Yesterday’s passage of the ‘reasonableness’ reform is an important landmark. It is worth at this point to reflect on and reconsider the strategies used by the protest movement.
My position has been stated in previous blogs — that I understand and have sympathy with the need for judicial reform in principle, but I am against the specific proposals, and even more so the process, by which the government has carried out these reforms to date.
My twin concerns are firstly, divisiveness and secondly, corruption.
Moshe Rabbeinu refers to the Bnei Yisrael in this week’s parsha, Va’Etchanan, as the least of all the peoples, surrounded by many more numerous and more powerful nations. As then, still now. However, the primacy of Jewish unity is based not even or only on sheer obvious logic but rather on fundamental principles in Torah. Even if those in favour of reform have the support of a majority (which is questionable), the fact that such a large minority opposes them, so bitterly, and the fact that there have been parties who are unquestionably true patriots (President Herzog, Benny Gantz) sincerely interested in facilitating compromise, makes it inexcusable to push through this reform the way it has been done. By playing dice with Jewish sovereignty and security, by putting at risk the Jewish future not just today but perhaps, G-d forbid, for a significant time to come, all 64 coalition members have committed a very major sin, may Hashem hold each of them individually and immediately accountable for their actions.
Politicians everywhere whose power is unchecked become corrupt. It is not to say the politicians of the right are more inherently corrupt than those on the left. It is to say that all politicians are corruptible. As the famous saying goes, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The support for judicial reform has been mobilised on the basis of values and representativeness – these are the legitimate reasons why reform is merited (‘judicial reform for the right reasons’), and why so many Israelis in the Periphery support the reforms, or are at least significantly less hysterical about them than those in the Centre. I would like to think the desired ends could have been achieved through a rapid consensus-based transformation of the judiciary to become more representative of Israel’s societal composition without significantly reducing the checks and balances present in the system. However, the actual reform that has been passed opens the door, at least, to less oversight, less accountability, more cronyism and more corruption, while leaving uncertain the future protections for the integrity of the democratic machinery going forward – i.e. a free and fair electoral process, the openness and transparency necessary to truly evaluate government performance, and the protections for minorities not represented by government.
Given where we stand, what can the protest movement do now?
Of course there is visceral anger and a sense of betrayal by those that oppose judicial reform. It is understandable that each person asks, what can we do? Most protest. Some strike. Others transfer their funds and businesses offshore. Yet others refrain from their military service.
What is the strategy here? That the government will be deterred from pursuing judicial reform because it seeks to avoid the economic and military damage being done to the country?
Unfortunately, this thinking is short-termist and counter-productive. The government, which has shown it is reckless, is not likely to be deterred. Instead these actions show that the protesters are also reckless, also willing to play dice with Jewish lives.
Those that live outside the bubble of Tel Aviv and its surrounds are watching bemused – those in favour of ‘judicial reforms for the right reasons’, those that voted for the coalition parties but are now repulsed or otherwise wavering, those that remain undecided, and even those who may be moderately opposed to the reforms but have not yet been motivated to hit the streets.
Rather, the longer-term approach here should be to mobilise a stable political majority that stands opposed to this coalition well ahead of the next election cycle.
As we saw, based on the current configuration of the parties, the opposition coalition, even if it could achieve 61 or more seats in the Knesset, is inherently unstable. Many who would be willing to vote against the coalition parties would not feel comfortable to vote for a party that would open the door to the radical secularising agenda of a Liberman or a Michaeli, or to vote for a party that would enter into coalition dependent on the votes of Arab parties that refuse to endorse the basic right to self-defence against even very obvious terrorism.
What needs to be done?
Firstly, and most importantly, a national non-partisan dialogue. Aside from secular and traditional Ashkenazim, there are other constituencies, including parts of coalition-supporting constituencies, that are deeply disaffected with the recklessness of this government – Charedim, national religious, traditional, Mizrahim, Ethiopians, Arabs, and others. But many of these constituencies see the protests, and the traditional center parties, as the protests and the parties of the Ashkenazi secular elite. They feel ignored, excluded, rejected, even despised.
This does not have to be the case. Dialogue can build bridges. To show willingness to listen to each other, to adapt, to build a singular narrative, a shared vision and a common platform. It starts at the level of communities – identifying localised grassroots leadership, actual or potential, willing to break with the tired divisive politics of old and mobilise communities from the bottom up around a new narrative, a new vision. And transformation can happen fast – the movement that brought Macron to power in France is a good example.
In particular, there is a window of opportunity to build a new partnership with Israel’s Arab population, to move away from the radical anti-Zionist positions of the past, and to participate in moderate Zionist governments through which Arab communities are increasingly supported, strengthened and included. However, the entry point for this dialogue must be an unwavering opposition to terrorism and anti-Israel incitement in any form, and recognition of the unequivocal right of Israel to defend itself against terrorist groups and to stand firmly against anti-Israel incitement wherever, whenever and from whomever it arises. Jewish voters should feel confident that the inclusion of Arab parties in the governing coalition does not tie Israel’s hands when it comes to self-defence, while Arab voters should feel their participation in Israeli society is encouraged, valued and respected. More philosophically speaking, the nature of Judaism itself should be expounded to give confidence that the meaning of a Jewish state is specifically one in which minorities feel welcome and protected.
Secondly, patriotism, solidarity and service. Don’t try to bring the country down, try to raise it up. Let the protesters go to the alternative extreme – instead of disruption, strikes and withdrawals, go all out to support every aspect of the fabric of life across Israel: religion, society, economy, culture, the military. Let protesters inspire the whole of Israeli society, especially those in the Periphery, through a commitment to make life better and more livable for marginalised populations, creating jobs, developing skills, providing relief, volunteering, giving, sharing. Create new institutions. Explore every possibility to create new opportunities. Win over hearts and minds through unparalleled unconditional expressions of love. Dispel every lingering sense that there is an Ashkenazi elite, and that such an elite is remote, selfish, uncaring and disengaged from the rest of society.
Thirdly, scrutiny. Greater than the danger of the reforms themselves are the potential abuses they open up. Watch carefully the actions of every Coalition politician. Monitor carefully every government decision, every budget, every tender, every appointment, every communication. Who is benefitting and how? What are the conflicts of interest? Where is the money going? How do these politicians live their lives, what do they say, how to they act? Publicise it, show the hypocrisy, document the abuses in every medium and through every channel, locally, nationally, internationally. Demonstrate to every Israeli that the new political elite is more extreme, more reckless, more exclusive, more uncaring than ever before. Build a palpable sense of disgust, but – importantly – do so without infringing on the dignity, feelings, or values of the constituencies that support these leaders.