (a Civil Guard) with tasks yet to be defined, but which is already causing concern. "The majority is worried," he continues, "about the consequences of turning the Supreme Court into a mere paper-pusher for the executive. And commenting on the attacks against minorities, especially Christians preparing to celebrate Easter, the expert speaks of "underestimation", also due to "the general atmosphere" and government policies that give freedom "to these groups". Below the Israeli expert's interview with AsiaNews:

What is your view of recent events in the country, the battle over justice reform and the “arm wrestling” between government and civil society, the judiciary, reservists, etc.?

I will relate to two aspects: one is the revolution that the government was trying to pass that weakened this Supreme Court and will illuminate the critical supervision over the work of the parliament and the government (which are one now) and that would give unlimited power to the parliament that controlled by the government. To my understanding, that means that human rights, minority rights, and any other values that are not included in the agenda of this current government will be affected and threatened. Add to that we are talking about a government that is controlled by extremist politicians some of them with a criminal charges in their past, nationalists who tried to change the democratic character of this state. I find the current government allowed itself to move forward with dangerous moves with arrogancy, and hubris, That they can turn this state into whatever they want and they won't have to bear the consequences.  On the other hand, I was impressed by the awakening of a large crowd of "sleepy civilians" who went out to the street to protest, people who care about the democratic character of the state who care about liberal values, who care about the future of this society.

Can the current situation be termed a clash between religious and secular or lay visions of the world?

In Judaism we don't talk about religion and secular, we would talk about practicing Jews and non-practicing.  To connect it to the current situation, there are religious Jews( practicing Jews) who see reality, politics, and the state through religious lenses. But I think the clashes are between liberal people who see democracy as an important tool to maintain a healthy society a method that allows the majority to support certain agendas while making sure that minority rights will be protected. The other group of people sees democracy in a very narrow way the rule of the majority even if it's a small majority.

Can you help me better define the composite galaxy marching and manifesting against the controversial reform? What are the most representative movements and do they have a real strength, a weight at the electoral level in the country?

I think this is the uniqueness of this protest because it brings together very different groups that worry about the future of this state as a democratic state. I don't know if we should talk about the collaboration of different groups with different agendas or shared concerns that force very diverse groups out to the street.  Groups who see occupation as the core problem for all the sicknesses in our society. Activists for human rights women's rights gays' rights and you have a lot of people who feel that the government lost control over the extremist elements in it, some protest against Bibi who is in the middle of a trial and cannot lead this state in this circumstances, but the majority are worried about the consequences of turning the Supreme Court the institute is responsible to balance the government and the parliament, into a rubber stamp of the government.

Here in Italy, we have alos witnessed in the past harsh clashes between political figures and the judiciary, in particular Berlusconi's years in power were characterized by attacks and protests. Is there a real connection between Netanyahu's fate and this reform? But, above all, does the country really need a judicial reform and a new balance between powers?

These are a couple of good questions that are not necessarily connected. Bibi is standing for trial and he tries to do everything in his power not to go to jail he surrounded himself with very weak people who don't know how to lead a state but know how to find the favour of the leader. He is dependent on extremist parties, religious, ultra-orthodox, nationalists irresponsible politicians from other parties who are pulling the strings. I don't think that there is a problem with the way the judicial system works I think the Supreme Court must supervise decisions that are made by the government, I think the Supreme Court is not active enough in protecting human rights especially when it comes to Palestinians. I do know that a lot of people think that there is a need for change and judicial reform to a certain extent even among the liberals and those who participated in the protest, but not to that extent and so fast and controversially.

Some commentators say that to break the current government alliance and put Netanyahu in the corner, a couple of concessions to the Haredim would be enough. Money to schools and exemption from military service. Do you think it’s possible?

It has been a while since the ultra-orthodox parties aligned with the right wing, and even took more extreme right positions about many issues, and therefore would not initiate an alliance with the other side of the political map. It is a lot about special budgets and exemptions for military service but it's not only that anymore. Ultra-orthodox parties after many years of being neutral about left or right and only caring about their people, now take a stand.

The current premier has been in power for twenty years, more or less uninterruptedly. Is the current crisis a reflection of his form of governing the country, or something more? It would appear on the outside to strike at the very nature of the nation ...

Some of the challenges have accompanied Israeli society and the state since its inception, and erupt every few years. Israeli society is going through several crises that, in my view, are related to the occupation of the West Bank and military control over the civilian population, while maintaining an impossible status quo, without a vision regarding the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This leads society to become more polarized, and the result is one election after another without clear results and without a stable government.

Former President Reuven Rivlin believes that it is no longer time for dialogue and compromise on justice, but Israel and its foundations should be redefined. Is the crisis so deep?

I really do not know. I also feel that the crisis is very deep, and it is difficult to talk about dialogue now. I hope that from a legal point of view the next step in Israel will be the creation of a constitution.

In this situation  minorities are also the ones who pay the price. In recent weeks we have wrote of attacks against Christians, and others. Is there a real danger for religious minorities at the moment, or those are isolated episodes?

One of the roles of the state is to protect minorities, and if it doesn't fulfill it the supreme court is supposed to restrain the government and protect minorities. I think Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank do feel the worsening of the situation, but not only in the last few months. I think that in the last few months, extremists feel that they have more backing to take the law into their hands and attack (as you could see in Hawara or South to Hebron). It is difficult to say whether the increase in the number of attacks against Christians is a result of the new situation in the country, there is a problem of under-reporting about attacks against Christians, an issue that we at the Rossing Center are working on very seriously, but there is no doubt that the general atmosphere in the country and society allows extremist groups to express their views. As I wrote, we initiated a project and are in contact with the churches and other organizations to gather information, research, advocate and identify old problems, locate new challenges, and deal with them.


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