The Rot in Our National Home Is Not Terminal: Metzora/Shabbat HaGadol

I do not agree with the alarmists who maintain that our democracy is dead. It is in great danger.

We can expect from the incoming government relentless pressure to undermine our court system. In a real democracy there are things that the majority is forbidden to do, and the courts must be able to be a counterbalance to the will of the majority. Great evil has been done in the past by democratically elected governments.

There will be an attempt to pass the so called “French Law.” Prime Minister Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty. He has every right to defend himself and to criticize the judgment of the police, the State Prosecutor, and the Attorney General. When he maintains, with no proof whatsoever, that the police and the entire legal system is “out to get him,” that is an inexcusable attack eroding the legitimacy of those institutions responsible for safeguarding our democracy. As depressing as it may be, it has been a testament to our democracy that presidents and prime ministers have been put behind bars. If the Prime Minister succeeds in putting himself above the law, we lose the rule of law and order.

In the outgoing government, Moshe Kahlon demanded as a condition for joining the government the ability to veto the undermining of our justice system. It is not clear that he still wishes to defend the courts and the rule of law, or that he will have the ability. The Likud can form a narrow majority without him.

In what kind of a democracy do those in the pay of the ruling party proudly proclaim that their hidden cameras lowered the number of one particular group of citizens who voted. (In our case, Israeli Arabs.) In what kind of a democracy can the parliament impose laws for over fifty years on those who cannot vote for that parliament (Palestinians). We have already heard election promises of annexation, and those who wish to a priori reject any possible peace plan. Would annexation entail including all those under our control as equal citizens with the vote (the Nationality Law and the Arrangements law don’t give cause for optimism), or apartheid?

And so, I return to a theme I wrote about for Parashat Metzora last year. We have a rot in the walls of our national home. The rot is not the fact that we will have a right wing government, but rather that we will have a government endangering those democratic principles which once were shared values of the left, center, and right, both religious and secular. Our Torah portion teaches that, when there is a rot in the walls of a home, the goal is not to tear the house down. However, if the rot is not dealt with, the home will need to torn down (Leviticus 14:34-56).

I hope that there will be sufficient Israelis among those who voted for the parties who will be in the government who will have the courage and vision to separate between furthering their political agenda and undermining the foundations of our democracy.

I do have hope because I do believe that my fellow Israelis strive to be just. As insidious and pervasive as fake new is, we still have a free press and other means to dispel disinformation, half truths and innuendo.

This Shabbat is also “Shabbat HaGadol,” the Shabbat immediately preceding Passover. As Rabbi Michael Lerner teaches, the God of the Exodus is a God of endless possibilities, and the Passover story is a story that has inspired hope throughout the centuries among those who might not “logically” have had any reason to hope. We read this Shabbat of Elijah the prophet, who will usher in an era of reconciliation. There is a debate in our tradition whether Elijah will arrive only after we have improved our world on our own, or will help us fix that which is broken. Some of our sages warned us not to debate, but rather to do.

There is a rot in the walls of our democracy, but the foundation is still strong and standing. It is up to those of us spanning the political spectrum for who our democracy is dear to stand together in reconciliation. Despite the very real and deep divides between us, we can and must identify and defend those pillars of democracy which have to be beyond partisan debate. We must then take the actions necessary to remove the rot. If we plunge into the waters, and take those necessary actions, the God of endless possibilities will aid us.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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