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You could say that Israelis took to the streets in protest after passage of legislation Monday to rein in the country’s Supreme Court. 

But they were already in the streets.

Since January, there have been massive citizen protests against so-called “reform” measures proposed by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shift power from courts to the executive branch. Netanyahu claimed the measures would tamp down on excessive judicial activism; opponents say they will destroy Israeli democracy.

That the polarizing figure of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is at the center of this storm is no surprise. He has been a divisive figure in Israeli politics for decades. And the battle over judicial reform pushed by the coalition of right-wing and religious groups Netanyahu now heads, writes UMass Amherst Middle East scholar David Mednicoff, is a prime example of how “today’s Israel is marked by growing splits between secular, urbanized citizens near the Mediterranean coast and Orthodox and other settlers in or near the West Bank.” The two groups have competing visions for the country, with the latter pushing Israel in a more theocratic direction.

In his review of Netanyahu’s career at this crucial moment in Israeli history, Mednicoff explains how the prime minister’s leadership is largely responsible for this divisive battle over Israel’s future.

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Naomi Schalit

Democracy Editor

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the country’s parliament in Jerusalem on July 24, 2023. AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

As contentious judicial ‘reform’ becomes law in Israel, Netanyahu cements his political legacy

David Mednicoff, UMass Amherst

Benjamin Netanyahu has helped reshape Israel and the broader world in profound ways. And there’s a dark side to those changes.

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