David Lehrer

Protests are not enough

The protest of the judicial reforms proposed by the current coalition government is bringing hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets, not just in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but all over the country, not once or twice but week after week, not just the leftists but centrists, religious, and even right leaning voters. When the dust settles, hopefully a compromise is reached which preserves Israeli democracy and our civil rights but also responds to some of the legitimate critique of the Israeli judicial system and its relationship to the legislative system.  We will then all be able to go back to our living room couches to watch “The Singer in the Mask.” Massive protests in the streets, however, is not a sustainable strategy for maintaining sane governance of our country.

The current government coalition can be counted on to continue to push its ultra-right wing regressive agenda and with the solid majority it holds in the Knesset, protests will not stop them.  If this current legislative initiative neuters the courts, there will be no checks on the coalition’s appetite to implant its conservative world view on the country. If, a compromise is reached, this process may be slowed but ultimately, the direction of a democratic  country is not determined in the streets or in the courts but in the voting booth.

Since the self-destruction of the left in the last election, I have seen no serious efforts among the leftist parties to reorganize and prepare to take back mandates in the next election.  While the current coalition is solid and by all rights has four more years to rule, we all know that politics is volatile.  A collapse of the efforts to get Deri appointed as a Minister, a disagreement over who controls the security forces or any number of other political flareups could cause this government to collapse. This might not result in new elections, only a different coalition, yet we have been surprised by snap elections in the past.  The Left needs to be ready and in my opinion, we are not.

We need a new Social Democratic framework which combines Labor, Meretz and the myriad of leftist political initiatives which have popped up in civil society since the election defeat. In addition to the merger of Labor and Meretz, we need to channel the energy of the protests.

Many Israelis whose only previous political activism consisted of watching the evening news and voting in elections, are now out in the streets making their voices heard.  We need a Social Democratic framework to provide these new social activists a political home. We need a new Social Democratic framework which is capable of reaching out to critical allies in the Arab community, the Mizrachi community, the periphery and the religious community. Demonstrations are a critical short term reaction to the threat to our democracy but the only real remedy to the current attempt to turn Israel into an authoritarian regime is a long-term strategy to rebuild the Left’s political power.

About the Author
Dr. Lehrer holds a PhD from the Geography and Environmental Development Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a joint Masters Degree in Management Science from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Lehrer was the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies from 2001 until August 2021 and has now become Director of the Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. Dr. Lehrer has been a member of Kibbutz Ketura since 1981.
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