Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

The Israeli Government is not Connecting the Dots Correctly

Despite overwhelming and enduring opposition, the Israeli government persists in pursuing its dual-pronged policies. The first involves a systematic weakening of judicial authority, with one law already passed and others pending. Additionally, they persist in diverting government resources, disadvantaging the public in favor of catering to their coalition partners. The most recent and alarming example of this is their declaration to allocate an additional NIS 164.5 million ($44.4 million) to fund increased stipends for yeshiva students. This funding will come at the expense of all government ministries, including health and education, which are already facing critical under-funding.

The government ministers have downplayed the significance of mainstream protests, dismissing them as minor actions from the Left. However, compelling evidence from both local and international experts in their respective fields contradicts this portrayal. In the security field in particular, even individuals from the security services, whom one might assume would prefer more unadulterated power, are paradoxically urging the government to change course.

Despite this persuasive evidence, Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently denied any adverse effects on Israel’s security, economic well-being, nor its foreign policy status. He reiterated this perspective in a recent series of television interviews with foreign media outlets.

Critical thinking involves objectively analyzing and evaluating an issue to reach a judgment. While it may seem straightforward to identify facts and draw logical conclusions, the reality is often more challenging, particularly in complex systems. Disputes can arise over the facts themselves or which facts are deemed crucial. Additionally, interpreting the same facts can lead different parties to draw opposing conclusions.

In complex situations like establishing government policy, the presence of debates about which facts are significant and differing interpretations does not imply that anything goes, nor should one assume that no stance can hold no more weight than any other. Even amid uncertainty, certain facts and interpretations remain solid and carry importance.

Whether you are an individual or a leader, striving to achieve a goal can be a formidable challenge, even with accurate facts and sound interpretations. However, the more one denies or misinterprets crucial information, the greater the likelihood of failing to reach the desired goal or facing unfavorable consequences. For a country, the stakes are high, for if a leader pursues a substandard defective policy, the people will suffer unnecessarily.

The present government has been in power long enough to be able to identify the downward trends in security, economics, public opinion and more. Furthermore, in the present constellation, it will be the public which suffers both first and foremost, while the coalition members and their vested interest groups who will suffer the least and only at the end. Let us take the across-the-board budgetary cuts for example. In the medical field, there used to be a 4-hour waiting time average in the Emergency Room. Recently I have had several patients at different hospitals wait longer than 12 hours which will likely not improve with budgetary cuts to Health. However, if a minister or a member of the minister’s family will take ill, they will likely receive VIP treatment so as to bypass the extended waiting time. Similarly, in economics, even if there will be reduced funds in the treasury, one can be rest assured that money allocation to the Haredim, to the settlers or to Ben Gvir’s militia will be the last to be affected not the first.

On the issue of internal security, while there is a consensus among Israelis about the facts and the need to minimize or eliminate Palestinian terrorism, disparities exist on the most effective approach. Previous governments have opted for a restrained approach, tactically intervening to contain violence without adversely affecting the non involved law-abiding Palestinian majority. They also pursued a political accommodation by offering to engage with moderate Palestinians. However, the current government has chosen to adopt a harder line and refusing to present a palatable political option for moderate Palestinians. With over six months into their term, enough time has elapsed to assess the results. During this period there has been an increase not a decrease in terror events particularly affecting the settler population.

The protesters find themselves in a bind. Despite staging massive demonstrations for 31 weeks, they have been unsuccessful in attenuating government policy. The government has taken advantage of the overall law-abiding nature of the protesters along with the legal limitations placed on protest disruptions and used it to claim that the country is functioning normally, effectively undermining the impact of the demonstrations. Moreover, some ministers have openly advocated for forceful repression of the protests should they persist. The common theme is that government proponents are seeking to consolidate authority and power unilaterally, disregarding both the concerns and well-being of the public and the rectitude of the courts. The reader can appreciate that the more the power balance is lopsided in favor of the government, the less the democratic nature of the country.

In addition to present concerns, the long-term damaging ramifications of the present policies have likely been underestimated. One particular point of concern is the erosion of the volunteer spirit that has been a defining characteristic of much of the Israeli public over the past 75 years. This volunteerism has been Israel’s “secret weapon” for survival in a hostile region, with many individuals dedicating their time, resources, and even their lives for the betterment of the country. Regrettably, the massive decline in volunteering by elite military reservists and other individuals is unlikely to revert to its former state. The pristine chapter of the country’s life, marked by the unwavering commitment of its citizens, has been marred, possibly irreversibly, as a direct consequence of how the government, its leader, and its ministers have conducted themselves.

The second point of concern pertains to the handling of the diverse views within Israel, encompassing religious, economic, and social perspectives. Unlike the present government’s approach, previous Israeli governments, both on the Right and Left, embraced a consensus component in their policies, aiming to strike a balance between pursuing their priorities while considering divergent views. This issue carries significant weight in light of Jewish history going back to the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the second temple in 66 AD. During the Roman siege on Jerusalem, rather than uniting forces, a civil war waged between fractious Jewish groups. It was the extremists who prevailed leading to the temple’s destruction and a prolonged exile lasting 2,000 years.

Drawing parallels to the present, instead of adopting an inclusive approach such as: “Now that we won the election, we also represent those who opposed us, and we should also take their views into account before formulating policy,” the current government is pursuing its agenda with a prevailing attitude of “We won the election; we can now run the country as we see fit.” Regrettably, it looks as if the particular history lesson of  the importance of seeking unifying policies when possible has not been learned.

A policy that weakens essential country institutions, benefits select special interest groups disproportionately, diverts resources away from productive endeavors to support non-working special interest groups, limits accountability among people in positions of authority, and promotes discrimination against Palestinians and others is detrimental to the entire nation. Despite any gains experienced by a privileged few, the country as a whole is harmed by such policies.

There is indeed a growing opposition to the government’s policies, even from individuals who initially identified with the government. These individuals have concluded that the government has veered too far and is causing significant divisions in the country. Since the government is ignoring the opposition protesters whom they depict as a raucous fringe, the present policy will only be stopped if people on the government’s side of the political spectrum firmly and publicly oppose the government whom they once stood for. Unfortunately, this opposition is not yet vocal enough to effect substantial change. To bring about meaningful change, it will be crucial for people within the government’s own political spectrum to firmly and publicly oppose the current policies, despite their previous support for the government. Drawing a parallel from history, during the last century, questions have been raised about why the German public did not criticize the discriminatory Nazi policies towards Jews and other minorities when the Nazi party was in power. Similarly, that same question can now be directed to religious and secular moderates who until now have supported the present government but have since changed their views.

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.
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