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Understanding Israel’s civilian unrest and mass protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

On 26 March 2023, tens of thousands of citizens poured into the streets of Israel, demanding action be taken after controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defence minister Yoav Gallant. While most internal government sackings don’t usually result in such a fiery societal response, Gallant’s dismissal is particularly significant as it came after the minister spoke out against Netanyahu’s highly divisive plans to overhaul the nation’s justice system.

From Netanyahu’s political legacy to the controversial proposed judicial reforms, here’s everything you need to know about the mass civilian unrest currently taking place in Israel.

What are Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans for Israel’s justice system?

According to the BBC, Netanyahu’s reforms are geared directly towards tightening his grip on Israel’s judicial capabilities. The new law will give the government decisive control over the committee which appoints judges, and would also make it harder for courts to remove a leader deemed unfit for office. While, on the surface, these reforms are immediately frightening, they become that bit more concerning when one considers the political reputation and legacy of Netanyahu.

First elected in 1996, the politician has served as premier of Israel for six terms, spanning across a time period of 29 years, with only a nine year gap from 2000 to 2009. Netanyahu has led some of the most far-right governments in Europe and as he moved into his most recent term—which began in November 2023—political publications made it known that he had brought in the most religious and hardline parties in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu’s recent meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was also met with serious upset and suspicion. Massive demonstrations were held outside and around Downing Street as citizens protested the Israeli leader’s visit. An opinion piece published in The Guardian detailed the ways in which Netanyahu’s meeting with Sunak was not only inherently offensive to British Palestinians, but has also made the UK to appear weak in regard to human rights violations.

On top of this, Netanyahu is also currently facing an ongoing corruption trial in Israel. The politician is accused of fraud and breach of trust, as reported by Sky News. What’s evident is that he is facing a serious political upheaval at home and away—one that’s been built upon over two decades of unlawfulness and self-serving policies.

How have the mass protests in Israel unfolded and what might happen next?

Since the protests began on Sunday, police have deployed water canons and force against those who’ve taken to the streets, an immediate general strike has been called for by the head of Israel’s largest trade union group, departures from Tel Aviv’s main airport have been suspended, the nation’s two primary sea ports have stopped working and international bodies are beginning to denounce the disruption—calling upon the Israeli government to find a solution and stop the chaos.

The US government has released a statement urging Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible, while Israeli President Isaac Herzog tweeted: “For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately.”

Regardless of this, it’s unclear as to whether Netanyahu would consider dismissing the reform plans, particularly as it appears he’d face serious backlash from a number of his far-right ministers and party members.

In an interview with the BBC, Professor Yuval Shany, senior research fellow from the Israel Democracy Institute, explained how the current situation is now simply about “political survival” for Netanyahu. “He has really no choice politically but to stop, or at least pause, the legislation,” Shany concluded.

Protestors have also begun to gather outside of the Prime Minister’s home, urging him to make a statement regarding the justice reforms, however the leader has not yet made any official comments. Although it should be important to note that, whatever his statement might be, political protests and societal unrest will certainly continue to spread.

Rishi Sunak’s new mission to enforce pupils to study maths until 18 reflects a wider education issue

2023 is officially here, and while the dawn of a new year may be synonymous with rest and relaxation in other countries, in the UK, it signals something worse. The chiming of Big Ben at midnight often reminds Brits that they have a whole new 12 months of political disarray, confusion and upheaval to look forward to. While it’s unlikely—although never say never—that we’ll experience as much leadership turnover as we saw in 2022 (otherwise known as the Johnson, Truss and Sunak debacle), it appears that this year, the Conservative party leadership have their eyes set on shaking up the British education system.

In his first speech of 2023—due to take place on the afternoon of 4 January—UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will unveil new plans which require all pupils in England to study maths until the age of 18. According to the politician, this wide-sweeping move will tackle the growing numeracy problem in the country and better equip future generations for the workplace.

As reported by Sky News, the Prime Minister will lay out his ‘new mission’ regarding these plans during his speech, adding that “Letting our children out into the world without those skills is letting our children down.”

Sunak is also expected to state: “Right now, just half of all 16-year-olds study any maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before.”

Amid the predictable backlash, primary criticism of this move centres on the lack of thought the Conservative party have given to the sheer deficiency of maths teachers currently in England. Labour, according to The Guardian, have regarded the Prime Minister’s plans as an “empty pledge,” insisting that Sunak “cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers, yet the government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year, with existing teachers leaving in their droves.”

It’s true that teaching levels in the country have dropped to catastrophic levels, with only 29,000 graduates signing up for teaching trainee courses in 2022—a 20 per cent fall from 2021.

On top of these issues, a number of critics have also accused the Prime Minister of pushing forward and prioritising education reform, while the National Health Service (NHS) bleeds. It’s undeniable that the UK health service is in a devastating condition, one so critical that for the first time ever British nurses are striking in efforts to scare the government out of stubborn complacency.

It’s important to recognise how this change in policy symbolises a growing shift within the British education system. In particular, this shift reflects what some have deemed a “creativity crisis.” According to Labour analysis of government data obtained by The Guardian in 2021, a decade of conservative investment has massively impacted the state of creative arts classes and courses within UK schools.

The figures have shown that the number of GCSE music and drama students has fallen by a fifth over the last decade. Additionally, one in seven music teachers and one in eight art and design teachers have left the profession. School reforms have caused pupils to move away from creative subjects such as dance, music and art, and towards more traditional academic options instead.

This data is emblematic of recent social and political discourse that sees the creative arts, both at the school level and in higher education, as lesser then compared to the supposed ‘hard’ subjects such as maths and physics.

In 2019, the Royal Academy of Arts stated that a lack of government funding and support had encouraged media publications to perceive creative courses as low value and economically unviable, referring to them as “Mickey Mouse degrees” and peddling stereotypes about how no one could possibly have worked hard if they took media studies.

If anyone is still curious to hear the Prime Minister’s full manifesto, his speech will be broadcast at 2 pm today. And with an entire year ahead of us, it’ll be interesting—and probably quite entertaining—to discover whether or not the UK ultimately considers Sunak to be economically unviable.