Netanyahu delays plan to overhaul judiciary, but ‘he could be toppled.’ Northeastern expert reacts to situation in Israel

crowd of protestors waving Israeli flags
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan outside the parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023. AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is facing an uncertain political future amid widespread protests across the Middle Eastern country in response to a now-paused plan to overhaul the judiciary, a Northeastern political scientist says.  

“He could be toppled,” says Max Abrahms, associate professor of political science and an expert in international security.

On Sunday, in what many commentators have suggested was a “fatal mistake,” Netanyahu fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for urging that he pause the government’s controversial plan to transform the judiciary into a de facto arm of Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

In response to what Abrahms describes as “extraordinary democratic pressure,” Netanyahu delayed his coalition’s judicial reform legislation on Monday. Part of that pressure came in the form of a countrywide general strike orchestrated by Israel’s workers’ union. 

But the crisis is far from over, Abrahms says.

“If Netanyahu were to cave in and permanently put off the judicial overhaul, then those on the far-right could flake from his coalition,” Abrahms says. 

Israel’s protests have been weeks in the making. On Sunday, Gallant broke ranks with Netanyahu, saying that “the growing rift in [Israeli] society … poses a clear, immediate and tangible threat to the security of the state.”

“He knew there was going to be a major backlash,” Abrahms says. “But I think he has been surprised at how widespread the pushback has been—as well as the intensity.”

Abrahms, who teaches international relations, says what’s taking place in Israel at the moment is, in his mind, unparalleled in scope. 

“Globally, when you compare this to the size of protests throughout the region and elsewhere … this is at the very top in terms of the number of citizens in the nation who are participating,” Abrahms says.

The proposed judicial changes include reordering a nine-member committee that appoints judges to give its government-appointed members a de facto majority, effectively giving the government the power to pick judges. 

“It would also weaken the judiciary’s ability to remove the prime minister, and that’s quite relevant right now because Netanyahu is being tried for taking bribes,” Abrahms says. 

Netanyahu’s plan also would weaken the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn laws that it deems unconstitutional.

Abrahms says the widespread demonstrations are likely to force more concessions out of the country’s hard-right governing coalition. Those who’ve taken to the streets, which The New York Times calls “secular centrists,” view the proposed judicial reforms “as contrary to the spirit of democracy” by further concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his allies, Abrahms says.

“In a way, this is a potent illustration of democracy,” Abrahms says. “Netanyahu was democratically elected. There has been a massive, non-violent turnout of opposition, and I do believe that the government and Netanyahu will have to make concessions in order to come more in line with what the public thinks.”

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @tstening90.