The night of March 27, 2023, came as a surprise. Bibi blinked. I think.
After comparing himself to King Solomon, and announcing that he was pausing his overhaul of Israel’s judicial system, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would eventually see those reforms put into law. So, did he blink, or did he not blink? That is the question.
That night, I joined yet another demonstration in Tel Aviv, where I now live, to protest Netanyahu’s so-called reforms. I’m no rabble rouser. In my 68 years, I’ve never been tear-gassed, drenched by water cannons, or dragged off in handcuffs, for a cause. I’ve always been more of an observer.
Yet, there I was, prepared to disrupt traffic on the Ayalon Highway, thinking about the best way to stay on my feet when a harsh stream of water propelled through a fire hose hit me.
Why, now, was I ready to rumble? Was it because I had grown up in the United States of America, a country with a flawed, yet much beloved, constitution that recently proved to be stronger than a would-be dictator who spearheaded an attempt to take back his lost power by force?
Israel has no formal constitution and only two branches of government. Its parliament, the Knesset, has only one chamber. Disembowel the country’s Supreme Court, as people fear will happen if the reforms are pushed through as written, and the majority in power can do most anything it wants. In theory.
The demonstration had been called for 8:00, which was when Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to address the nation. I expected he was going to chastise folks like me for thwarting his good intentions. People defying his government, after he had won the election, were unpatriotic! Period.
I decided that taking to the street would be time better spent. However, at 7:30, I was surprised to find the major thoroughfare leading to the Ayalon relatively empty. Had I missed the memo? Were people supposed to stay home and watch Bibi on TV?
I made it to the front of the crowd where anti-judicial overhaul demonstrators were shouting down a much smaller number of pro-judicial reform demonstrators across a divide created by a row of mounted police officers. Their horses were quiet, well-behaved. I moved around them capturing video footage without a problem.
The demonstration, like the previous ones I had attended, seemed civilized. They say that’s because many of the protestors are white, privileged Ashkenazi Jews, like me. Hard to deny that. I, for one, saw no Ethiopian people of color, let alone anyone wearing Arab garb.
That night, if I wanted violence, I was with the wrong crowd. I needed to be in Jerusalem with the Bibi supporters burning tires. I left the demonstration freely, my wrists barren of handcuffs, my clothes completely dry, my eyes clear.
I’ve read that there are people in Israel and other parts of the world who have declared Bibi’s judicial reform pause a miracle. They are delighted to see that the people spoke, and he listened. Three cheers for democracy.
There are others who fully expect Bibi to find a way in the end to push through the judicial reforms in order to protect himself from being tried for the crimes of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust that he reportedly committed in the past. From what US President Joe Biden has said, he appears to be in the camp of Bibi doubters.
One might argue that Israel’s prime minister didn’t blink as the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev famously blinked when President John Kennedy stared him down over Soviet nuclear missiles stored in Cuba. After Kruschev blinked, he removed the missiles. If Bibi blinked in the same manner as Niki, he would toss the current judicial reform package and start over. Better yet, he would drive the anti-democratic radicals from his coalition, lose his Knesset majority, let his government fall, and face the music in court. I’d call that a miracle.
For now, I won’t say Bibi blinked. The other night he took a breath. In the meantime, if he resumes his quest to undermine Israel’s democracy, I’m prepared to face the gas, the water, and the cuffs. Call me a Minuteman.