Ron Kronish

The protest movement in Israel is alive and thriving

Massive demonstration opposite the Knesset on February 13, 2023. Courtesy of Joel Migdal
Massive demonstration opposite the Knesset on February 13, 2023. Courtesy of Joel Migdal

I attended the massive demonstration against the current insane government in Jerusalem on Monday, February 13th, along with over 100,000 Israeli citizens from all over the country. It was an amazing experience. Thousands of people—often with children and grandchildren (including one each of mine!) turned out to show that they care deeply about the future of our country! It was inspiring. A moment of hope.

At the same time, demonstrations against the plans of the current government to turn this country into a dictatorship by purposefully and menacingly attempting to weaken the judicial branch of our government took place all over Israel. Also, last Saturday night, the weekly demonstration that has been taking place every week for the last six weeks in Jerusalem grew from 3000 to 10,000 people!

The sane, rational, caring majority of Israeli citizens have woken up from their apathy! They are alive and well and are resisting this evil government every day in a great variety of ways. Many groups in Israeli society are involved: high-tech workers, lawyers and jurists, professors and their students, teachers and their students, retired people, reservists from the army and many more. This is a wide-ranging and serious protest movement.

It reminds me of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War when I was a student in the USA in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There is momentum here. You can feel it among the people. My feeling is that these demonstrations will grow and persevere, and we will ultimately succeed, as we did against the American government back then (it took them a very long time to realize that they were wrong about the American role in that war!).

There is one sector of Israeli citizens that is unfortunately missing from these demonstrations: the Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship which make up 21% of our population. This is due partially to their apathy, but more to the fact that they don’t feel as an intrinsic part of Israeli society. In addition, the leaders of the opposition have failed to seriously try to bring in the Palestinian leadership, out of fear that they might bring up the subject of The Occupation as an issue relevant to Israeli democracy. (More on this in an upcoming blog post.) I am sorry about this and hope that it will be dealt with and rectified as the protest movement continues to grow and expand. But right now, it is complicated, as they say.

Why is all this happening right now in Israel? How did we come to this existential crisis, where more than half the country (60%) in recent polls oppose the plans of this extreme right-wing government to eviscerate our judiciary and severely diminish our democracy?

The answer lies in the Machiavellian mind of one person: the current Prime Minister of Israel, or as he is called by some of the protest groups “Crime Minister” or as he likes to be called, according to his autobiography, by the nickname “Bibi”.

In case you have forgotten, Bibi is on trial for major corruption charges in the district court of Jerusalem. He was indicted in November 2019 for breach of trust, accepting bribes and fraud. The trial began in May 2020 and it has been dragging out very slowly. (Why the Supreme Court did not prevent him from running for Prime Minister, when he is prevented from being a minister in the government is a mystery to me and many other people in Israel).

When the trial began, he made an outrageous speech outside the courtroom, that was seen live on national television, in which he aggressively attacked the justice system and argued that he is a victim of a witch hunt. (Does that sound familiar to Americans?) Since then—and before then—he has been attacking the justice system, the police, the media, the left-wing, the “anarchists” or “traitors” and many other groups and people on a regular basis. And many of his loyal subordinates –who are now ministers in this shameful government that he put together—do the same. He and his political partners are the chief inciters against the system—that they now want to change into a very authoritarian one, if not a dictatorship—and they no longer hide anything.

Not only that, but Bibi is the main person for bringing in the Kahanists, namely Ben Gvir and his followers from the “Jewish Power” party into the government, not to mention several other completely crazy and unhinged ministers from other extreme right-wing parties who are less well known but are doing tremendous damage every day in their powerful new positions in the government. Why did he bring them in? Because he needed them to form a majority in our coalition system so that he could return to power and keep himself out of prison!

So, he succumbed to their pressure and gave them all kinds of jobs. Ben Gvir has now replaced Bibi as the chief government inciter to hatred and violence. He spews out irresponsible and inflammatory statements every day, every hour, it seems like every minute, which are reported incessantly in the print and electronic media in Israel. He issues demolition orders in Palestinian communities as a form of vengeance and collective punishment and is proud of it, and then Bibi mimics him by repeating how proud he is of these actions which will “deter terrorism”. (As I wrote in my last blog post they do just the opposite!)

Bibi has now joined the extremist camp. He is no longer a centrist or a rational Jabotinsky style liberal that he once was. He has completely given in to the extreme right. He is a new person, whose main concern is to avoid being convicted. He wants his trial cancelled since he doesn’t view it as a legitimate action of the courts in Israel in the first place. In order to accomplish this, he has appointed a “Justice” Minister to do his bidding, to radically “reform” the justice system by transferring the appointment of judges to the politicians, by ending judicial review so that all the power lies within the legislature and by ending the appointments of independent legal counsels in the government ministries. There is a word for all this that is being used more and more in the Israeli media: dictatorship. The opposite of democracy.

One has to wonder: what was he thinking when he went into political bed with the Kahanists and other extremists? Did he not realize that he would alienate most of the people of Israel, not to mention the United States and most of Europe, except perhaps Hungary? Did he not think that Ben Gvir and Smotrich would seek to expand settlements and try to demolish more and more Palestinian homes, just to show who is the boss around here? Apparently not.

At any rate, the silent majority in Israel has woken up. There is tremendous opposition to the government’s plans of regime change, i.e. changing Israel from a democracy to a dictatorship. According to one account I read yesterday, there may have been 300,000 people at the demonstration that I attended on Monday in Jerusalem, not the 100,000 that was reported in the press. The protest movement—which can be felt all over Israel, not just in Jerusalem– will grow from week to week. We will prevail because we must. Despite all the terrible statements and actions of this extremist government, sanity and responsibility will overcome the obstacles in our path. As it says in our national anthem, Od Lo Avdah Tikvakeinu—Our hope is not lost. Or to refer to another song that was part of my culture growing up in during the civil rights era and the Anti-war protests in the USA in the sixties, we shall overcome!

Note: it was just announced on the news that the protests will continue on Saturday night all over the country and that there will be another massive protest opposite the Knesset on Monday!

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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