I live on Kibbutz Hannaton, a few houses away from Amichai Chikli, a minister in the current government. He was minister of social equality and minister of the diaspora until he resigned from the former in order to ‘save the country money’. In reality, the move will save the government little if any money at all.
Before October 7th, a large group of us came every Friday to demonstrate about a hundred meters away from Amichai’s house. This was the closest the police would let us be. The idea was to put pressure on Amichai to resign so this catastrophic government would fall and we could go to elections.
Tragically, this did not happen and we have already fallen into the abyss. To make matters worse, when the war broke out, all demonstrations around the country came to an abrupt halt.
But this did not stop one man named Yiftach Asher, who lives nearby in Alonaei Abbah. He decided, on his own, to come every Friday at 11am parallel to Amichai’s house with an Israeli flag and a sign reading, “Mind Your Own Business”.
The sign is what Amichai said before this war, in response to U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides’ call for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “pump the brakes” on his attempt to dramatically overhaul the country’s judicial system: “I say to the American ambassador, put on the brakes yourself and mind your own business.”
“Imagine where this country would be today if the U.S. minded its own business!” Yiftach says.
Every week, the three security guards stationed in front of Amichai’s house — which, by the way, is undergoing the addition of another floor — would call the police, who would arrive soon after. They would tell Yiftach he had to either put away his sign and flag, or leave. So he would leave.
We did not join his one-man protests. We were worried of being accused of upsetting wartime morale in the country and in our community — where at least 50 community members are serving in this war — or putting the lives of the hostages at risk.
But, tragically, the government has not put freeing the hostages as a high priority, and the military operation has been unable to rescue even one hostage. Moreover, not demonstrating against the government is falling right into Netanyahu’s trap.
The situation has become so dire, this war seemingly endless, and this government digging us deeper and deeper into more of an abyss, we could not be silent any longer. Plus, we did not want to leave Yiftach standing alone any longer.
So I and a handful of others went in the pouring rain to stand with Yiftach this past Friday. And this time, when the police came, we told them he is our friend and we have every right to invite our friend to stand with us on the sidewalk of our own neighborhood.
And it worked! The police took our i.d. numbers, we had a nice chat, and they left. And we all continued to stand/sit there in the pouring rain until Yiftach had to go.
Amidst all that, however, Amichai’s spouse emerged from the house. She looked straight at me and accused me of causing her personal harm. Her claim was that her children should not have to see Yiftach every Friday standing on the sidewalk with his flag and sign next to their house, that this is unfair to them.
I told her I accepted what she was saying, but I and millions of others are being personally harmed by this catastrophic government, and I stand by my right to demonstrate wherever it might make a difference, even if it makes her uncomfortable.
The next day, I sent her the following letter, in Hebrew, explaining my position. Others who have read it since suggested I make it public, so our “Concerned Neighbors of Amichai Chikli” group publicized the Hebrew version on our X (formerly Twitter) account, and I am posting the English version here:
“I am writing to share why I stood with Yiftach on Friday, and why I think it is unreasonable and undemocratic of you to try and prevent me from doing so.
It is my right and responsibility, and Yiftach’s right and responsibility, as citizens of Israel, to express our opinions and make our voices heard about what is happening now in our country. There is something called freedom of expression, and while our current government is trying to prevent us from expressing ourselves (last Saturday night the police stopped a peaceful march I participated in, in Caesarea, and on Thursday and Saturday nights peace demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa were cancelled by the police for no good reason, and the case was transferred to the Supreme Court), this is still our basic democratic right.
When Amichai decided to run for office, he decided to become a public figure, and you, I suppose, agreed. This means that sometimes people who disagree with him – even your friends and neighbors – will express their opinions – even in public and even near your home – and although it may hurt you, it is part of the package to which you have agreed. It is neither appropriate nor justified for you to try to prevent public criticism, and it is unfair of you to try and make nonviolent protesters feel guilty for simply exercising their right to protest, even if the protest makes you uncomfortable.
When you verbally attacked me in person on Friday — and just to note, I didn’t attack you, nor did Yiftach attack you or Amichai (he doesn’t say a word, no chants or calls at all, when he stands with his sign and flag on public property near your home) — you said I was hurting you personally. As I told you at the time, I accept this, yet I insist on my right to disagree with Amichai publicly, even if he is your spouse and we are neighbors.
As I replied to you on Friday, this government, of which Amichai is a member and was one of its main founders, is hurting me. And not only me, but also millions of citizens. Unlike Amichai, we, the citizens, have little power. Our power is expressed mainly in exercising our right to try and make our voices heard. Protest is one of the ways we do it. This may be the only tool we have right now. Frankly, using peer pressure and emotional manipulation to try to prevent us from exercising our democratic right is not only unfair, but also undemocratic and an abuse of your role as the spouse of a public figure and your status as a neighbor and kibbutz member.
The personal is always political, but especially now, when there is no boundary between the personal and the political for any of us. Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down by this terrible government, and some have even been destroyed – some of us have lost family members (some have lost entire families!) and homes. Some lost their jobs or businesses; some have lost hope when it comes to the future of the country. We are in a state of emergency — fighting for the character and survival of the state, the Jewish people, Judaism in general, and humanity.
You said Yiftach makes your children suffer by seeing him standing on the public sidewalk next to your house every Friday with his flag and sign. If that’s all your children will have to endure — even knowing he’s standing there because he disagrees with their father — I consider them lucky. So many children are now suffering far worse hardships. Some have no home at all, some have no father at all –- all under the responsibility and watch of the government of which Amichai is a member and who continues to make its existence possible. He has the power to overthrow it, if he wants to – even if it conflicts with his personal interests.
Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, acquaintances from Jerusalem, are, like me, dual citizens of the United States and Israel. They came to this country by choice to be part of building a Jewish homeland they could be proud of, and they sent their children to defend it. Their son Hersh was kidnapped on October 7. He, too, is a dual citizen. When I saw his parents at a demonstration in Tel Aviv in the hostage square some weeks ago, they told me they were very disappointed that Amichai, as Diaspora minister, had not been in touch with them at all. I was shocked.
On the way home from the demonstration, I sent a WhatsApp message to Amichai asking why he hadn’t contacted them. He said he was not familiar with the case. That alone is shocking. Rachel and Jon are among the most well-known of all the families of the hostages. Rachel spoke at the United Nations. They were on the cover of Time magazine and appeared on Good Morning America. They were all over the press, especially the Jewish Diaspora press.
But I didn’t attack Amichai for not knowing. I just sent him all this information—Rachel’s speech, the Time article, a news story with an interview with Rachel… and Jon’s phone number. But Amichai, to my great disappointment, was never in touch with them – he didn’t even send a WhatsApp message.
That Amichai didn’t know who they were was already negligent. That he never contacted them is bordering on criminal. He takes our public money, as Diaspora Affairs Minister, and doesn’t contact the families of the hostages who have citizenship in the Diaspora?! For this reason alone, he should resign – not to mention the fact that people in the Diaspora refuse to even meet with him.
It’s very nice, even important, that he visits bereaved families of fallen soldiers, but the priority in his position should be the families of these hostages. I can’t think of any valid reason he couldn’t contact them in the last 100 days.
This is not the only time I have written privately to Amichai, and not the first time I have suggested ways in which he can do his job. I am an Israeli citizen from the Diaspora and a rabbi with many connections there in the Jewish community, and I am a social activist here in Israel building Arab-Jewish partnership. I have invested deeply in the areas of his two ministries (when he had two), and I have been writing privately to Amichai since his election sending various information. But I cannot keep this behind the scenes any longer.
Amichai is still in this catastrophic government, and he is still one of the people within it who speaks out and writes publicly some of the most inciting, offensive, and destructive things about Israeli society, and also damages our reputation abroad. Such as his statement to U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides “Mind your own business” about the judicial overhaul. Imagine where we would be today if Nides and Biden had listened to Amichai and not dealt with Israeli affairs!
His words of incitement did not end on October 7. He continues to incite even today, during the war. He says and writes terrible things against Brothers in Arms, for example, and against the justice system. And trying to pretend he is giving up an office, ostensibly saving the public money, when it is clear to everyone this is a move aimed at saving the Netanyahu government. He is doing all this while the Israeli public is doing its best to mend the difficult rifts created over the course of a year and sincerely helping one another.
There is so much pain and sorrow in the country today; it is immense and unbearable. We are actually on one continuous Memorial Day from October 7th until today. Three months of tears. (But the truth is the pain began much earlier—with the government’s intention to change the pillars of this country, creating a severe and frightening polarization that has never happened before.)
Since October 7, every day that passes, more and more soldiers have fallen, and many more have been wounded. Those who die will never return. Their families’ lives has been changed beyond recognition. And everyone who was injured, especially those who were seriously injured, had their lives changed forever. There are still 136 hostages deep underground, suffering unimaginably, afraid for their lives, worried the world has forgotten about them.
All this happened and is happening on the watch of Amichai and his colleagues in the government. It’s time for him and his friends to acknowledge the enormous damage they have caused, and go home to do some soul-searching. If Amichai has an ounce of decency or a desire to benefit the general public, this is how he should act.
In other words, even if you pay a price for being the spouse of a public figure, there is no room to compare the tiny price you pay to the unimaginable price thousands in Israel and abroad are paying and will continue to pay as long as Amichai and his friends insist on maintaining this government.
I’ve been an activist almost all my life, for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I take a public stance – and it’s not always easy. When I fought for the right to study for Orthodox rabbinical ordination and announced to the public that I intended to do so, I was criticized in the press and in my community. The rabbi of my synagogue even condemned me from his pulpit. People told me to leave synagogues because of my tallit and tefillin. But I knew it was part of the package, that I might pay a price.
For the 13 years I lived in Jerusalem, I went every Rosh Chodesh morning to pray at the Western Wall with the Women of the Wall (I was one of the main organizers of the group), and chairs and dirty diapers were thrown at me. They called me a Nazi and a whore sometimes in front of my children. When my children asked me why people say and do such things, I explained that not everyone thinks women should be allowed to pray at the Western Wall with a Torah scroll.
We cannot protect our children from knowing not everyone thinks like us. Especially when we choose to be in the public eye.
I have had a sign hanging outside my house since this terrible extremist government was sworn in. It says in both Arabic and Hebrew, “This Land is the Home of Us All” — in response to Ben-Gvir’s comment that he and his Jewish thugs own the land here. If you or anyone else would like to come and stand every Friday in front of my house to protest this position, you are welcome.
And if my children ask why you’re standing there, I’ll explain not everyone believes that this country is equally a home for Arabs and Jews, and they have the right to express that opinion in a nonviolent way.
I might even say hello to you and offer you a cup of coffee.”