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Sensemaker: An altered Israel

Sensemaker: An altered Israel

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Sergio Ermotti returned as chief executive of UBS to oversee the takeover of Credit Suisse.
  • Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was detained in Yekaterinburg on spying charges.
  • Turkmenistan said it would spend $5 billion building a city in honour of former president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the father of the current president.

An altered Israel

On Tuesday evening negotiating teams representing Israel’s main political parties arrived at the president’s office in Jerusalem to begin discussing constitutional reform. It was a curious anticlimax to three months of determined mass protests against plans by Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government to weaken the Supreme Court. The protests almost brought the country to a standstill and ultimately forced Netanyahu to suspend the controversial legislation. 

Israel for now, seems almost back to normal. 

So what? It isn’t. The protests against the government’s “legal reform” brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets. They were probably the biggest in Israel’s history and

  • included threats from Israel’s tech sector to relocate their companies; 
  • from thousands of army reservists not to turn up for duty; and
  • even reserve fighter pilots from an elite air force squadron briefly refused to attend training, before agreeing to talk to their commanders.

In a bid to protect the Supreme Court as they know it, Israelis from the predominantly secular centre-left threatened the foundations of the economy and security structure. They have won this round, but have also exposed the tectonic fault-lines in Israel’s fractured society.  

Not Netanyahu. Ostensibly, the events have revolved around Netanyahu. The judicial overhaul was launched by his new government three months ago and he was the one who announced its “suspension” on Monday night. But the last three months in Israel have shown how the country’s longest-serving prime minister is rapidly becoming irrelevant. The plans to end the Supreme Court’s independence were hatched by more radical members of his Likud party and pushed by other parties in his coalition. Netanyahu gave them his backing but had little control of the process. 

Israeli society. The government’s plans and the protests against them have focused on constitutional questions, but this is also a struggle for the future of Israeli society. The centre-left middle-class which prides itself on founding the Jewish state 75 years ago is no longer a majority. Religious communities and far-right parties managed narrowly to win last year’s election. Demographic trends indicate they will have an easier time doing so in the next few decades. For secular and relatively liberal Israelis, this has felt like a last chance to protect the old structures. They succeeded, this time, but will have to continue fighting. It won’t get easier unless an unlikely compromise is reached.

The Palestinians. For decades the main divide in Israeli politics was over the future of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Would Israel agree to an historic compromise and the foundation of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip? Or would the occupation continue indefinitely, as Israelis built settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinians remain stateless in semi-autonomous enclaves? 

It was a debate which took the life of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, gunned down by a Jewish zealot who opposed his attempts to reach a compromise with the Palestinians. The Oslo Accords that Rabin signed live on in principle but not in practice. Surveys show Israeli and Palestinian support for a two-state solution at an all-time low. 

As the protests unfolded many Israelis felt their country was even more torn now than it was after the Rabin assassination. But the Palestinian issue was nowhere on the agenda.

  • Left-wing activists were discouraged from coming to the protests with Palestinian flags (though signs against the occupation were OK). Instead, the rallies were “flooded” with Israeli flags to emphasise protesters’ “patriotism”.
  • This was an internal debate among Israeli Jews on the nature of their democracy. And while some of the organisers tried to encourage the Arab-Israeli minority to join the protests, few of them felt at home. 

Israel is no longer divided by the Palestinian issue. Most Israelis, including those on the centre-left, feel it is a conflict that will not be solved in this generation, if ever. And it’s not just the Israelis. The world has largely given up on solving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Meanwhile, Israel has other problems.  


One way ticket
Russia’s economy is drowning. As Putin’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, the ruble is down 20 per cent against the dollar and oil and gas tax revenue fell by nearly half in the first two months of 2023 compared to last year, the WSJ reports. State spending meanwhile increased by 50 per cent (partly due to 24/7 weaponry production). The mobilisation of 300,000 people – and the departure of 700,000 fleeing conscription – have caused labour shortages and a brain drain. “There will be no money next year,” the billionaire Oleg Deripaska said this month. With Western investors pulling out because of sanctions, Russia is becoming more reliant on China and India as its main oil importers, but experts say the economy is still entering a long-term regression. That’s exactly what happened to the Soviet economy due to sanctions imposed after the invasion of Afghanistan.


There’s an ultramassive black hole about 30 billion times the mass of the sun, close enough to be seen by the Hubble Space Telescope but probably not close enough to worry about. It’s 2.7 billion light years away at the centre of the Abel 1201 BCG galaxy and according to scientists at Durham University is the first black hole detected using gravitational lensing, which measures how light from even more distant parts of the universe bends as it passes the object under observation. In this case images formed from lensing data matched conventional images from the space telescope. The Abel 1201 BCG black hole is about as massive as they get, and may have been formed from the merger of several smaller ones soon after the dawn of the universe. The universe is 13.8 billion years old.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Telling porkies
A British meat processing firm sold rotten pork to supermarkets for years, according to an investigation by Farmers Weekly. The firm also falsified paperwork giving meat a clean bill of health, failed to heat-treat meat properly, passed foreign pork off as British and left frozen meat to thaw out on factory floors, the trade paper found. The company hasn’t been identified for legal reasons but the National Food Crime Unit has reportedly started its own investigation since the Farmers Weekly story’s publication yesterday, based on testimony from workers who described being bullied into silence by their employer. One feared the bad meat, often sourced cheaply from outside the UK and mixed with more expensive British meat, would end up killing someone. The firm’s customers include M & S, Morrisons, Tesco and Asda.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Boulevard of broken dreams
Britain’s initial response to US and EU green subsidy plans was published today under the cheery headline “Green Day”. So far, it looks more like a buffet of reheated net zero policy with no new Treasury money. Key announcements include: two carbon capture clusters funded by £20 billion over 20 years; the extension of a subsidy scheme which takes £5,000 off the cost of a heat pump; a £1 billion insulation scheme and a competition for manufacturers to build floating offshore wind turbines from a pot of £160 million (which Boris Johnson announced in 2021). One significant move: the UK will consult on a carbon tariff, which could come into force within a few years. Questions yet to be answered: will a ban on new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 be watered down, as in Europe? Will North Sea oil fields gain final approval? And – critically for the government – is all this enough to fend off the green lawyers who sued for the net zero strategy to be rewritten in the first place? Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says he won’t be drawn into a “distortive global subsidy race” and that there will be more money in the autumn. For now though, Britain is walking a lonely road.


Missing the boat
Yesterday, UK government proposals to house asylum seekers in former military bases, barges and disused cruise ships made the front pages of several UK newspapers. The plan would end the “farce” of using hotels at a cost of more than £6 million a day, the Daily Mail said. The Times reported that ministers hoped it would deter Channel crossings. But by the time Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, stood up in the Commons, the waterborne element had been downgraded to a “possibility”. Why? The Independent’s Lizzie Dearden says newspapers were briefed about barges after a report was released under embargo showing the UK spent £3.5 billion of aid money – a third of the entire aid budget – on refugees and asylum seekers already in the UK in 2022, while allowing hotel costs to soar. The barges seem to be a red herring which the Home Office ruled out last year because it could be more expensive than hotels.

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Anshel Pfeffer


Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Barney Macintyre and Jess Winch.

Photographs Getty Images

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