Mi’shenichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha! The month of Adar ushers in a time of happiness and joy . . . but it sure does not feel like it this year. Many tragedies and difficulties have happened to the Jewish world in the past few weeks. In particular, three sets of brothers – Paley in Yerushalayim, Yaniv in the Shomron, and Boyer in Phoenix – have perished in terrible ways. And in Israel, we face a dangerous split in society which is threatening to tear apart the country as never before. I don’t know what the Heavenly message is when three sets of brothers perish one after the other, but it seems to me that we are being told something about not valuing our brotherhood enough. At the time of Esther’s Purim message – “Gather all the Jews together” – the underlying theme of all the mitzvos of Purim, the opposite seems to be happening. We need to reflect deeply on this before it is too late.
According to many opinion writers, nothing less than a civil war is about to happen in Israel as protests and demonstrations grow by the day. The purported cause of the unrest is the allegedly radical judicial reforms the current extremist government is committing to pass at all costs. According to the protesters, the reforms will destroy the fundamental democratic processes and allow the government to pass unjust, theocratic, discriminatory laws without a check on its power. Furthermore, they claim that the urgency to pass the law is only a cynical attempt to relieve PM Netanyahu of the legal troubles that have dogged him for the past few years. The inciteful rhetoric is at frightful levels; three former prime ministers are calling for civil war and for the army and police to stop obeying the dictatorship “Putsch” government. They claim the ruckuses are pained but principled objections to the proposed judicial reforms in the best spirit of patriotism.
If you believe that, the lies and slander that the Left is using to hoodwink the Israeli public and the whole Western world have successfully fooled you.
The truth is that the judicial reforms are not at all radical. Even if arguendo, one would grant that some of its particular are stronger than they need to be, were a bit strong, the government would be willing to discuss them and compromise. The need for judicial reform is very apparent to anyone familiar with the excesses of Aharon Barak’s power grab. However, it is crucial to know that it is all a smokescreen; the real issue is something else entirely.
The issue exercising the Left is the growing realization that they have lost their grip on power and they are angry and frustrated about it.
Since the founding of the State (and during the mandate period), the non-religious, secular Labor Zionists ruled the country with total control over all branches of government, media, academia, and culture, treating the right-wing and religious as second-class, unenlightened primitives. In 1977 Menachem Begin successfully tapped into the forces of all those who had been frustrated and created nothing less than a revolution. Conservative secular forces joined with Sephardim and the religious right to form a new government that put the Left out of power for the first time in Israel’s history. For most of the next forty years – despite the condescending and sneering objections of the elite that would rule the country – the Likud has been in power with few exceptions. The reality is that the majority of Jews in Israel have moved steadily to the right, particularly as they have seen the folly of the Oslo accords and the excesses of the Left.
In order to retain its hold on power, the Israeli Left followed the example of their counterparts in the United States. As the liberals realized they were unable to accomplish their objectives through elections, they turned to the Supreme Court to “legislate from the bench” on many issues which the majority of the populace opposed. Upon assuming his position, Chief Justice Aharon Barak of the Israel Supreme Court instigated new policies through which the Supreme Court became the most powerful Supreme Court in the entire world. The Supreme Court is able to offer opinions on anything and everything in Israeli society, not bound by whether or not it has standing, holding that everything is justiciable. Not only does the Supreme Court not have to rule based on precedent, but if may find any law or decision by the government or the army to be “unreasonable” in its unbiased superior opinion about any controversy in Israel.
Over the years, many commentators, including many of the hypocrites now in the opposition, understood that the Supreme Court had gone too far and needed to be reined in. That is what the judicial reforms are about; they seek to bring the Supreme Court back to the way it operated before Barak started his dictatorial rain. This is something that a majority of Israelis would agree with if it were presented to them fairly.
Judicial reform, then, is not the primary issue. What is really going on is that the Left sees that they are out of power and likely to stay that way. They see that, for the first time, the ones they consider “the extreme right” is in control and intent on enacting various policies that are antithetical to the Left. Most of all, they are incensed, frustrated, angry and fightful regarding the growth of the religious parties. Between them, UTJ, Shas, and the Religious Zionist parties control 32 out of 120 seats. As a result, it is now impossible for the Left to form a government without either joining with the Arab parties, or forming a national unity government with the Likud, unless they incorporate the religious parties in their coalition.
Therefore, they gnash their teeth as they decry “the end of democracy,” or “the rise of fanaticism,” and so on. They spread lies that the government is trying to institute halacha as the law of the land. They fabricate slander that the current government is anti-women, will persecute LGBTQs, and so forth. What really upsets them is that they recognize that the rule by the secular Left who controlled Israel is effectively over.
I understand this feeling of desperation. The secularists mainly were the ones who built the country’s infrastructure, fought its wars, established the government, and did many great things that created the modern State of Israel, a paradise compared to anything else in the Middle East. They deserve great credit for all the good that they have done and I could understand their anger and frustration in being pushed to the side in terms of holding the reins of power.
Moreover, from the perspective that the secular media have constantly fed them, the religious are primitive Neanderthals who do not participate in the country’s defense nor pay taxes, expecting to be protected and supported by the secular naïve freiers (an Israeli term meaning suckers). This is unfortunately magnified when “religious” idiots riot and demonstrate on foolish issues, and call soldiers and police Nazis while mocking and spitting on them. They are angry that – in their eyes – these people are taking the country away from them.
However, they fail to understand that this didn’t happen in a vacuum. While they did many great things and promoted the building and protection of the State, they also neglected many crucial issues that have now come to roost. Despite all of their noise, they are becoming a minority due to the growing acceptance of traditional values, the high birth rate among the religious, and, unfortunately, the high rate of emigration by secular Israelis who no longer live in Israel.
This is no accident. Young Jews brought up on the values of the secularists were faced with have made one of three choices. Some sensed that there ought to be much more about a Jewish State than to be a vapid cheap imitation of western values. Many have thus decided to increase their connection with Judaism, become more connected with the traditional communities, and now vote for religious parties.
Others who made the same observation but were not moved to become more traditional decided that if western values are most important, why pursue them in Israel? One can make more money, live in a nicer home, enjoy more of the same pleasures, and not be bothered with annoying things like army service, high taxes, and the annoying Orthodox. Over a million Israelis secular Israelis have voted with their feet and moved to America Canada and many other places
This leaves the third group of secular Israelis; those who are committed to staying in Israel for whatever reason but not interested in becoming more traditional. It is that group – that used to be the great majority in Israel – that has seen its numbers dwindle. To the point that the once all-powerful Labour Party barely exists, the Meretz party did not make the electoral threshold. As a result, the only way they could put together a government last time was by voiding campaign promises and incorporating Arabs into the government.
These people are leading all the protests and spreading all the lies as if judicial reform was the issue. Their slogans claim that they are standing up for democracy, which is the biggest lie in itself. Democracy is government by the will of the majority; the Jewish majority have voted (not only in this but in the previous elections) for the Right/Religious. Belief in democracy should be to accept that election’s results and understand that their political opponents are legitimately in power. But they refuse to accept that. Instead, they have convinced themselves that by calling for civil war, for the army to potentially disobey the government, and for anarchy in the streets, they are standing up for democracy. It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.
Where will Israel go from here? That is anyone’s guess. The forces of the Left will not stand down and will be satisfied with nothing less than destroying the country they claim to care so much about unless they get their way. But that, of course, is something that the majority cannot let happen.
In my perfect world, the message that the Right must be sending out is one of understanding the frustration and the anger of the Left and seeking ways to compromise on those issues on which they can afford to compromise. The religious parties, in particular, must be zealous in promoting their issues with great care and understanding for the hurt feelings and disappointment of those who used to be in power. They must be greatly concerned that what is done is with love, compassion, and flexibility while not compromising on fundamental values.
While there is little that individuals can do about that, every Orthodox Jew, both in Israel and the Diaspora, needs to be very aware that – more than ever – non-Orthodox Jews feel under attack and alienated and disparaged, for this is what their leaders are telling them. They are looking to confirm their prejudice that Orthodox Jews are corrupt, mean-spirited, and bullying and seek to delegitimize the non-Orthodox as Jews. Therefore, all of us must be extra vigilant in being stellar examples of the beauty, light, and kindness that the Torah teaches us and not, G-d forbid, the opposite.
History seems to be progressing ever more powerfully toward some great vortex in which the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and religious Jews are under attack. Many sources say that these conditions are a harbinger of the coming of the Mashiach, as we all fervently hope. In the meantime, we must heighten our resolve – and up our game – to be worthy of the arrival of the Mashiach and not, G-d forbid, misuse this tremendous opportunity.