Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Quasi-Exit: How Best to Fight the ‘Judicial Reform’

The government’s first “Judicial Reform” salvo passed its first Knesset reading this week. The result: Hundreds of IDF officers are threatening to quit their ongoing voluntary reserve duty; the BIG department store chain management declared a work stoppage; other professions are considering going on “political” strike. What’s going on? (Or off?)

In 1970, the world-renowned social scientist Albert O. Hirschman published his short, but highly influential book entitled: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. His basic thesis: when the public is faced with harmful, governmental policies that it seriously disagrees with, there are three options open to the citizenry.

First, maintain “loyalty” and do nothing – until the next election (or forever, in a dictatorship).

Second, “voice” complaints e.g., public protest demonstrations, letters to the editor (or governmental official), etc.

Third, “exit”: if and when raising one’s voice doesn’t get a satisfactory response to a serious problem (personal or public), leave the country i.e., emigration.

I was impressed by Hirschman’s schema, but found it lacking a significant intermediate step between voice and exit, so in 1991 I authored an academic article ( fleshing out a fourth possibility – what I called “quasi-exit.”

The vast majority of citizens are loathe to actually “exit” their country for several reasons: different language; extended family remaining behind; employment; moving costs; living in an alien culture; and so on. On the other hand, if their voice is not heard, many people are not going to simply “give in.” Rather, they will employ a “quasi-exit” – leaving (part of) the system in which they find themselves while staying in the country. The system being “left” might not be the problematic one (Israel’s reserve officers have no beef with the army), but if that internal “system” is important enough (army, strategic economic institution, etc.), enough people leaving it could finally get the government’s attention.

The most widely used form of quasi-exit is the “political strike.” It is “political” only in that it addresses the political leadership, but the strike itself is against part of the economy. This is the “Armageddon” of quasi-exit, and so far, Israel’s giant trade union (the Histadrut) has not threatened its use. However, if enough workers in sensitive areas of the economy (e.g., airport, schools, hi-tech, malls, trains, and buses, etc.) do stop working, the damage becomes intolerable and the government is forced to negotiate, if not concede the issue. This is the logic behind the protest leaders calling yesterday for a total work stoppage this coming Monday — probably as the first salvo towards temporary “quasi-exit” from the Israeli economy.

Another type of quasi-exit is financial. Ever since the “Judicial Reform” policy was announced several months ago, Israel’s hi-tech sector has threatened to move – and several have actually moved – part of their money overseas. Some have even announced that they will transfer part of the workforce overseas and/or no longer seek further investments in Israel. This is “quasi” in the “partial” sense. They are not leaving lock, stock, and barrel, but hedging their bets by placing some of their eggs in the non-Israeli basket.

Is ”quasi-exit” a new phenomenon on the Israeli scene? Not at all! In fact, the 1980s and early 90s witnessed a whole series of such phenomena in several central areas of life. A few examples will suffice – and for those readers not familiar with that era, I assure you that these were in widespread use.

Media: Back then, Israel had only one TV station with relatively poor viewing fare. The result: tens of thousands of Israelis put up wires on their roofs connected to a neighborhood apartment that was full of videotape recorders, playing movies “on demand” for a fee.

Education: Because of severe budgetary restrictions (to reduce hyperinflation), the number of elementary and secondary school hours was severely curtailed (the former ending classes before noon!). In reaction, Israel’s middle class began to establish private afternoon sessions on school premises, hiring the best teachers.

Marriage: Couples not allowed to marry in Israel (mixed religion; non-Jewish mother; etc.) got married by proxy through Paraguay (with a faxed form!),or flew to Cyprus and returned with marriage license in hand – that according to the international treaty Israel signed had to be recognized by the Israeli authorities. Others sufficed with “civil marriage contracts,” legally binding the couple as an economic unit. With some variations, these quasi-exit practices continue today. Indeed, the latest estimates have fully one-quarter of all Jewish marrying Israelis today doing so outside the official Rabbinate.

Finance: We all know that the U.S. dollar is a “greenback” – but back then the dollar in Israel was distinctly colored “Black” i.e., illegal tender, but almost universally used. This started during the hyper-inflationary period (early 1980s), but continued for at least a decade after, given the illegality of holding dollars. Indeed, at that time Israel had two “economies”: the official one, and the “underground” one. This was quasi-exit of a massive nature.

The point of all this is that the arsenal of oppositionist (non-violent) weapons at the public’s disposal is vast. Between simply protesting on the one hand, and quitting the country on the other hand, lies an entire “world” of pressure points that can be employed. The present government should beware – and be aware – of what Israeli society is capable of (not) doing when sufficiently riled up.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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