If Prime Minister Netanyahu thought his decision to ‘pause’ the judicial overhaul would grant him some respite, a written agreement with extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir to grant him a private militia has scuppered that – and created another problem for BibiShare in FacebookShare in Twitter

Source: Ha’aretz Anshel Pfeffer

Protesters in Ra'anana on Saturday.

Protesters in Ra’anana on Saturday.Anshel PfefferGet email notification for articles from Anshel PfefferFollow

Apr 2, 2023 5:09 pm IDT

Demonstrators who have been protesting for weeks all turned up again, their numbers boosted by Israelis who came for the first time – perhaps anxious to join a winning movement.

As one woman taking part in her first pro-democracy protest put it: “I realized that one day my granddaughter would ask me if I had been there, protecting her rights, and I wanted to be able to say that I had.”

Not only did Netanyahu fail in his semi-conciliatory address last Monday, and in subsequent statements, to put anyone’s mind at ease. His promise to Itamar Ben-Gvir of a “national guard” – a publicly funded private militia that would come under the direct control of the far-right Otzma Yehudit leader’s National Security Ministry – only proved to most Israelis that Netanyahu cannot be trusted.

Israel Politics

The militia promise didn’t just motivate Israelis to take to the streets on Saturday, when it would have been perfectly understandable for them to take a break after so many intensive weeks. It could prove to be the biggest tactical mistake Netanyahu committed last week. Even bigger, perhaps, than the rushed announcement last Sunday that he was firing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, which unleashed the furious round of protests and the general strike that finally forced him to announce he was suspending the legislation.

Netanyahu’s written commitment to Ben-Gvir not only gave the protest additional impetus. It has also set the prime minister up for an almost inevitable coalition crisis.

There is no way the “national guard” envisaged by Ben-Gvir can come into being in the time frame he expects. The personnel are not there, his ministry lacks the logistical capacity to absorb hundreds of new recruits (even if they were available) and the legal hurdles of establishing a new force that will act independently of either the police or military hierarchies are massive.

And while the government has authorized a special budget for it, at the expense of all existing government ministries, it also voted to first establish a committee that will examine for 90 days the question of who should be in charge of the new force, Ben-Gvir or Israel’s chief of police. What will remain of this initiative by the time the committee finishes its work? No one can tell.


Just like the firing of Gallant, which Netanyahu failed to follow through on – a week later, Gallant is still in post and no Likud politician seems eager to replace him and face the intense hostility of the defense establishment – the militia promise will almost certainly not materialize.

At a not-too-distant point, Ben-Gvir will either demand some other outrageous concession or split with the coalition. He is already chafing with the constraints of cabinet and ministerial responsibility, and believes he can do even better in the next election running as the only “true” right-wing party, refusing to compromise with the accursed “left.”

Just three months after returning to office, Netanyahu is at his weakest place as prime minister since the twilight of his first term in 1999 – and then it took him three years to reach that point.

He is at loggerheads with his two most senior Likud ministers: Gallant, who has openly defied him, been virtually fired and remained in his post; and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who has been cheated out of his “legal reform.”

ישיבת ממשלה 2.4.2023

Netanyahu has even less control over his coalition partners, who oversee most of the powerful ministries. Since he himself has no power to deliver his government’s main policy, he will have to allow them to pursue their own. If he tries to rein them in, he could lose them. And lose power.