A law passed in Israel’s Parliament on Monday to limit the power of the judiciary left the country with something of a cliffhanger, with the real effects of the government’s move likely to remain unclear for weeks or even months.
The opposition fears a slow descent toward authoritarianism, while the government — which rejects those concerns — is waiting to see how disruptive and prolonged the response will be from its critics. The law strips Israel’s Supreme Court of the power to overturn government actions and appointments it deems “unreasonable,” which opponents fear is a first step toward gutting the power of an independent judiciary.
Some hard-line members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition have said they want to fire the attorney general, a key gatekeeper appointed by the previous government. It’s also possible that the government might now attempt to reinstate Aryeh Deri, the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker whose appointment to Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet was blocked by the Supreme Court earlier this year.
On the other side of the political divide, leaders of the protest movement, which has held mass rallies for 29 consecutive weeks, have vowed to fight on. The country’s main union is still weighing whether to hold a general strike. Hundreds of leaders from Israel’s vaunted high-tech industry say they’re considering moving their businesses abroad. And thousands of military reservists have said they will stop turning up for volunteer service.
Then there’s the Supreme Court, which has already been petitioned by several civil society groups to overrule the new law — a move that could cause a constitutional crisis.
In reality, though, it could be weeks or months before the crisis reaches another crescendo.
Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, said earlier this month that it won’t fire the attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, even though individual lawmakers continue to call for her dismissal. Likud on Tuesday also dismissed an effort by ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers to advance a bill that would have declared study of the Torah, the Jewish Bible, a “significant service to the state of Israel,” a move that would have infuriated the secular opposition.
Parliament is set to break on Wednesday until October — creating a window in which new legislation cannot be passed. That in turn creates a challenge for the protesters: With few lawmakers inside the Parliament during recess, the rallies and encampments that have sprung up outside the building in recent days will have no one to directly challenge.
For now, the umbrella alliance that coordinates between various protest groups says it will continue to hold weekly mass demonstrations on Saturday nights. But protest leaders might hold off organizing other demonstrations until the Supreme Court convenes to consider the new law.
“People are still trying to figure it out,” said Josh Drill, a spokesman for the alliance. “Because yesterday was such an intense day, the different groups are still in deliberations,” he added.
The effect of the reservists’ resignations may also take time to be felt. Only a few hundred reservists are thought to have explicitly refused to turn up for duty when asked directly. The others have only threatened to resign.
And the country’s biggest union, for all its warnings, has still yet to call a general strike, even as a smaller union of 30,000 doctors scaled back medical operations, saying its members outside Jerusalem, the capital, would handle only emergencies and critical care on Tuesday. The more time that passes, analysts believe, the less likely the union is to take major action.