Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Anti-judicial reform protesters marching to Jerusalem on Highway 1 near Abu Ghosh, July 22, 2023.

So, what were we fighting about? As per the tradition of our people, it was less about the judicial reform and more about our identity. The judicial system seeks to shape our identity. It does so through controversial judicial rulings that are not based on written law, but on the oral law that each justice brings with him. Half of the Israeli public (and a majority of the Jewish public) wants the Supreme Court to leave issues of identity to the Knesset. We came here from the four corners of the earth with strongly formulated perspectives on pretty much every possible question, and if no laws have been broken, decisions should be left to us, through our elected officials. That’s democracy.

It would appear that some of those shouting out “d-e-m-o-c-r-a-c-y” did not mean majority rule, but the rule of a privileged minority. They control most of Israel’s wealth, they hold most of its senior positions, they are most of the military’s senior officers, and they run academia and the judicial system. These are mechanisms where there are no elections, and climbing the ranks is enabled by individuals who for the most part promote those who think and look like them. It is this anomaly that citizens among us sought to change through the rules of majority and minority, but then they discovered that they are not allowed to do so as they are not considered worthy.


Most of the interlocutors I have come across have refused to conduct a discourse based on rational dialogue. The strength of emotions, the insult, the rage, and the loathing dictate almost every sentence. This stands out when talking to people who are normally governed by rational discourse. Most of the time their arguments are ad hominem and not ad factum. Their writings are not complex, but Manichean – in other words suffering from a simplistic division into the forces of good and evil, and employing insults that end the debate before it begins. Those for whom skepticism should be part of their toolbox negate any possibility of there being any truth on the opposing side. They see themselves as dealing with the forces of evil with whom war is the only option and believe that there can be no truth whatsoever to any of their claims.

Video: Anti-reform protests in Jerusalem. Credit: Yoni Rikner

Journalists and pundits have been competing among themselves as to the apocalyptic future they forecast for us once the law narrowing the reasonableness standard passed. Their imagination went wild and there was no longer any need to distinguish between truth and lies and between reality on the ground (a marginal law was passed) and their dark predictions (the end of the country). Giving an interview to the BBC, I was asked whether, in the wake of the vote, Israel would become a theocracy; they heard this from Israeli interviewees who spoke before me.

This psychosis has also afflicted elected officials who call for blood, fire, and sulfur to be rained down from the heavens against supporters of the judicial reform. I wrote to a few of them that they are wishing this not against comic book figures, but against their friends. Do they wish upon them Dante’s Inferno as punishment for their opinions?

The day after the vote on narrowing the reasonableness standard, opponents of the bill purchased front-page ads in the daily newspapers in the form of black pages announcing a “black day for Israeli democracy.” We received a lesson in how to speak in a unified voice against the choice of the masses. Let us not forget that the day before the vote, some military reservists, in particular air force pilots and special forces members, threatened not to turn up for reserve duty. This was no less than an attempt to force the government to give in to the dictates of military personnel who decided that their opinion was more important than ours. This was a silent coup that overturned the correct civil-military relationship in a democratic country. From this moment on, those who had wholeheartedly supported compromise believed that there was no way to turn back and they had no choice but to vote for the bill. Had they voted against, a dangerous precedent would have been set in which pressure groups extort the government to act according to their will. The Knesset vote took the air out of this silent coup and at least somewhat restored democracy’s honor.

This was not reflected in any way on the front pages of the daily newspapers. The ads sought to blacken the day of those citizens who supported the amendment to the reasonableness standard and present them as a dark and ignorant group of people who endanger democracy. These mourning notice-style front pages were intended to cause demoralization and to instill the thought that the reform’s supporters had committed a terrible crime rather than passing legitimate legislation.  In small print, the papers noted that this was an ad. It doesn’t make any difference; these mourning notices placed half the Israeli people outside the boundaries of legitimacy. After 75 years of independence, this is an unfortunate precedent.

In my mind’s eye, I saw Aldous Huxley resurrected. Many people are familiar with George Orwell’s book “1984” which was written in 1948 and described the communist dystopia he was familiar with from the Soviet Union at the time. Sixteen years later, Huxley published his book “Brave New World” describing the dystopia of a (pseudo) liberal democracy where everyone thinks the same and anyone who thinks differently is considered a pervert and enemy of the regime. In such a society there is no need for dictates from the regime; the unified (black) front controls the media and academy and other institutions. Those who think differently have to do so living underground like the crypto Jews of Portugal and Spain. I know some of them.

All the public offers of comprise (I repeat, public!) have come only from the supporters of judicial reform. In my columns, I have called for far-reaching compromise to calm the situation. But the opposition’s political leadership has not offered any concrete compromise (not merely clouded calls to “participate in talks at the President’s Residence”. We have already done that) – one that will satisfy the other side as that, after all, is the essence of compromise, not forcing the other side on its knees.

Behind the scenes, the leaders of the opposition agreed to compromise, so why did they not take a brave stand and do so publicly? Here is a possible explanation. One of the leaders of the opposition tweeted a warning (while others posted similar texts): “This is a call to all the potential Chamberlains (Herzog, Gantz, Lapid) – compromise is not a value of itself. Don’t compromise the values of these wonderful people. The time for victory has come…” If one side is being compared to the British prime minister who signed the “peace agreement” with Adolf Hitler that led to the outbreak of the Second World War, then we all know who is on the other side. How would anyone dare to compromise with a leader who is compared with the person whose name cannot be stated? If anyone were to agree to do so, they would come under ferocious attack from the heads of the protest movement and their standing and image among their voters would be destroyed.

This threat against those who would compromise reminds me of a story from the Talmud (Gitin) from the period of the Great Revolt (66-70 AC) that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70: “Abba Sikkara was the leader of the zealots of Jerusalem and the son of the sister of Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai. Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai sent a message to him: Come to me in secret. He came, and Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai said to him: Until when will you do this and kill everyone through starvation? Abba Sikkara said to him: What can I do, for if I say something to them they will kill me…”

Now, after the legislation, and once Tisha B’Av is over we should sit and reach a compromise. Despite the attempts to paint the dispute as a battle between the sons of darkness and light, it is a legitimate dispute. The situation is similar to that on the eve of the destruction of Jerusalem. We have learned our lesson. After the destruction, Rabbi Judah the Prince decided to add dissenting opinions to the Mishnah, the enormous legal codex that he edited, even though they were not decided as part of Jewish law (Halachah). This was a statement of principle in favor of having many opinions and of disputes, so long as they were for the state of heaven, and they are most certainly not a reason for division. Comfort, oh comfort, my people.

{Reposted from IsraelHayom}

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