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Jeffrey Schrager
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Why I protest: For all my siblings and friends

Among other reasons I keep at it, even in the rain, is my belief that my vision of religious Zionism is under attack
Gush Etzion residents protest in hail and rain. (courtesy)
Gush Etzion residents protest in hail and rain. (courtesy)

I have been to protests on behalf of only three causes in my life: the forfeiture of the Golan Heights to Syria, the possibility of giving parts of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, to the Palestinian government, and the current wave of protests concerning judicial reform in Israel. Some may criticize my lack of political presence, but I prefer to explain my selectivity as a result of needing to believe in a cause so deeply that I will literally take to the streets.

Over the last few months, the possible judicial reform advanced by the ruling coalition has torn apart Israeli society. From the beginning, I have been attending protests, usually in my hometown of Efrat. Last week we stood in the rain and hail with thunder and lightning holding flags and signs while trying to keep our hands from freezing. Several of my friends have reached out asking why I feel so strongly about this issue and why I feel compelled to speak out openly. I’ve tried to boil down my answer to five points:

  1. The bedrock of a free society is its concern for the rights of minorities. As Jews, who have so often been in the minority, we forget the lessons of diaspora at our own peril. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ob”m notes that the lesson of Judaism is that diversity is not a liability, but a strength. Abraham was a stranger and a settler in his time, with a message that believing something different from the mainstream should still be respected. Will the legislation as it currently stands necessarily strip minorities of their rights? Perhaps not. Do I believe the assurances of the reform’s authors that they would never let harm come to minorities? No, I do not. Especially when some of those same people advocate or support others who speak out for the stripping of rights from minorities. Just one example: A local pro-reform protest put on their advertisement “Yes to a Jewish State! No to a state for all its citizens!”
  2. I believe there is a threat to democracy. Over the past many elections, the cry from anti-Bibi parties has revolved around the imminent collapse of democracy in Israel. I have not bought into those claims, for the most part. But this legislation changed my mind. Should there be judicial reform? I think so. Many experts far more knowledgeable than I advocate for reform. Granting the legislature the power to effectively nullify a Supreme Court ruling with a straight majority, though, terrifies me. That would mean that if the government were to pass a law that, say, allowed public buses to segregate, even if overruled by the Supreme Court, the law would stand. That’s not a sign of a healthy democracy. Our legislators have occasionally flirted with corruption. Giving them supreme power hurts us all. 
  3. I reject the false Right/Left dichotomy that has taken shape in Israeli society. A prominent figure agreed to speak at a local rally only to pull out an hour after his involvement being publicized after receiving a deluge of accusations of “supporting the Left.” The easiest way to insult someone, it seems, is to call them a “Leftist.” Children in schools are called Leftists for pointing out that burning down Arab villages indiscriminately is immoral. Look back at those protests I previously attended. The Golan? Jerusalem? I joined with the same people that now scream anti-reform protesters should go to Bethlehem to be around “our kind.” This is not a Right/Left issue and being in favor of policies relating to security or economics have nothing to do with the current discussion. Politics, morality, and most of life’s challenges don’t break down to black and white, us vs. them and the like.
  4. I hate what this has done to our country. The points I’ve enumerated thus far contribute to a reality wherein the citizens of Israel despise each other. This debate has torn the fabric of Israeli society, possibly irreparably. Responsible governance means sweeping reforms of any sort must be supported by large swaths of the populace. Rushing to approve laws that will overturn the Judicial system of Israel without a broad consensus destroys confidence in the government and breeds enmity amongst its inhabitants. Winning an election does not give any group carte blanche to implement any policy they like. Aside from not being right, it’s also unwise. Who knows what will happen in the future? 
  5. I have tried to avoid overly emotional rhetoric in this writing, but on this point I just can’t. I am a Religious Zionist who believes there is supreme religious significance in the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. I am a Religious Zionist who believes we are charged with creating a more moral society, and one more connected to the Divine, and that the only place we can actualize these goals is the Land of Israel. I will not support the political party that has seized the title “Religious Zionist” and used it as a weapon to belittle and degrade. I am not part of a community that has, consciously or not, adopted the ideology of a charlatan demagogue who worshiped the false God of power and convinced his followers to collectively punish entire populations. I am a Religious Zionist who believes that the Israeli Declaration of Independence holds religious significance, including the promise of equality to minorities, and that betrayal of those promises constitutes an epic desecration of God’s name. I attend protests because I believe with all my heart that there is still a large segment of the Religious Zionist community that is not fully infected with the hatred and vitriol some of its leaders espouse, and that Religious Zionism can still be a force for the betterment of the State of Israel. We chose to uproot our family from a wonderful community in America because we believe in the vision of this country and the importance of its place in Jewish history. We wanted our children to grow up in a living, breathing, complex, Jewish society. This is my Religious Zionist vision, and I believe emphatically that this vision is under attack. I do not protest despite my Religious Zionism. I protest because of it.

These are hard days in Israel, full of despair in some quarters and outright fury in others. Unfortunately, I’ve become accustomed to my words having no effect on those around me, so entrenched we all are in our opinions. But maybe, just maybe, understanding what’s behind my strong feelings on this issue will at least contribute to some of the healing that has to take place to bring peace in our nation. 

About the Author
Before moving to Israel with his family, Jeffrey Schrager was the Middle School Judaic Studies Coordinator at the Akiba Academy of Dallas, TX. He has developed curricula, particularly for teaching Tanakh and Jewish genealogy, and has published several articles on Jewish education. He is also the founder of L'dor Vador, an organization promoting the use of Jewish genealogy in education and a professional genealogist.
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