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Yair Lapid
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The deep democratic instinct of patriotic Israelis

Together, we protect our democracy, our values, and ourselves from a government of bigots and extremists with unchecked power
Israelis wave national flags as they protest against the government's controversial judicial overhaul bill in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Israelis wave national flags as they protest against the government's controversial judicial overhaul bill in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The protests in Israel these past months are a source of pride for everyone who loves the State of Israel. They showcase the best of liberal democracy and active-citizenship. They are defined by a loyalty to the country that stems not from a dark nationalism, but a passionate patriotism. The protesters proudly wave the blue and white flag of Israel and quote our Declaration of Independence. It is not revolutionary songs they are singing, but our national anthem.

When the government began implementing its demolition of Israeli democracy, there was a question that concerned us all: Would people go out to protest for our democracy? It is not the cost of living or national security. It is not easy to understand or explain. It’s liberal democracy, a structure made up of multiple legal clauses and details that most people do not understand. But any concern was misplaced; the Israeli public is showing a deep democratic instinct — a commitment to the values of liberal democracy so fervent that they are willing to take to the streets again and again and again to protect them.

Every Saturday night, more than a quarter of a million Israelis are taking to the streets to make their voices heard. Like all wannabe non-democratic governments of its kind, the government tried to paint the protesters as “anarchists” and “criminals,” as a radical fringe bent on destroying the country. They called them “terrorists “and a “tumor.” Senior ministers told those protesting to go to hell. It was a coordinated effort to demonize the protests and kill the movement.

They failed. The protests are made up of ordinary, hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying, military-serving Israelis. They are the backbone of Israeli society and no one can seriously deny their love for our country. Every time another insult was thrown at the protesters, more Israelis came out to the streets. They came out to show their support because they know who the protesters really are – our neighbors, our grandparents, our parents, our children, our colleagues, and our friends.

And that is the real story of these protests. Against an attempt to fundamentally change the system, to strip us of the essence of our national identity, to take away our basic rights and give unchecked power to a government of bigots and extremists — huge swathes of the Israeli public are standing up and saying No!

No one waited until it was too late. No one waited until their specific group or profession was targeted. We are all standing together, defending the country we love and the values that define us. These people, this movement, is the hope for the future of our country. We will protect our democracy, protect our values, and protect ourselves from a government that has forgotten the basic democratic contract between citizen and government.

About the Author
Yair Lapid is the former Prime Minister of Israel and currently the Leader of the Opposition in Israel.
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