Josh Levin

Legal reform protestors are this year’s Passover heroes

The period from Purim to Passover to Yom Haatzmaut is my favorite time of year. Purim because it’s a self-help story and because the kids look forward with great anticipation to wearing their costumes. Passover because it’s a celebration of human freedom that coincides with perfect weather for trips around the country. Yom Haatzmaut because it commemorates the rebirth of the Jewish people in their homeland, and because as a lifelong aviation enthusiast I adore the air force flyover.

But this year I approach Passover with a mix of anger and sadness. It’s easy to celebrate our freedom when it involves triumph over external foes such as the ancient Persians and Egyptians, or the present day Iranian regime and terrorist organizations against which we continue to defend ourselves. But how do we celebrate Passover when it’s our own coreligionists which arguably threaten our freedom more than anything else?

Much has already been written about the proposed “legal reform” in Israel. For those who haven’t been following developments closely, the reform would replace the current system of checks and balances with a tyranny of the majority. It would eviscerate the supreme court by allowing the current government to effectively appoint and fire judges at will and all but ignore the court’s rulings. Citizens wouldn’t be guaranteed basic rights such as freedom of expression, and they wouldn’t have a proper redress mechanism against the government when it acted against them. A plethora of academics, government officials and business people both here and abroad have warned of the legal reform’s deleterious consequences. Even members of the Kohelet Forum – the think tank which birthed the idea of legal reform – have argued that it’s unacceptable in its current form.

You need only look at how the legal reform’s supporters have conducted themselves to know that if it passes, the current government will abuse its new powers. Minister of Justice Yariv Levin won’t deign to speak with the media and public to explain why the reform needs to pass and why it needs to pass so quickly. MK Simcha Rothman – who’s shepherding the reform through the Knesset committee which he chairs – routinely ejects people from the committee room if they voice disagreement. Rothman called for former Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to be jailed after the latter voiced his concerns about the proposed reform. Minister of Internal Security Itamar Ben-Gvir tried to fire a Tel Aviv police commissioner because he didn’t use enough physical force against peaceful protestors. Minister of Communications Shlomo Karhi tweeted a Purim message in which he said protesting air force pilots “could go to hell.” Likud MKs David Amsalem and Tali Gottlieb routinely scream on television and from the Knesset podium about how the protestors are “violent thugs.” Their behavior is mimicked by – or perhaps inspired by – the reform’s supporters in the street. Social media is replete with videos of supporters harassing and threatening peaceful protestors – the last such video I saw featured a man who approached a bunch of female protestors, yelled “Bibi, King of Israel!” and then demanded they fellate him. 

Indeed, many of the legal reform’s most vocal proponents seemingly constitute an axis of the extreme, coarse and corrupt – and these are the people who seek to rule over us. These are the people who seek to restrict our freedoms. This isn’t a contest of right versus left, or conservative versus liberal. It’s a contest between authoritarianism and personal liberty. Either you support the former or you support the latter. The divide is so stark that even if the legal reform fails, it will be difficult to ever again trust those who championed it. That – if nothing else – will be part of the damaging legacy of this whole affair.

I’ve attended multiple Saturday night protests in Tel Aviv against the legal reform. At first, I was dismayed that middle-aged and older people comprised most of the crowd. Where were the young people? But now I understand why so many middle-aged and older people show up to protest – they are wise and experienced enough to know that we can’t take our freedom for granted. They have fought wars to defend the country – they know an existential threat when they see it.

These are people who presumably would rather spend their Saturday nights doing other things. After a week of working and taking care of their loved ones, they’d probably rather have a quiet dinner with friends or curl up on the couch and watch Netflix. Instead, they show up week after week in cities around the country to protest. Each week more of them show up. And now the young people are coming in greater numbers as well. When we sit at our seder table this year to clebrate the festival of freedom, I will think of these protestors who I know will continue to show up for as long as it takes to secure our freedom. This year, the protestors are my Passover inspiration.

About the Author
Josh Levin lives with his family in Modi'in. He has a BA from the University of Chicago and an MBA from NYU.
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