Michael Boyden

A Disgraceful Way to Behave

If anyone needed convincing why Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had to be replaced, they only had to look at the behaviour of those who will now sit in opposition as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett delivered his inaugural speech.

The statement “I may disagree with you, but I defend to the death your right to say it” is frequently attributed, although wrongly, to the French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, Voltaire.

It is one of the principles upon which any democratic system of government is built. In the United Kingdom the official opposition is referred to as “Her Majesty’s loyal opposition.” No one doubts their loyalty and no one refers to them as “traitors.”

The disgraceful behaviour of a number of members of Netanyahu’s government, who were unprepared to listen respectfully to Bennett’s speech, even though they disapprove of his government, showed only too clearly that they do not fully understand the principles of democracy or respect them.

Were Netanyahu to be a true statesman, he would have risen to his feet and called upon his supporters to listen to Israel’s newly elected leader in silence and with respect. However, Netanyahu thrives on sowing discord and division. No one will forget how he whispered to Rabbi Kadoori back in 1997: “The Left have forgotten what it is to be Jewish”.

It is difficult to know how long Israel’s new coalition government will hold together. However, we should rejoice in the fact that it has now taken office. It is unhealthy in any democracy for one party to be in power for too long. It is also unhealthy when any leader begins to believe that the office is his of right. Louis XIV is apocryphally attributed with the statement “I am the State.”

Democracies can only survive when we respect the right of others to hold different views from our own. Those who cannot accept that principle are paving the way to a dictatorship.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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