Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Where To Now? A Marathon With No Known Finish Line

As the streets erupt, the Inciter-in-Chief addresses the nation, posing as the responsible adult, lecturing us about unity and love over division. He opens his address gravely citing the famous case of King Solomon – Netanyahu, in this analogy– and the baby and the two women who both claim it.

There is him, the wise King, seeking to keep the baby, Israel, whole; and then there are the millions of us who have come out weekly and more than once a week, in wind, rain, and storm, leaving warm homes, work, study; bringing children and parents, all of whom, collectively, are the woman seeking to split the child and murder her.

This was his speech of piyyus, conciliation, after twelve weeks of demonstrations from Kiryat Shmonah to Eilat, and a huge, instantaneous, outpouring of hundreds of thousands upon news that he had fired the Defense Minister because the latter spoke publicly about the security danger to Israel and the need to pause the coup.

He is “pausing” the blitz. Not shelving it; it remains active. In fact, so we learned the next morning, his team had pushed a core aspect of it through that very night, as he spoke to us, so it is poised for Knesset voting at a moment’s notice. Pausing it, with a loaded gun right there on the table. Numerous bills have already passed their first required reading, processed though Rotman’s bullet train committee, so the second and third readings can proceed and the laws enacted, if the regime so decides.

Channel 11 news revealed that this government had consulted that of Poland about how that regime destroyed an independent judiciary there. We’ve chanted, “yariv! levin! po zeh lo polin!”, about Poland, and a similar ditty about Hungary, because if the shoe fits. But now,  proof that this regime is following Poland’s play book.

Several polls just out show overwhelming popular opposition to the putsch and to proceeding with it, and a dramatic drop in support for Netanyahu and Likud. Among Likud voters, too.

Israelis across the spectrum saw the firing of Gallant for what it was: corrupt, wrong, and dangerous to the country. It is not like Gallant failed in his job as Defense Minister, made a disastrous military mistake. He just acted on his mandate, warning of an imminent danger to the country’s security, based on what IDF officers and top intelligence officials were telling him. Netanyahu has gotten those same messages but ignores them, because his political interests are me’al lakol, above all. Gallant made clear that he serves Israel, not Netanyahu, and that was his cardinal sin.

The Inciter-in-Chief is in political trouble, so does now what he should have done when President Herzog first called for an immediate halt to the blitz of legislation that Herzog termed, “a nightmare that must pass from the world, and now,” and for broad talks under his auspices.

There is no reason to think that Netanyahu, Levin, Rotman, will use this pause as anything but tactical, to gain time in which they hope popular resistance weakens, and then finish up the putsch. This is a war of attrition and they are betting on their staying power vs. that of the masses in the streets.

Herzog is a seasoned politician who knows these actors well. I cede my trust in this to no one but am confident that Herzog knows with whom he is dealing.

He should bring Tzipi Livni into the process as an advisor. She was the one, when the shameful, nation-state law was passed, who suggested, as a modifying counterpart (annulling the law was not politically feasible), making the Declaration of Independence a Basic (Constitutional) Law in order to insure equal civil rights for all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender.

Had Netanyahu ceded to Herzog’s call then, that could have done “it.” That moment is long since passed. This public is awake and alert and it is way beyond now just stopping this regime’s plan.

There has been much talk about privilege, so-called first and second Israel. There is plenty of social, economic, and political discrimination in this country but it is not along Ashkenazi- Mizrachi lines (those making this argument never mention Ethiopian Jews, let alone, Israeli Arabs). That is a cheap, manipulative tactic to divide and distract us from the real sources of terrible inequality here, and real actions to address it. As if Netanyahu, Levin, Rotman, Smotrich, Ben Gvir, are underprivileged Mizrahim. Shas yeshivas and the mass poverty they propagate, via a very powerful political party, are Sephardi. Netanyahu and Likud have been in power for most of the last 15 years. The communities on the oft-rocketed Gaza envelope still do not have sufficient communal shelters or reinforced rooms for all residents. The cost of food and housing is out of control for everyone but that has not garnered a moment’s attention from this coalition.

Netanyahu exploited this cheap claim, crooning to his supporters, past, and he dearly hopes, present, “You are not second class citizens.” Appealing, as master manipulators do, to a sense of purportedly shared grievance and victimization; he, too, is a persecuted “victim,” not one of the elite that has been in power for over a decade and whose policies are behind real victimization; on trial because of his actions, not “persecution.”

Those who are drafted, who send their children to the army and bear those costs, sometimes, too often, horrific; who get educations and the decent jobs that go with that, and pay taxes, accordingly, and who support themselves and their families;

who respect and accept the right to religious observance of others as others see fit but who want to live our own lives, similarly, as we see fit—

they–we– are the ones who are discriminated against by those who have ordained for themselves, and forced governments, above all, this one– to ordain privilege for them to foist army service on us and exempt themselves, as a permanent, privileged class;

privileged to raise generations of illiterate, economically dependent men and marginally literate women, hundreds of thousands of families who are economically dysfunctional and dependent on public subsidies, that institutionalized discrimination, to be vastly expanded under this government.

An open call for privilege that the haredi parties seek to enshrine in– Constitutional legislation!– the Constitutional right of men and their large families, why not have large families whose support they foist on the public?– to live like this in perpetuity.

Well, per that movie, we are fed up and are not going to take it anymore.

This “pause” won’t begin to sedate the sleeping giant that has awakened about this, including the threatened subjugation of women more than we already are, through expanding the range of rabbinic courts, beyond their current, corrupt control of marriage and divorce to a full, parallel, legal system in which they also adjudicate civil cases; in demands for the anathematization of women in public space and the degradation of the very meaning of public space.

We await, sigh, the hamets protests sure to come: deliberate bringing of hamets into hospitals on Passover to see if that recently passed piece of theocratic folly will be enforced.

We are sick of institutionalized corruption in the personal laws this government has passed, from those benefitting Netanyahu and his family (we pay for upkeep of their Caesaria mansion; for a huge, additional stipend for his– and her!– clothing and hairstyling! does he not have a salary?); and those protecting Netanyahu from further prosecution, on down.

Aryeh Deri’ got his second piece of personal legislation past its first reading– and only then, did he call to pause the putsch.

We are not idiots; or freierim, to use the common idiom. If any of that lot think, the children will rest now, lulled, dulled, they are very mistaken.

It is way beyond just stopping the putsch.

We want a Constitution that establishes a tripartite system of government with defined roles and limits for the branches and checks and balances between them, and an independent, professional, judiciary, guaranteed.

We want equal civil and human rights for all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender.

We want separation of established religion from the State, period.

This terrible time won’t end anytime soon. We are challenged to keep it up, week after week, but there is no choice, because the alternative is not an option.

This is a marathon with no known finish line.

But we have everything at stake and we will continue the run for as long as it takes.


About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.
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