Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an essay describing what is happening in Israel. I maintained that the mass protests were not really about Judicial reform but rather about the anger of the Left that they lost the elections, were out of power, and were likely to stay that way. Since then, the mobs have been whipped up into ever greater frenzies by their leaders, and the country is now at a frightening level of division and hate, and many fear that a real civil war may soon explode. The leaders of the Left have no sense of responsibility for what they are causing in their self-righteous hypocrisy, with former Prime Ministers Lapid, Barak, and Olmert, together with many of their leaders, literally calling for war against the current government, while continuing to spout lies and distortion about their true aims.
The truth is, as I argued in that essay – and as anyone actually examining the proposals of judicial reform may plainly see – the reforms are not radical at all. They are merely an attempt to restore the proper balance between the Knesset and the Judiciary, which was devastated by the undemocratic power grab of Aharon Barak. In a deceitful and hidden fashion, he and his co-conspirators engineered changes in the Knesset’s basic laws, giving himself and the Court unbridled power. Since then, the power has been used to promote an elitist agenda that has been condemned at various times by parties from the entire political spectrum, including the hypocrites leading these protests. But they have found a rallying cry to use as a hammer to smash at the government, and unfortunately, they are using it all too effectively.
However, what the protests are really about is not that at all. Ninety-nine percent of the demonstrators would not be able to put two truthful sentences together to explain what it is about the judicial reforms that so angers them that they have come out to the streets again and again to demonstrate. What really exercises them is that, for the first time, the ones they consider “the extreme right” are in control and intent on enacting various policies that are antithetical to the Left. They are angry that Netanyahu, who they now refer to as “the Dictator” is once again the Prime Minister, despite their best efforts to delegitimize him. They are irate that Itamar ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich are senior ministers. The presence of a long-bearded, chassidic-dressing minister from the UTJ revolts them. They are disgusted that Aryeh Deri will once again be in power.
Most of all, they are incensed, frustrated, angry, and frightful regarding the growth of the religious parties. UTJ, Shas, and the Religious Zionist parties control 32 out of 120 seats. (That does not consider the more extreme chareidim, who do not participate in the elections. If they did, the religious parties would control three to four more seats.) They falsely claim that the government is trying to turn Israel into a theocratic state run by halacha and that judicial reform is only the first domino that is needed before Israel will be no different from Iran.
(By the way, the government is doing itself no favors by pushing for the chametz law and to reinstall Aryeh Deri at this time, which only adds fuel to the fire.)
The problem we now face – it has become a genuinely existential issue – is whether Israel will survive as a democracy. But not because of the reasons the protesters say; indeed, the exact reverse is the case. The question now is whether Israel will be ruled by one of two processes – by Democracy or by the Rule of the Mob.
One possibility is a democratic process of elections, in which the winner rules, and the opposition licks its wounds, learns something about what the electorate wants, and positions itself as responsible legislators who can win the next election.
The other possibility is what we now face – the losing side forms itself into an unruly mob that refuses to accept the results of the election, sets out to paralyze the country with mass demonstrations blocking all the roads, threatens to perform vital national functions (for those of them in position to do so, like pilots, army officers, diplomats, doctors, etc.), actively encourages foreign investors to withdraw their funds, spreads their lies and hatred to influence the press and leaders of foreign countries who have vital ties, and generally makes life unbearable, all in the name of fighting for “democracy.”
It is the big lie on steroids. It is made possible by using unbounded chutzpah, reminiscent of the boy – having murdered his parents – who seeks sympathy because he is an orphan. They are the ones creating the chaos and havoc, and then they blame the “dysfunctional government” for it.
It is only made worse by the veneer of respectability that the mob has gained from those who speak on its behalf. The president of Israel, who until just a few years ago was the leader of the Left and chairman of the Labor party, has taken the side of the protesters, instead of the position he is supposed to take of being above politics. Several government ministers, including Yoav Galant, have taken their side. Galant, who was Defense Minister until Netanyahu fired him, never allowed Bezalel Smotrich the authority over Judea and Samaria, which was agreed upon in the coalition negotiations and did not respond adequately to the reservists who tried to politicize the army, leaving Netanyahu with no choice but to fire him. This has further led fuel to the protesters’ fire, unfortunately.
If the government gives in to the protesters, it will set a terrible precedent and cripple its ability for any meaningful change in the future. Having tasted blood, the Left will know that anytime they want to oppose a government action, they have to come out and block the roads again in the name of “democracy,” and they will get their way. They will totally forget their former anger and criticism of the Right when such tactics were taken – on a much smaller scale – to block the Oslo accords and the Disengagement, as they have now. Such tactics are patriotic acts of democracy – but only when engaged in by the Left.
What the government now faces is whether to stand for democracy, and against mob rule, or whether to capitulate. It is a terrible quandary – I do not envy PM Netanyahu. We hear that the government is intransigent in not agreeing to pause the Judicial reforms until after Pesach and Yom HaAtzmaut. While that sounds like a good idea, the government knows that the Left will not use such a pause to cool the tempers and engage in rational discussion, mediation, and compromise because they are not interested in compromise. They want to bring down the government, and will accept nothing less.
My father-in-law Rabbi Monni Weisberger, a”h, would say, “We need Mashiach to come – badly!” I don’t know what resolution is possible here. We did see a wonderful evening of respite when the protesters came to make trouble and havoc in Bnei Brak, and were met with cholent, hamantashen, and drinks, and music playing “Shalom Aleichem.” I was very proud of how this was handled in that case, completely defusing the protest. Unfortunately, I don’t have illusions that this will be replicated nationally.
May Hashem bring us a Festival of Freedom in which the truth will prevail, and all four sons will be able to sit together peacefully to await the Mashiach as the Mighty one, Adir hu, yivneh beiso b’karov.