Nina B. Mogilnik

Arsonists and Patriots

I have had countless conversations via phone and WhatsApp messaging with one of my cousins in Israel.  She has been distraught over the conflict engendered by the right-wing power grab in the Knesset.  Yes, the government is duly elected.  But yes also, it is seeking to turn Israel away from democracy toward autocracy and perhaps even theocracy.  One of her sons was recently arrested at a protest.  The other had served in Bibi’s security detail for several years.  When his mother asked him — in 2017 — if Bibi would accept a plea bargain to settle corruption charges against him he said, “Never.  He will burn it all down.”  And here we are.

There are those who like to fashion every story into a both sides narrative.  In this case, however, there is one side that is rigid, uncompromising, openly racist, homophobic, and otherwise wanting to limit legitimate membership in the Jewish state to those who hew to its standards of religious, political, and military orthodoxy.  None of which is what those who strove to make Herzl’s vision a dream demanded of the state they envisioned.  But never mind, I digress.

I woke this morning to stories of airport and workplace closures and sent a WhatsApp message to my cousin:  I know you are anguished and worried, but I am so proud of your sons and of all the other Israelis standing up for their country, and against the pyromaniacs bent on tearing it apart.  We in America lack both the courage and patriotism to defend our own democracy, and we are poorer for it.  Israel is an example to the world of what you do when you love your country and refuse to let it be turned into the narrow, cruel, impoverished vision of men who want selfishly to protect themselves and their religious and racial intolerance at the expense of the very things that have made Israel a vibrant and wondrous, if still imperfect, nation.  Kol ha Kavod to all those who’ve taken to the streets to save Israel from the arsonists within. 

I am amazed at all those who have lauded and encouraged the arsonist-in-chief, Netanyahu, who now seem to have (at least temporary) buyer’s remorse.  It seems they’ve come to realize that when Frankenstein escapes the laboratory, good luck getting him back inside for some reprogramming.  So it’s left to the parents and grandparents whose children and grandchildren have fought and fallen in defense of Israel, to members of the LGBTQ community despised by religious fundamentalists, to reservists, to secular Israelis and yes, even to some religious Zionists, to band together to declare: Not on our watch.  Not in our country. Not on the graves of our loved ones. And not in the name of our Jewish values.

And the only response this American Zionist has is gratitude.  You don’t ask permission of the arsonist(s) setting your house on fire to put it out.  You defend what you love and whom you love fully, passionately, and yes, even uncompromisingly.  Because making deals with those who care only for themselves, for their own power, is a deal for fools.  Let the arsonist be subdued, let his torch be removed from his hands, and let those holding matches for him be reminded that a nation built by blood, sweat, tears, and extraordinary ingenuity in the face of staggering odds, is not a nation to be torn asunder by those who look out at its vibrancy, at its complexity, at its multi-racial nature, and at its mutli-denominational Judaism, and feel scorn and worse.

About the Author
Nina has a long history of working in the non-profit, philanthropic, and government sectors. She has also been an opinion writer for The Jewish Week, and a contributor to The Forward, and to The New Normal, a disabilities-focused blog. However, Nina is most proud of her role as a parent to three unique young adults, and two rescue dogs, whom she co-parents with her wiser, better half. She blogs about that experience now and again at
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