Ron Kronish

Some good news from Israel – the protest movement is succeeding

Massive demonstration opposite the Knesset on February 13, 2023. Courtesy of Joel Migdal
Demonstrations for Democracy opposite the Knesset, courtesy of Joel Migdal

There is an old Jewish joke: Even though I am Jewish, I have some good news for you!

We Jews complain, criticize, and then comfort each other all the time. But lately it seems to me that we have been focusing on complaining and criticizing more than comforting. So, I hope that some good news from Israel may be a source of comfort to you at this critical moment.

The good news is that the massive protest movement for democracy and against the “judicial revolution” (which is an attack on democracy!) is succeeding in Israel. It already achieved its first major success a few weeks ago by forcing Prime Minister Netanyahu —otherwise known as Bibi—to call off the attack’s dogs (his handlers in the Knesset who were pushing the authoritarian legislation) and halt the anti – democratic putsch temporarily. This was a major achievement, which was accomplished due to the persistent and widespread demonstrations all over Israel for several months by the sane, moral rational center of Israeli society.

The people who have spoken out against and demonstrated every week for 17 weeks include the leadership of much of normative Israeli society: university presidents, former heads of the army, the security services and the Mosad, most of the leading economists in the country, leaders of the high-tech community, the leaders of the real religious Zionists (the religious peace camp), leaders of the medical community, university students, high school students, and more. The movement——which is actually a conglomeration of many small movements – has been effectively led and well organized, the leaders have brought in people from the right, center and left of Israeli society.

Why is this happening?

The main reason, I believe, is existential. Most Israelis now believe that the current neo-fascist government brought upon us by Bibi (and his wife Sara and son Yair) is a clear and present threat to Israel remaining a liberal democracy. (This view is also shared by most American Jews, as well as by the American Administration).

In his insatiable thirst for power and survival, Bibi knowingly got into political bed with the most extreme right-wing political parties in the history of Israel, led by inexperienced and totally irresponsible politicians, Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich, who are igniting the flames of hatred and violence in Israel every day by their racist rhetoric and aggressive actions. Because the current crisis in Israel is existential, the resistance movement has become a multigenerational protest movement, with grandparents marching alongside their children and grandchildren (I have proudly participated with my grandchildren on many Saturday nights in Jerusalem). People see clearly what is at stake here, i.e., the present and future of our country.

Yet, even though this mainstream movement is trying to be very inclusive, some sectors of Israel society are not joining in. For example, despite the fact that the weekly Jerusalem protests include 4-5 speakers from diverse sectors of Israeli society each time—including a Palestinian Arab of Israeli citizenship —Israeli Arabs for the most are not joining the demonstrations. This is unfortunate but understandable, especially since the symbol of the blue and white Israeli flag has become the main symbol of the centrists who want to take back their country from the crazies, and they are not comfortable marching under this banner. Yet, some of them are speaking at rallies in Jerusalem and in other cities, and we often hear their voices on electronic media (television and radio) and read their opinions on the op-ed pages of our newspapers, whereby they are having their voices heard.

On the other hand, the leaders of the protests in Jerusalem, who are part of a new Jerusalem-based movement called Shomrim al Habayit Preserving our home)appear to have reached an accommodation with left-wing groups, whose representatives attend the demonstrations without Palestinian flags but with large signs that remind us that “there is no democracy with occupation.” They raise everyone’s consciousness to this brutal fact, which all too many Israeli Jewish centrists prefer to ignore or deny. This is an important contribution since ultimately Israel will not be a fully democratic country until it ends its military occupation of the West Bank and reaches a just peace with its Palestinian neighbors. Through these demonstrations, this critical issue is once again gaining some traction on the national agenda, which I believe is a positive development.

Will the resistance movement succeed?

I believe that it will. Why?

-it is very broad-based, including many key leadership sectors of Israeli society, as noted above.

-the people involved in it care very deeply and passionately about our country and are completely sincere and genuine in their commitment to this resistance. They are deeply devoted loyal Israeli citizens who want the best for their country. They are not going away.  Rather, they are persistent in their beliefs and their actions and are consistently and creatively devising strategies to succeed in this existential struggle for democracy in Israel.

—-the leaders and participants in the resistance are people of deep faith, whether humanistic faith or genuine religious faith. This is what drives us to believe in the success of this movement.

With all this said, I admit that there is a long and complicated struggle ahead of us. The forces of evil and darkness, against which we are struggling, are out there in large numbers, with plenty of power and money (from abroad and not from George Soros). Fortunately, they are also very busy quarreling with each other, and it is quite possible that this extremist government will collapse due to internal instability and the fact that it is not extremist enough for some of the super fanatics who continue to try to pull it further to the far right every day. I only wish that this would happen faster, the sooner the better.

In the meantime, most of the sane, rational, caring and compassionate people of Israel will oppose the attempts of Bibi and his minions to transform Israel from a democracy into a dictatorship, and we will prevail. We have no other choice. “Od lo avdah tikvateunu! Our hope is not lost”. We will continue to keep hope alive and we will prevail.

Rabbi Tarfon used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it. (Ethics of the Fathers)

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
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