While walking through the thousands of protestors on my way to the Knesset, I laughed at the forced training for the Jerusalem Marathon that I had finally managed to find time for, as I made a 5K uphill trek towards a meeting last week.
As I navigated my way through the thousands of Israeli flags, I thought of the Salute to Israel parade in NYC which I grew up marching in every year, and which solidified my love for Israel and the diversity of the Jewish people. Now squeezing my way through a similar sea of flags in Jerusalem, I admired the strong spirit of the parents who had taken off work and their kids out of school, in order to broadcast their values. I wondered if there were this many right-wing protesters, would we be able to keep such decorum and react appropriately towards someone just trying to walk through the masses of people who didn’t look like she belonged.
I also wondered what we would be chanting. If the anti-judicial reform protestors chanted “Democracy”, what would I be chanting, together with other right-wing and religious voters who voted for the parties that promised judicial reform? Would it be “Jewish State?” Or would it also be “Democracy” because we believe the judicial reform would actually enhance the current state of our democratic system?
I listened to an elderly female protestor say plainly, “I fought in Israel’s armies for Israel’s independence so that I could live in a Hebrew State, not a Jewish State.” I thought about how different this was from the messages which I had imbibed in my youth and believed in today. Nevertheless, these Israelis have the same right to their opinion as I have to mine, and I want to live here beside them. I want there to be space for all of us in our only homeland. It felt clear to me from her words and from the feeling at the protest, that this protest is not really about democracy but about the debate at the core between Israel’s left and right today – are we first a state for all our citizens or are we first a Jewish state?
In between meetings at the Knesset later that day, I watched the opposition members in the plenum don their Israeli flags and shout “Shame!” as MK Simcha Rothman spoke before the first vote on his proposed reforms. I looked at the serious faces of those MKs who not too long ago also spoke about the need for judicial reform, and I laughed at the absurdity of the political system. These MKs feel that the louder they shout, the more political points they will receive. The yes-Bibi no-Bibi obsession has shifted right wing MKs into centrist or leftist parties, and their role now is to shout as loudly as possible against reforms they might personally believe are important. Even center-left politicians who believe in judicial reform won’t engage in discussion for fear of giving the coalition a win.
I then realized that if I were outside protesting, I would be shouting “NUANCE.” Enough with the black and white, the doomsday proclamations. The leaders of this reform obviously do not want the end of democracy or a civil war; they are reasonable people who have been researching the topic of judicial reform for over a decade. But they themselves protested the last government with similar extremist rhetoric and chose not to participate in legislative discussion or compromise on other issues, and so we can’t expect anything different from the current opposition.
Except that I do want it to be different, and so I’ll just keep shouting “Nuance” and dream for the day when we can speak with each other on the real issues, engage in reasonable dialogue and allow for the diverse members of the Jewish people to feel at home in their homeland.