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All My Children

The protests. The raised fists and raised voices. The road blockages. The shocking, vitriolic, in-your-face confrontations between secular and religious Israelis. All have brought this country as close as it has ever been to civil war.

I recently asked my children and grandchildren to give me their take on what’s been happening. Though politically diverse, they have much in common. They are all sabras (native-born Israelis), some religious and some secular, with academic degrees ranging from a BA to a PhD, including one Rhodes Scholar. All are employed in academia or at nonprofit organizations.

Because politics here is so fraught, I agreed not to name names, but asked offspring A, B and C for their impressions. A and B both have army-age kids, while C is still single. Only B lives over the green line.

B went first: “Two hundred percent, the demonstrations have nothing to do with changes in the judicial system, which previous governments, and the majority of people, agree are necessary. The courts have been used to legislate sensitive issues concerning Palestinians and the IDF, taking these issues out of the rightful hands of elected representatives in the Knesset, where they belong.

“The fight is really about how Jewish Israel is going to be,” B continued. “A lot of the rhetoric from the protesters sounds like antisemitic propaganda. The protesters say they want a ‘new story.’ What, the return of a people who were slaves in Egypt after 2,000 years, after the Holocaust, isn’t sexy or modern enough for them? They want to forget all that and start over? With what? That’s our story. That’s what we are doing here. They want to leave the country and live like Germans in Berlin? Then go! Believe me, we’ll manage.”

A had a different take: “It’s not that the court system is great. But what kind of laws will they pass once they remove judicial oversight? Even without the reform, the government has tried to pass personal laws to allow tax evaders to hold office, a law to criminalize dressing immodestly at the Kotel (six months in prison if the Rav of the Wall thinks your dress is immodest—I am not making this up!); of course, laws that allow Haredim to avoid the army forever, laws that limit the independence of the Bank of Israel, a law that allows politicians to legally accept private ‘donations’—in other words, legalized bribes. Can you imagine what they’d do if there really were no limits? What laws we’d have in ten years?

“Most of all, it’s a threat to democracy. This is how it has played out in Eastern Europe. You start with a small electoral majority—in the last election there was a 1 percent difference between right and left. You use that to gain a slightly larger parliamentary majority, then use the court system to turn that into a stable one. If you can decrease the other side’s turnout by 2 percent—there are so many ways to do this, like limiting voting stations in Arab areas—then within a decade, you go from vibrant democracy, where politicians worry about getting voted out of office, to Turkey, where you can never get rid of the guy once he’s in office.

“Now let’s talk about the economy. The 400,000 people who work in tech and related services account for half of the country’s exports and value. The amount of money they bring into Israel is insane, and it makes us a Western rather than a Third World country. I have heard from multiple people that it’s getting harder to raise money because of the reform. If it passes, and the crazy laws keep coming, these people, the ones who recruit funding and build companies and create the economy, will leave.”

As much as they differ, though, all my kids are united in believing that the most potent threat of all to Israel is the fraying of basic social solidarity.

B says, “We need to draw Haredim closer, to work with them on creating a dialogue, not push them away.”

This article was first published in Moment Magazine.

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10 comments on “All My Children”

  1. Rachmiel ben Berel

    Ron Jager makes an excellent point in “Thank you for your service.”

    https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/374755

    Who are the leaders willing to justify military insubordination, weaken Israel’s deterrence, and bring the Israeli government down? Op-ed.
    Ron Jager
    Jul 27, 2023, 1:00 PM (GMT+3)

  2. Charles

    Apparently a substantial number of Israel’s citizens think being ruled by a self-perpetuating appointed elite of Supreme Court judges is democratic, but being ruled by elected legislators is somehow non-democratic. What Israel really needs is a better system of checks and balances, such that there are limits to what each branch of government can do. That might entail a constitution, but does not have to. Britain accomplishes this with a House of Lords. The U.S. with direct election of its President, two different legislative bodies, a constitution, and a Supreme Court that relies upon its understanding of the Constitution, each of the three branches acting as a check on the other two.

    Still, apparently everything worked OK in Israel with the current system until the Supreme Court decided it would expand its powers to control the entire system.

  3. Daniela Cohen Lowinger

    Today, it seems that to many israelis the best thing is to have a democratic Israel. If democracy is so important for them, there are many other democratic countries were they could live. But they have to know that there is only one Jewish country-and that is Israel. I believe that the idea of coming back to Israel, after 2000 years in exile, was not to come back to a democratic country but to buil a Jewish one. Which means to fulfill mitzvoth and live as jews.

  4. Sybil Kaplan

    Hi.,
    If you get to Jerusalem and have a little free time, let me know beforehand. It would be nice to visit and chat.

    Sybil

  5. MERALEE GOLDMAN

    Dear Naomi, It is very good to “see ” you and hear from you–despite these terrible times in both your country and ours. Sending hugs from Jay and me to you and Ales, and all good wishes for your family. Love, MeraLee

  6. JohnB

    Yes, indeed.
    It seems the powers-that-be, those who would steer the course of the world, often use the power of unelected bodies, bodies that are not accountable to the electorate, to achieve their objectives.
    The Supreme Court in America has been one such body. Over the decades it has issued rulings that have changed the course of history without having to answer to the electorate.
    Donald Trump in his brief innings reversed that back on them somewhat by appointing Justices that were of a more conservative approach.
    The shock horror and dismay among the “left” at the reversal of indiscriminate abortions has been interesting to observe.
    But, I fear, it will all soon be reversed again.
    The Supreme Court in Israel has been in a similar, unelected and unaccountable position , from what I understand and that their shock and horror at having their power threatened has also been interesting to see.
    Their link to the protests is probably something that should be established.

  7. Rachmiel

    My late wife (OBM) was born under British occupation in Haifa. Her grandparents were founders of Tel Aviv–their names are listed on the memorial commemorating the 66 families. Her grandparents and parents were followers of Rav Kook (OBM). It goes without saying that the Yiddin living in HaAretz these days are of a different breed than those from years earlier. The thought of having another residence or a bank account outside of the state is something which would have enraged my father-in-law (OBM)–and yet, today it is a common occurrence amongst many wealthy Israelis. Obtaining dual citizenship in countries like Portugal (who offer it to anyone who can provide proof of having a Jewish Portuguese descendent) is not unusual. Admittedly, I have numerous friends living in Israel who are always asking me why I do not move there. In answering them, I tell them that if things became untenable for them there–chas v’shalom–they’d be on the first plane back to the USA. I add that until they are willing to burn their US Passport and get serious about living in Israel, I do not permit them to even bring up the idea of moving.
    In closing, I honestly wonder concerning how many of those protesting have an “escape route.” I have a feeling that the number is more than trivial!

  8. Dora

    So sad to see Israel destroyed by their own people. And so close to TIsha B Av. we are all concern about the outcome of what is happening.

  9. Ben

    How symbolic is it that Erev Tisha B’Av the third temple is about to be destroyed and all because the same reason , Sinate Hinam.
    We all need to watch again the movie AGADAT HURBAN ( On CAN-11 this week)

Comments are closed.