Michael Weil
Wandering Jewish communal guy with an opinion

Listen to the people before Tisha B’av

In all the 75 years of Israel’s existence, this is one of the most critical weeks. It may well decide the fate of the nature of our country. Can we be a light unto the nations? Can we truly continue to be the only democracy in the Middle East? And can we continue our amazing story of transforming an oppressed people into an enlightened and moral society in our own land?

How ironic that this Wednesday evening we will begin the fast of Tisha B’ Av commemorating the loss of both Temples destroyed supposedly because of internal hatred and strife.

Today the country is split almost down the middle, not between religious and secular, not between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, and not between those that support the peace process and those that want to see annexation of Judea and Samaria, but rather what divides us is a moral, ethical issue of the very essence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Israel’s right-wing coalition of Likud, Religious Zionists and Haredim won a very narrow majority in the last election, just enough to put together a coalition of 64 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, but not enough to truly represent the majority of the people. While judicial reform was indeed part of their manifesto, the radical set of judicial changes and the rupture of the democratic structure of Israel were not. Yet the coalition is taking the country into undemocratic territory of removing the judicial checks and balances and steamrolling a set of laws, some irreversible, that will change the nature of this wonderful country as we know it.

Democracy is not only about elections. It is as much about what happens between elections, how government operates, how minorities and rights are protected, and how the people express themselves in the many ways that democratic law permits.

The people are speaking and objecting.

Poll after poll have shown that the majority of the country are against the proposed legislation, including many right wingers and religious people. The top economists, bankers, high tech innovators and business leaders have spoken of the irreparable damage to the economy; former politicians, generals and spy masters have warned of the danger to Israel’s security and political standing, and the masses have spoken with their feet. For 30 weeks in a row, demonstrators in their tens of thousands have consistently taken to the streets, every Saturday night.

These are not rowdy radicals or left-wing extremist, but mostly middle of the road, young men and women and older folks coming out of retirement, representing the normally silent majority who now cannot stay silent and are not prepared to give up the country they love dearly, the homeland that they have built and fought, to hand it over to a coalition of anti-democratic politicians.

But when Israel’s sacred cow, the IDF, becomes the weapon of last resort to save democracy, surely this says something. It says something about the valiant young women and men who arise unquestioned, night and day, to serve in the security forces, to do their commanders’ and political leaders’ bidding and defend their country. These many volunteer reservists are now willing to turn away and use themselves and their volunteering as the ultimate weapon. Personally, I’m not sure if they’re crossing a line or not, but I respect their bravery, their conviction, and their willingness to risk so much in refusing duty.

After close to 100,000 people reached Jerusalem last night after a four-day 60 kilometer march from Tel Aviv in blazing heat, and as hundreds of thousands more will demonstrate today and tomorrow before the final vote on the first critical bill that will begin the distraction of the temple of democracy, it’s not too late to stop this potential catastrophe.

Yes, some judicial reform may be necessary, and it is high time that Israel created its own constitution. That we can do slowly, sensibly and deliberately at a constitutional conference with all sectors and all political parties together.

Let’s agree to set this in motion this week before Tisha B ‘Av. Let’s listen to the people!

About the Author
Michael Weil is an British born economist and strategic planning consultant based in Jerusalem and Arizona. Until recently, he was the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and led the recovery of the community after hurricane Katrina. Previously, he was a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, held senior positions at World ORT and the Israel Prime Minister’s Office as well as heading an international consulting practice for two decades. He is active on boards in Israel and USA. Loves to paint, hike, opera and dry jokes.
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