This Pivotal Moment Must Not Be Wasted

After eighteen weeks of protests, it appears that the “judicial reform” will not pass as its proponents had hoped. Ironically, the initiative has mobilized multitudes of citizens, rousing them from a long-standing resignation to the status quo. This upwelling of citizen engagement — people power — has the capacity to produce authentic change at a time when partisan politics and sectoral interests have an outsized role in public affairs and obscure pressing issues that are left unaddressed. The potential of this moment must not be wasted.

While we have repeatedly been called to elections, our ability to influence decisions concerning our daily lives remains limited. A sense of inevitability has been cultivated, diluting our resolve to correct underlying problems and create alternatives. In the economic sphere, while we are seduced by spiraling consumerism, it eclipses an unreasonably high cost of living, a heavy tax burden, unaffordable housing, widening inequalities, funding for a sizeable non-working population and economic concentration. Nonetheless, we have been numbed into complacency, fed by promises that market reforms, liberalization, open-skies and start-ups are a cure-all that will guarantee our future.

On the social front, lip service has been the treatment of choice for our inadequate educational framework and struggling healthcare systems. Improving the status of women and the well-being of minorities, elders and underserved groups are subordinated to partisan concerns and distractions that too often can be explained only in terms of petty politics.

As global warming intensifies, the blindness and inaction of our political leadership, past as well as present, is inexplicable: Given our geographical vulnerability and scarce natural resources, preparing for reduced precipitation, heat waves, flooding and threats to food and water security, public health and infrastructure should be of central concern. Our environment is polluted, our open areas are disappearing and congestion at the center of the country increases while the Galilee and the Negev remain undeveloped. Yet these issues, too, are largely left untreated.

Israel does, to be sure, suffer from grave security threats, but the clichés that have become the hallmarks of recent governments, that “we have no choice but to live by the sword,” and that “there is no partner” is not policy, but fatalism that becomes self-fulfilling prophesy. The ongoing occupation of the Palestinian Territories inflicts an onerous cost in lives and economy for both peoples and weakens our international standing, solidarity and ultimately our resilience. It does not serve our interests and exacts a heavier price each day that it continues. Our leaders seem unaware that force is a resource that is ultimately expended, although its power to inflict damage lingers across borders and time.

The existing constellation of political windmills, parties, pundits and to a degree the media vigorously spin, yet they generate no meaningful change; a great deal of energy and public attention is devoted to exacerbating challenges rather than overcoming them. Our democracy has been reduced to repeated summons to the ballot, rather than seeking common ground regarding issues that should concern us all.

What is abundantly apparent from the weekly demonstrations that have roiled the country since January is that a broad cross section of citizens viscerally demands a social contract based on responsive government, law and order, citizen engagement, shared responsibility, civil liberties and consensus. Our political system needs to be fortified by the enactment of an inviolable bill of rights, mechanisms for a bona fide separation of powers among the three branches of government, and more opportunity for popular participation in decision-making: The domination of political slates on the national level must be offset by the strengthening of local authorities and the provision of geographical representation in the legislative branch.

Israelis deserve to live secure and healthy lives characterized by mutual respect and dignity in a commonwealth stewarded by leaders whose mission is to provide equal opportunity, economic and personal security, a nourishing and protected environment and access to quality health, educational and other services for all citizens. A society-wide process of reconciliation must be a priority to heal past wrongs that continue as fracture points among Jews and between majority and minority citizens. These cleavages constitute too heavy a millstone for our society to bear.

The unintended awakening catalyzed by the Coalition’s highhandedness and ineptitude must lead both to a balanced, more representative system of government while also pivoting our society onto a sustainable trajectory. The masses of Israelis who have demonstrated their unrelenting commitment to their homeland over the past months should not suffice with halting the assault on the judiciary. We must push further, rectifying shortcomings that the Israel’s founders could not have foreseen and that have dogged us for too long a time. To best serve Jewish nationhood and civilization in the future, our society should continuously strive to be an exemplary one: sustainable, robust and just.

About the Author
Dr. Yosef Gotlieb is a specialist in sustainable development and global change adaptation in the Middle East and Latin America. His books include Self-Determination in the Middle East, Development, Environment and Global Dysfunction and Rise, A Novel of Contemporary Israel.
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