Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

Public Protests in Israel and the upcoming Memorial Day Ceremonies

The Israeli government and even the opposition parties misunderstand the essence of the massive protests in Israel which have been held since early this year.

A pertinent and volatile variation of this phenomenon relates to concern by the government that there will be protests during the upcoming Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and a most solemn day for modern Israel. Both the government and even the opposition are calling for demonstrators including families of fallen soldiers not to disrupt the ceremonies. They are pleading with the protesters to keep politics outside of the cemeteries. The solution proposed, of not holding protests during the upcoming Memorial Day ceremonies, reflects, in my view, an incorrect understanding of both the essence of this issue in particular, and the basis for the ongoing mass protests.

It is definitely true that leaving politics outside of these ceremonies and cemeteries is what certainly should be done. The last thing that the families of the fallen soldiers should have to experience is to tarnish this sanctified ritual. However, it is the government which started this malignant political snowball by its insistence on assigning politicians, particularly those who evaded military service, to address the families of fallen soldiers. It is therefore outrageous and hypocritical to put the onus on the families of the fallen when all they have done is respond to a boorish offensive decision made by an insensitive and bullying government.

One cannot separate the government approach to Memorial Day from its other policies. Since the protests began, the government has consistently designated all opposition as politically based and has persistently delegitimized and attempted to stigmatize them. Minister Ben Gvir using derogatory intonation, has called all the protesters leftists and anarchists, even those who served the public for decades in dangerous and responsible roles. Other government leaders, while more selective in their choice of words, equally delegitimize opposition and refuse to conduct a healthy debate on any of the issues. Prime Minster Netanyahu, in addition to stonewalling debate has even had the audacity to blame the present multifaceted crisis caused by his government on the protesters and the opposition.

I assert that not only is reality different, but it is the opposite. The protest movement is not for the most part political. While opposition parties have joined and spoken at the protests, they have been drawn into the protest wave rather than having led it. And now they are capitulating rather than taking a firm position against the government policy.

If not from the opposition, then where have the protests emanated from? A common recurring motif of protesters whose views are published, is that until now many have led apolitical lives. However, they find the present predicament so destructive and frightening that, as loyal citizens concerned for the country’s welfare, they feel obligated to take to the streets. In contrast to political protests which tend to be tumultuous and unruly, there has been almost no violence even though there have been hundreds of protests involving hundreds of thousands of protesters.

While officially, the focus of the dispute concerns proposed changes in the legal system, most protesters’ concerns extend further and are far reaching: The protesters are also concerned about the drastic deterioration in such a short time of Israel’s security, economy, international stature and more. They see, for example, that even more money will be diverted to the Haredi factions along with their exemption from obligatory military service becoming permanent. In short, many of the protesters disagree vehemently both with the government’s policies and its steamrolling obtuse manner of implementing these priorities.

Government leaders, in particular Netanyahu, preach in doublespeak. The author George Orwell coined the term “doublespeak” in his landmark acclaimed book 1984. It refers to the use of language which deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. As an example, while the present government insists that the legal reform that they are promoting will improve democracy, if implemented compressively, it will emasculate the courts, the consequence being the opposite – the weaking of democracy. While there may indeed be a need to reform the courts and simplify implementation of new government policy, incapacitating the courts will essentially allow the government to do what it wants without legal safeguards in place. Despite the governments assertion to the contrary, the cancellation of checks and balances for a majority government will promote autocracy not democracy.

If justice minister Levin really wanted to reform the courts in a positive manner, one of the first and non-controversial steps he could take would be to increase the number of judges thereby decreasing their intolerable workload. This would facilitate both judges having improved conditions to make higher quality judgments and decrease the time it takes to complete cases.

In its 75 years of existence, Israel has been characterized by pluralism as an essential component of its democratic government. Pluralism as a political philosophy is the recognition and affirmation of diversity within a political body, which is seen to permit the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions, and lifestyles. Examples abound: The secular Mapai party of Ben Gurion protected religious rights. The Right-wing party led by Begin withdrew from the Sinai. Pluralism means that even when a politician is elected on the basis of a political platform, once he or she is elected, they also have an obligation to those who opposed their views. The responsible politician seeks a balance between his or her commitment to a particular parochial agenda and to the public at large. Since the present Israeli government is only pursuing the political agenda of the coalition parties, and delegitimizing opposing views, it is not pluralistic.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that those people who see themselves as left out and unrepresented are protesting. You could term it a visceral rather than a political response. After all, no party has taken credit for the protests. The government’s conduct is further reprehensible by their use of doublespeak – their claim to represent the people when they only represent their narrow-vested interests. The latest manifestation of this phenomenon is the plan for Memorial Day. What could be more offensive and repulsive than politicians such as Ben Gvir and Tessler, who evaded military service, addressing the families of lost soldiers? It is hard to comprehend how the Prime Minister and Defense Minister, both of whom served for years in the armed services and met with families of soldiers killed, could support such a policy. It is as if they turned their backs on their own values.

The massive ongoing protests launched against the present Israeli government are not fundamentally political but more of a peoples’ revolt. They result not just from objection to the legal changes promoted, but rather from the government’s overall approach of exclusively promoting the narrow based and often extreme agenda of its coalition partners and at the same time delegitimizing all other stances. The correct solution to defusing the Memorial Day imbroglio is to keep politics out of the cemeteries in the first place by refraining from having coalition politicians addressing the ceremonies.

About the Author
Jim Shalom is a specialist in family medicine, with interests in end-of-life care and the Israeli political scene. He resides in Galilee. He has spent most of his adult life living and working in Israel.