Here are my remarks at the demonstration last Saturday in Or-Akiva – a not-so-large community that cares a lot about Israel and will not give up.
Good evening, Or-Akiva! It’s good to be here tonight and meet people who care. Good for you!
I was a Foreign Ministry official on active duty for almost 40 years, and apart from my last assignment as ambassador to Denmark, I served only in the United States (in Washington – twice – in New York and Chicago). I was also head of the North America Division at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem. I later wrote research papers on US policy at the Mitvim Institute, so I have 25 to 30 years of “American” experience.
In full disclosure, let me say that I worked alongside Netanyahu when he was the ambassador to the United Nations. I don’t regret this part of my career, but how much he has changed is unbelievable – and not for the better. He is now a different man than the one who was my boss in the UN delegation. In my view, he must go now and the sooner the better! If not for anything else, he must go because of the regime coup he brought behind our back without warning and because of the multi-system collapse we are experiencing under his watch.
Last week, we remembered that piercing siren that had started the Yom Kippur War. My generation does not need war remembrance ceremonies because we have lived it day and night for fifty years. My battalion was deployed south of the Sea of Galilee and did not take part in the fighting because King Hussein of Jordan decided not to join the attack. Had his Arab Legion attacked, we would have had only six bazookas to repel the renowned 40th Brigade, and we would have had no chance. We planned to break through the earthen embankments separating the fish ponds of the kibbutzim, create a sizable muddy area that would make it difficult for Jordanian armor to cross, and wait until our air force destroyed the attackers. The excellent series on Channel 11 about the No. 201 Squadron showed me that maybe we should have relied on only those six bazookas. It’s good that Hussein didn’t join because maybe I wouldn’t be here today…
In 1973, the physical threat to Israel was decisive but limited. In 2023, the threat to Israel may not be physical – but it is total! This is a real challenge to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and horrifyingly, it comes from the direction of the Israeli government itself. Perhaps this is what the prophet Isaiah meant when he said, “Thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.“ (Isaiah 49:17).
This is an autoimmune process in which the body eats itself. Therefore, the healthy Israeli body, you, all of us, must activate against it all the antibodies that we can mobilize to defend our democracy, and that is what you are doing here tonight.
In the 1973 attack, the threat’s creators operated secretly, with prior coordination and deception. They built clandestine alliances and conducted a series of exercises designed to put Israel to sleep, and Israel was indeed misled, as Uri Bar-Joseph wrote in his book “The Watchmen Fell Asleep.”
Likewise, in 2023, the threat generators operated covertly, behind the scenes, and deceptively. We have known strange governments and delusional coalitions in the past, but no one thought that a justice minister (!) would rise and declare a regime coup one moment after forming the coalition. Yes, this is a coup d’état, though not with arms, and it is not a mere judicial reform!
After the Yom Kippur War, honest Menachem Begin cried bitterly in the Knesset, “Why didn’t they bring the war tools closer?” And how did it happen that Israel was so surprised? A difficult question that a state commission of inquiry, the Agranat Commission, had to address. But even now, in 2022/23, the observers fell asleep. Does anyone believe that Merav Michaeli would seriously reject the move to unite the left if she imagined that it would lead to the emergence of a government dominated by extremist ministers? This is a sick government headed by Ben-Gvir, Rotman, and Smotrich, who bring crazy ideologies of racism, messianic persuasions, and religious coercion. Even Michaeli’s arrogance and obtuseness would not have allowed such a calamity.
Under the current government, the economy is limping, the dollar is soaring, high-tech is voting with its feet and fleeing, and tourism is disappearing. The exclusion of women and their disappearance from the public sphere is increasing, as is general religionization. Governance is a sad joke –look at the number of Israeli Arabs murdered since the beginning of this year, which is almost two hundred! The health system is falling apart (try to get an orthopedic appointment these days; good luck!), and the best of our splendid youth make it clear that they will not serve under a dictatorship. Some of our reserve Air Force pilots, the best in the world (yes, they are!), refrain from renewing their volunteering, as do members of the intelligence system and special units. Say, have we all gone completely crazy? Is all this worth it to extricate one man from the terror of the disinfectant odor of a prison cell in the Ma’asiyahu Jail?
As a Foreign Service official who devoted his best years to our Special Relationship with the United States, I know with absolute certainty that these relations are the primary basis for Israel’s qualitative edge in the difficult environment in which we live. Our democratic system (so far) and our scientific and cultural capabilities also give us an advantage (there was a time when we used to joke that we were a small philharmonic orchestra surrounded by enemies). Jokes aside, the fact is that we had a philharmonic orchestra even before we had a state, and since then, we have established many magnificent cultural institutions. But first and foremost, we rely on the special relationship with the United States, whether under the Republicans or the Democrats. We, the Israeli diplomats, have always known how to maintain bipartisan contact with the American people and their political leadership. Bipartisanship is our second name, but today, our prime minister is taking sides in American politics.
We have become a strong nation, but the foundation of our statehood has always been the bond of brotherhood that still exists between the two strong communities of the Jewish people that remained to us after the Holocaust, namely the State of Israel and the Jewish community in the United States. Last week, Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a polymath and community leader who heads the largest Conservative synagogue in New York, if not in the entire United States, spoke at a rally. He said in Hebrew, “My heart is in Kaplan Street [the main weekly demonstration] while I am at the far end of the West.” We used to pray at his synagogue in Chicago, and our hearts go out to him and the other community leaders whose hearts are broken when they find themselves in an impossible situation facing a disturbed Israeli government. We must not, under any circumstances, waste this pool of Jewish love.
These leaders and their communities and congregations are the ones who stand up for us on a day of reckoning. They are the ones who stimulate the superpower of our time to act for this small and brazen State of Israel. And our government kicks them in the foot, cancels the Western Wall plan (which enables some non-Orthodox observance), and does not recognize their conversions…
Our prime minister was educated in the United States and knows this. And yet I heard him tell us at an ambassadors’ conference that as long as the Orthodox and Evangelicals stand by him, he doesn’t need anything else! So he said. It is a dangerous compound of arrogance and ignorance. Orthodox Jews comprise about 10 percent of the Jewish community (according to the Knesset Research Unit), while Reform and Conservative Jews comprise over 55 percent. It is outrageously irresponsible to ignore most of the Jewish community! As for evangelicals, there’s no denying that their support is essential and exciting. I once stood in a speech in Minnesota in front of a crowd of thousands of evangelicals roaring: ISRAEL! ISRAEL!! Anyone not moved on such an occasion is heartless, and I was very excited, with tears in my eyes. But their vision is not our vision. Some of them say that on the Day of Judgment when the final battle takes place at Armageddon (Mount Megiddo), the Jews will accept the kingdom of Christ. That is not our vision. However, the Jews, including the most critical ones, are a family, a “Mishpukhe,” as Senator Al D’Amato used to tell us.
The initiators of the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians and Egyptians, had a good plan. However, they did not consider one main element, the spirit of the Israeli fighter. The instigators of the current regime coup also have a neat plan — and they, too, are wrong. They did not appreciate that they were awakening the dormant liberal and pluralistic giant, which until now had been silent when accused of being a “white elite.” This giant was silent and contained—as he continued to call out, “Follow me!” This giant stooped down, couched like an old lion; who shall rouse him up (Genesis 49:9)? Well, we got the lion up! You have risen, and your roar can be heard all over the land.
My friends, brothers, and sisters who are protesting here tonight, let us prove to Netanyahu, to the Ben-Gvirs and the Smotrichs, that their most outstanding achievement will be the awakening of the democratic and liberal camp of the State of Israel. Those who threw their lives aside in 1973 will never give up on Israel in 2023 without a bitter political fight. It’s you! As well as the hundreds of thousands of protesters and demonstrators throughout Israel and the Diaspora. Our protest – yours! – proves that Israel is not Bibistan and our hope has not been lost. You are the most essential element in Israel’s composition and structure today. Our protest is also the main component of Israeli public diplomacy, proving that Israel is still democratic. This is the basis, and we must not – must not – and will never give it up!