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A historic crisis and a historic opportunity

History teaches us that sometimes there’s no choice but to fall and hit rock-bottom so as to pick ourselves up again. The American civil war was needed to erase the stain of slavery. The forces of oppression and seclusion in Eastern Europe were what led to the fall of the Berlin wall and the unification of Europe. I only hope we do not come here in Israel to a civil war like the USA or to the levels of oppression and denial of individual freedoms that we saw in Romania and the Communist bloc states, but we ought not be fearful of the looming constitutional crisis that lies ahead in the coming weeks. It is a crisis that could become an opportunity.

Netanyahu, Levin, Rotman and their bunch are leading the entire state of Israel on a journey of self-discovery. The huge liberal public that has been silent so far, keeping its grievances about the way the state is being run to Friday night family dinners or the pages of social networks, is now out on the streets because it senses that someone is trying to rob them of their freedom. The reviled camp, described so often as apathetic, is discovering itself and its determination. They understand they have to speak up in a clear and firm voice, otherwise those who are corrupt, racist and fundamentalist will take over their lives.

The government has already announced it will not respect the decisions of the High Court of Justice if they don’t suit it. In its face stand millions of Israeli men and women who are filling the streets, who have announced they will not continue to serve a state whose leaders want to turn it into the dictatorship they see in-the-becoming, and who are volunteering as freedom fighters in a struggle over the image of the state, one that will explode in full force the moment the government stands by its warning and refuses to comply with the Court’s ruling, dragging us all into a constitutional crisis.

The crisis looks like a low point of the state of Israel, but it might be the beginning of an Israeli tikkun, a constitutive moment in which the military, the secret service, the intelligence agency, the hi-tech, academia and many others will be called to make a crucial choice – between a dictatorship and a democracy, between a Supreme Court and a Supreme Ruler. It might be the start of a recovery, as the body begins to reject the tumor that has been spreading in it for years, it being no longer possible to separate the dictatorial military regime in the occupied territories from the democracy at home. It might be the moment when the systems that were established here and grew over the 75 years of the state’s existence, reject the virus that has spread and become so potent until it threatens to end our very existence here as a democratic and Jewish state.

The struggle between the defenders of the Jewish democratic state and the supporters of a dictatorship might be hard and long, and perhaps it is inescapable. Because the struggle is no longer between right and left, but between those who seek freedom and those who wish to take hold of a stick of oppression.

Its outcome could be a new covenant between the state and its citizens, a covenant that has at its core an Israeli constitution that guarantees the rights of all the citizens of the state, be they in the majority or the minority. A constitution that will not allow us to keep on ignoring the elephant in the room, the 56-year-old occupation that is indifferent to human rights and has after all these years spilled over the green line, threatening now to bring about our destruction.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.