For those of us who love Israel, this is a time of care and concern. Care for the land and the people that are at the heart of our heritage and identity. Concern about the political turmoil and veritable crisis of faith surrounding the judicial reform efforts of the current administration. Israel’s President Herzog has labeled the situation a “nightmare” and has called for consultations and negotiations to bring about a solution to the destructive proposal that “undermines our foundations.” The Biden administration has also warned about the potential damage that the judicial reform would have in disrupting any of the checks and balances so essential to democracy.
Complicating the judicial and legislative issues are personalities that, beyond policy, undermine Israel as an egalitarian, free, and democratic society for all its citizens. The proven trajectories of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, threaten the democratic and Jewish soul of the nation. In the meantime, Prime Minister Netanyahu, pretends to play to both sides and is more interested in protecting his own legal fate than in the destiny of the State he was appointed to lead.
The ultra-orthodox (Haredi) sector continues to make implacable and growing demands that strain Israeli society culturally, religiously, and economically. Increased terrorism from Palestinian elements and violent settlers strain joint security efforts and dialogue between the Israeli administration and the Palestinian Authority.
What is to be done? It is being done. While the absence of a Constitution complicates the Israeli democratic process, the spirit of the Israeli public is decidedly democratic. Hundreds of thousand of Israeli citizens have taken to the streets, military personnel have gone on strike in ways that do not threaten Israeli security, grassroots dialogue between like-minded Jewish and Arab Israelis is flourishing, and diaspora Jews have spoken up and demonstrated publicly in unprecedented fashion to promote and protect the integrity of Israel as a secure, democratic state undergirded by Jewish values. President Herzog has expressed hope that a consensus solution is within reach to heal the civil unrest and curtail the disastrous “oppressive” legislation.
A critical lesson from what is happening in Israel is not only the worrisome prospect of the current administration’s plans, but a sober recognition that hundreds of thousands of Israelis are pouring into the streets day by day to oppose these regressive machinations. This demonstrates to the world that Israel is not the backward, apartheid, colonialist oppressor that enemies of Zionism paint. This sustained opposition to antidemocratic leadership is a testimony to the vitality of the democratic spirit that has inspired and sustained Israel. While we need to decisively decry the efforts of the current Israeli government, the people’s response is evidence that those who constantly hate and malign Israel are incorrect in their assessment and malicious in their intent. Countries go through periods of political turmoil and adjustment, as our own has, historically and in recent memory. Let us hope that the common sense and noble intentions that propelled the Zionist enterprise that gave birth to the State of Israel, will prevail and that Israel will emerge strengthened and with renewed vision from the current challenges.
The ancient rabbis taught that the Roman Empire’s wars against Israel two thousand years ago were aggravated by Sinat Hinam, an irrational, groundless hatred among the people that caused the fall of Jerusalem. It is time for the people of Israel, in the State and in the diaspora, to exhibit Ahavat Hinam, a spirit of abundant love and respect that will overcome hateful rhetoric and dangerous divisions. As we anticipate the festival of Pesach and the celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary of Independence, let us embrace Hatikvah, a new day of hope and peace.