Michael Boyden

On the Brink of Rebellion

It doesn’t take an awful lot to start a revolution.

When the British government legislated the Tea Act on May 10, 1773, allowing the British East India Company to sell Chinese tea in American colonies without paying taxes, the protesters destroyed an entire shipment of tea. The British saw that as an act of treason, responded harshly and it escalated into the American Revolution.

It only takes a stupid, loud-mouthed Knesset member like Zvika Fogel, a member of Itamar Ben-Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party, to call for the arrest of opposition leaders, who have been vocal in calling for demonstrations against the government’s planned changes to Israel’s judicial system, to put our democracy at risk.

Earlier, Ben-Gvir, Minister for National Security, had called on the police to arrest demonstrators who blocked roads.

Democracies are fragile. One has only to look at the attack on the United States Capitol just three years ago to realize how easy it is to threaten the established order.

We should remember what Winston Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.”

Democracy is like a marriage. It demands compromise and the ability to respect the wishes of the other, even when it is not exactly what one would have done. At the same time, it requires one to be sensitive to the needs of the other and not overstep the mark.

Netanyahu’s government’s plan to legislate an Overriding Clause, that would render the Supreme Court impotent is to go a step too far. A slender Knesset majority does not grant one a carte blanche, and entitle one to do whatever one wishes without consideration of the other half of the nation, and without a Supreme Court capable of ensuring the protection of their rights.

These are violent times. A driver was arrested on Tuesday after attempting to drive into a crowd of protesters. Many remember how Emil Grunzweig, a Peace Now activist, was murdered when he took part in a peaceful demonstration demanding that the then Prime Minister Menachem Begin adopt the Kahan Committee’s recommendations following the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

President Herzog is, therefore, to be congratulated on his call on elected officials and citizens across the political spectrum for restraint. Whether he will succeed is anyone’s guess, for it is ultimately Prime Minister Netanyahu who has both the power and the authority to lower the flames.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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