Mikey Lebrett

Protest for Compromise

The solution to Israel’s devastating societal rupture and disruptive mass protests is more protests. Let me explain.

It is glaringly obvious that the upheaval surrounding the judicial reform is a thin veil masking a much more fundamental disagreement about the future of the State of Israel. Should Israel be a liberal democracy that happens to be Jewish, or a Jewish nation-state that happens to be democratic? Which sector of society has rights to the final say on questions of Israel’s character? Where should the line between religion and state be drawn?

These questions have been bubbling beneath the surface since the State was established. By sheer necessity, previous generations of Israelis shelved these concerns as issues of national survival dominated issues of national identity. Now, it seems, the time has come for a reckoning.

Anyone observing the protests and counter-protests over the past few months would be forgiven for assuming that the country is split down the middle by these great questions. Half the population is anti-overhaul, the other half pro. Half values Israel as a liberal democracy, the other half values it as the Jewish homeland. Half want halacha to be a legislative driving force, the other half want it banished from the public sphere entirely.

This is false. Whilst a few hundred thousand protesters take to the streets, millions of other Israelis sit at home, work, or in traffic jams silently despairing. They understand that the judiciary serves as a crucial check on governmental power, but they also recognize that a rebalance of powers may be necessary. They understand that the secular Ashkenazi ‘old guard’ built the foundations of this country and deeply fear it all falling apart, but also recognize that the traditional Mizrachi majority contribute hugely and feel deeply maligned and sidelined. They value Israel as a bastion of liberal democratic ideals in the Middle East, but also recognize its unique importance as the only Jewish nation-state in the world. They understand that every citizen has the right to lead as religious or secular a life as they desire, yet they also feel deeply moved when Jewish values and activities are proudly given center stage on a national level.

What these millions of Israelis desperately want is compromise. This is absolutely clear from dozens of conversations with friends and colleagues of all political stripes and is reinforced by polls showing that the majority of the public are not content with either extreme. Indeed, Benny Gantz, who strikes the most conciliatory tone of all the party leaders, now has the highest level of public support to be Prime Minister.

Despite the majority of the population sitting around the centerline, there is currently no active pressure on politicians to reach any sort of compromise. In fact, the opposite is the case. The most vocal and active supporters for both the coalition and the opposition are demanding either full judicial overhaul or no judicial overhaul at all. Consequently, in order to satisfy the loudest voices on the street, politicians are entering negotiations with insurmountable preconditions, unreasonable expectations, and are ready to walk away from the table and back into the embrace of their adoring supporters at the drop of a hat.

What would happen if there was a nationwide protest movement in favor of compromise? It would give the politicians the mandate to lower the temperature of debate and seek a workable middle ground. It would incentivize coming to, and staying at, the negotiating table even when the discussions get tense. It would demonstrate that the majority of the voting public favor moderation and will reward it at the ballot box. It would make a powerful statement that there are many opinions about what our country should look like, and we can all sit round a table and reach a mutually acceptable solution. Is compromise not simply shelving the issue again for the next generation to deal with? No. Compromise on such a contentious issue is a statement that we recognize the complexity of our tiny State and commit to working together to forge a path forward when difficult issues arise.

‘Protest’ and ‘moderation’ are usually mutually exclusive concepts. But imagine what impact a demonstration of a million Israelis demanding compromise could have. Imagine how quickly this ugly chapter in Israeli history would recede in the rearview mirror. Imagine the message it would send to our politicians, the world, and most importantly, our children. Perhaps it could work.

About the Author
Mikey Lebrett made aliyah from Manchester to Rehovot in 2022 with his wife and two children. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and received a PhD in Cancer Sciences from the University of Manchester.
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