Samuel Green
Tour Guide, Educator, Music Lover, Zionist

My lament for Tisha B’Av: I want to belong

I’m homeless in this political landscape

I feel like I have nowhere to go. That I don’t belong. I’m stuck in the middle.

As the current government wages a war of attrition on the Israeli Supreme Court, Israelis are choosing sides. I know which side I belong to, but they’ve been doing their best to alienate me. Over the past few weeks, they’ve succeeded. And so here I am, in limbo, clueless as to what I should do next. 

When it comes to the reform package that the current government is pushing, my thoughts are clear. I don’t support it. Even more than that, I am appalled by the way that it is being driven forward aggressively, with little apparent desire to talk to the other side and attempt to reach a semblance of compromise. I’m flabbergasted by members of the coalition who are clearly very uncomfortable with the reform but voted it in anyway.

And yet…I also recognise that this is what many of their voters want. The discourse about restricting the powers of the Supreme Court is not new. And while I disagree with the reforms, I do understand where they’re coming from. There is an argument for reform; the court does place a vast amount of power in the hands of unelected judges; the way the court interacts with the government did change radically around 30 years ago. 

Again, I emphasise, I disagree with the reforms, for reasons I don’t think I need to detail here — it’s been written about extensively. But, I don’t think that all the people who support the reforms are evil, I don’t think they all want to turn us into a dictatorship, and I do think that in a democracy we need to do our best to understand and empathise with those we disagree with.

But when I look at the movement that is opposing the reform package, I don’t see this empathy. I don’t see a willingness for dialogue. I see and hear catastrophic hyperbole; violent language and behaviour; and most bizarrely for a movement that claims to be defending the rule of law — flagrant disregard for it. 

A protest movement riddled with hypocrisy and hyperbole

The movement that claims to champion democracy does not want to listen to the other side. When certain party leaders did enter into a dialogue to try and reach some sort of agreement, protest leaders said they would not support any compromise. It’s a zero sum game. They shout democracy from the rooftops but blockade the Knesset to stop politicians coming to vote. 

I cannot understand why it’s considered ok to block main roads. It’s illegal. It’s bullying. I know people who’ve been stuck in these flash road invasions; people with young kids in a hot car; elderly people. Some of them have been subjected to racist abuse because of how they’re dressed or the colour of their skin (“who let the Yemenites out of their cage?”). It’s absolutely appalling, and while it may only be a minority of the protestors responsible for the abuse, I believe it’s a direct result of the violent language used by the protest leadership and some of the opposition politicians.

It also ties up huge numbers of police who are anyway stretched thin. Last week I needed the police but after several attempts to get through on the emergency number, gave up. Protestors are complaining about police actions (some of which do seem to be problematic) but if they weren’t breaking the law in the first place, none of these confrontations would be happening.

I’ve seen disgusting posts on social media; verbally abusive of religious people in Israel (even though many religious people oppose the reforms). A post is currently circulating in a popular Tel Aviv Facebook group (over 50K members) calling for a boycott of kosher businesses in response to the law passing. I witnessed an encounter between a protestor and a politician at the airport which was embarrassingly abusive. I reached out to someone who works in the opposition about the violent rhetoric being used and they admitted it was a political tactic. But it’s a political tactic that many people are taking seriously.

These issues also exist on the other side — those who support the reform. But I don’t identify with that side anyway. I oppose the reforms, and desperately want to identify with the protests, but feel completely and utterly alienated.

Worst of all, in my opinion, is the people refusing to do their military service. It’s an absolutely horrendous precedent. If the government was to ask them to do something illegal, refuse by all means. It’s part of the IDF code. But that is not the case. The army is supposed to be apolitical. It represents the vast majority of Israeli society. And, let’s be honest, the enemies around us present a much more real threat to our security than ourselves.

What happens if in a few years we have a change of government and they try to pass a law that the right wing don’t like — will right wing people in the army refuse to serve? For me, this is beyond the pale and completely out of proportion with what is going on. It puts us all at risk, and our enemies are rubbing their hands with glee.

The protest which cried wolf?

And this for me, is pretty much the sum of it. The reaction is completely out of proportion. A few months ago, when there was a law on the table to let the government completely override the Supreme Court whenever it wanted, I did feel like extreme measures were justified. I personally went out to the protests. I was willing to hold my nose at some of the behaviours I saw and groups present for a greater cause. It was a massive revolution which would render the court completely impotent. And given that the court is our only check on the government, we need it to have teeth. The main labour union agreed, calling a general strike, which notably they did not do this time around, despite pressure to do so.

The law that passed yesterday, and will still be challenged extensively in the Supreme Court, is a massive change to our judicial system. And again, I don’t like it. I oppose it. I’m distressed that it passed. But it does not mean that we are now living in a dictatorship. And by saying that it does; by pulling out extreme measure after extreme measure — blocking roads, blocking the knesset, doctors’ strikes, commercial strikes, refusal to do reserve duty…I fear we will have a case of the protest which cried wolf.

I see so many people in a blind panic, fear, I hear conversations about leaving the country, the advent of some sort of religious state being imposed on us and Israel becoming Iran.

And I just don’t get it. Because I don’t see a huge amount changing as a result of this law in our day to day lives in the near or even mid future. There may be some religious extremists in the government, but they’re not a majority. The biggest party is still pretty secular. The court still has a lot of power. And so, as time goes on, and eventually we get to the next law the government tries to pass, what other tools do the opposition have to use? They’ve cried dictator, they’ve shouted theocracy, but despite that have failed to prevent the law from passing — and now that it’s passed the dictatorship is far from here. How can I take them seriously next time around? How can anyone?

The opposition are also to blame

And this is all a convenient distraction, because you could argue we’re partly in this mess because of the opposition. To be clear, I place nearly all the blame with Netanyahu, who’s ended up in a coalition of extremists, recklessly bulldozing through our judicial system, with plans to create even more damage to other aspects of our society. And all so that he can stay in power and avoid his ongoing corruption trial.

But…if Merav Michaeli had not refused to merge Labour with Meretz before the last election, this government would almost certainly not have been formed. She prioritised her ego over the good of the country (and then blamed Yair Lapid). Why is she not getting more of the blame? It drove me crazy at the time and every time I think about now it makes me even more angry.

Even after the election, Netanyahu made overtures to the centrist parties to create a coalition that would exclude Ben Gvir et al. But leaders like Gantz and Lapid (who, to be fair, had good reason for not trusting Netanyahu) preferred to let him legitimise abhorrent people by putting them into ministerial roles than to hold their noses and form a coalition which would ultimately have been better for the country. Being on the inside would not necessarily have prevented the reform but it would have made a compromise much more likely.

A cry for sanity

So many people have written about the fact that we’re approaching Tisha B’Av, a day which marks when hatred between Jews brought about an unspeakable destruction.

Is it too much to ask that we find a way to start talking to each other instead of shouting at each other? To try to understand and empathise with each other instead of finding ways to avoid each other? To put things in perspective and act accordingly? We don’t have to agree, but we do have to be civil — that is democracy.

I’m an eternal optimist; I think to live here you have to be. But even for me, my optimism has been dramatically shaken. This Tisha B’Av, I’ll be praying that I find my place again here, that the anti-reform movement will find a way to talk and act that I can identify with; that we will find a way to stop all this hatred, embrace those different to us, and find common ground to move forward. Change starts from within.

About the Author
Samuel is an award-winning tour guide in Israel. Born in England, he moved to Tel Aviv 10 years ago, via a few years in Geneva, Switzerland. After some years in the corporate world, he decided to follow his passion and qualify as a tour guide. When not guiding, he runs an Israeli music radio show, makes music, writes, and enjoys hanging out with his daughter.
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