Robbie Gringras
British-born Israeli writer, performer, and educator

Signs I’d like to carry when I’m demonstrating against the judicial overhaul

6 concerns I have about Israeli democracy that don't fit neatly on a placard with a catchy slogan
Demonstration at Kaplan (photo: Robbie Gringras)

I try to get to the demonstrations every Saturday night. I’m terrified about the policy and intentions of the current government. I fear we are looking at a wrenching alteration to the entire nature of the country I moved to some 27 years ago. Every week, I wave a flag, shout “Democracy,” pretend to know all the words of the anthems I try to sing along to, and even shout “Shame” every now and then. I am incredibly proud and hopeful of this movement for defending the liberal democratic nature of Israel.

At the same time, I also dream of waving different kinds of signs while I’m there…

1. “Yes to Reform, No to Judicial Coup!”

I wish I had the courage to demonstrate against the proposed changes in the judiciary while also acknowledging that the way the judicial system in Israel interacts with the government does need significant improvement. Since the court is the only check on government power, and there is no constitution, no second house, no federal system, no house that is not ruled by a majority government, there is a great deal of pressure on the judiciary to be everything to everyone. There has been overreach. There has been arrogance. There are flaws.

There is clearly truth in the critique of the system as it stands. It’s the proposed fix I don’t trust. If only the “reforms” proposed actually felt like a reform, and not a coup.

Imagine a patient is finding it hard to make decisions, so the surgeon decides the only thing to do is to remove most of the patient’s brain, leaving only the amygdala. Yariv Levin’s “treatment” of Israel’s malfunctioning decision-making system is to remove all analytic capability and hand over everything to our raw instincts, rage, and fear. While I might pretty much agree with the diagnosis, I completely reject the treatment.

Yes to Reform, No to Judicial Coup.

2. “Is There a Non-disruptive Way of Fighting the Government?”

Stop going on about the way we’re protesting. There is no nice way to fight the government. You either acknowledge that we’re fighting what we see as illegitimate and perilous policy by the government, or you don’t. There is no gentle way of fighting a government that is happy to ignore gentle protest. It is awful that reservists have declared their wish to stay home for one month a year, rather than prop up a government that wishes to undermine their democratic right to influence the authority sending them to war. I am terrified about the long-term impact of this campaign. But are there less-worse alternatives? What forms of protest are both palatable and effective? Some say that a tax rebellion would at least avoid the sacred cow of military service. Would that be “better”?

A correction to the sign:

“Is There a Non-disruptive Way of Fighting the Government? (Rhetorical)”

3. “I know that shouting ‘Democracy’ doesn’t really persuade you, since you say you’re also fixing democracy, but don’t come to a demonstration looking for nuance.”

I understand that the pro-reformers also truly believe they are saving democracy. I get it. The Supreme Court does tend to fail most of Tony Benn’s five questions to power, so to weaken it could be seen as strengthening the power of the people. I know that we should really be shouting “De-mo-kratya (with broadly-agreed-upon checks and balances)!!” every week, but it would be far less catchy. I know that there are those who believe that a democracy is just about voting and not about rule of law or protection of the minority. And so in that sense I get how odd it is for us to be shouting Democracy, when the other side could in good faith shout the same. But when we’ve reached the streets, nuanced conversation is already on the out.

4. “Don’t complain about my fighting against a slice, after you’ve whacked me over the head with the whole salami.”

It may perhaps be that the alteration of one obscure law about reasonableness is not going to bring the entire system crashing down. But I can’t just ignore the fact that, in January, Mr. Levin told us that this one obscure law is part of an entire package of (regime) changes. Arrogantly, politically naively, he stood at the podium of the Knesset waving the huge stinking salami in his fist, whacking people on the head with it and threatening whole swathes of the population with it. So no, six months later I don’t want to taste a wafer-thin little slice. It’s not Monty Python. And anyway, look what happened to Mr. Creosote.

5. “Do you folks want justice, or vengeance? Are any of us clear of the difference?”

The Hebrew word is “tikkun,” a fixing. A rebalancing of powers. Yet anyone in their right mind can see that the “reforms” aim to do anything but balance. They condemn a bias, but rather than attempting to rule out bias, they wish to simply pass the bias into different hands. Too often when questioned on this, politicians will begin to talk about about Mizrachim, about elites, and about the Gaza disengagement. Why should these reforms take place, they explain? Because of the discriminatory way the elite behaved to Mizrachim. (And they did). Because the Supreme Court did not prevent people getting kicked out of their homes in the Gaza Strip, even though that was a basic attack on their civil rights. (Fair point).

My problem is that all these recollections are explanations for the emotion behind the reform, and not justifications for the nature of the reform. Sometimes, I think that we have all lost sight of the difference between justice and vengeance. I believe that evening the score is not necessarily the same as justice.

6. “Yes, I wish the drumming were more Middle Eastern, too.”

I’ll admit, there is nothing like the energy of all the drummers at the demos. And if you’re standing by Azrieli at the crossroads, and the parade from Dizengoff or HaBima starts pouring in with its passion and its drumming, it really does feel like the cavalry have arrived. But that is (secretly) part of the problem. It’s so not-local. The drumming is either a military marching rhythm, or a South American one. If only all our drummers were on darbuka. If only instead of marching, we were doing Yemenite steps down Kaplan.

About the Author
Robbie Gringras is a British-born Israeli writer, performer, and educator. He lives on the top of a hill in the Galilee. He is co-director with Abi Dauber Sterne of For the Sake of Argument.
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