|Israel's biggest protest ever (BBC)|
I don’t recall ever feeling so pessimistic about Israel’s
future. I am not all that surprised by the events taking place these
days – since I believed it might have been inevitable. But it still saddens me that
it happened so suddenly. And, it seems, it isn’t letting up any time soon. These thoughts occurred to me after reading a recent headline in Ha’aretz:
Israel’s Long-awaited Secular Uprising Is Finally Here
Indeed it is. It seems that Israel is on the brink of civil
war (if we aren’t already there) between secular Jews on the one side and religious Jews on the other. That is, however, not an entirely accurate description of the two sides.
On one side there are
2 distinct religious philosophies with entirely different religious agendas. Charedim (who are the fastest growing demographic in Israel -
outpacing all other demographics) and Religious Zionists (whose increasing
rightward tilt is represented by Bezalel
Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir who after joining forces received more votes than
at any other time in the history of Religious Zionism.) In other words these observant Jews represent the extremes of each
of their religious philosophies.
On the other side are secular Jews who want to retain their
way of life which they see being threatened by the agenda based legislation
designed to force religion down their collective throats without impediment. But this camp also includes religious Jews referred to as Dati Leumi. Dati Leumi Jews do not subscribe to the agendas of either Charedim or the extreme Religious Zionism of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.
For purposes of simplicity, I will be referring to them as secular versus religious.
These two sides have been around for a long time. And the
country has been more or less divided along these lines. The religious side seems to have won the day
giving the current prime minister a comfortable 64 seat majority in the Knesset.
The secular side fears that the agendas of a ruling coalition
controlled by its religious members will destroy their freedom. And they will
not have it. They see the judicial reform legislation as the first blow against
that and they are not going to take that sitting down. There have
been a series of massive protests. (Ha’artez reports that the latest protest consisted of a half
million Israelis according to its organizers) against the Judicial reforms
currently going through the required number of Knesset readings before becoming
The truth is that Judicial Reform is not really the issue. The issue is what kind of state Israel will be. The secular side wants things to
stay as they are. The religious side wants major changes to reflect their
agendas – fearing that the current direction of the state as determined by unfettered Supreme
Court endangers their way of life. Each side thus reflecting conflicting and irreconcilable ideologies.
Are things as hopeless as they seem? I hope not. I do not want
to see the kind of civil war Israel seems to be quickly heading into. But I fear that there is nothing happening to stop it. But that doesn't mean it is impossible. where there is a will there is a way - if only the two sides would actually will it.
The key to Israel’s future is the kind of compromise that has
existed til now. A compromise that would restore the status quo ante. Whereby each sides gets some of what they want but neither sides gets everything they
For religious Jews that means not changing Israeli law to reflect the
winds of religiously unacceptable social change that has influenced to the rest of the free world. For secular Jews it
means living their lives in a world where Charedim cannot pass legislation
that impedes their freedom – like closing off streets and parking lots on Shabbos in Jerusalem. (Unfortunately their newfound power has caused them to flex muscles they never had. Which in my view is stupid. It does little more than generate additional hatred from secular and Dati Jews. But I digress.)
Compromise would also mean leaving long established settlements that border ‘the green line’
alone but not expanding settlements into areas populated by Palestinians. And surely dismantling any illegal settlements that are there now.
That said, it cannot be denied that Israel’s majority population has shifted rightward. If the last election told us anything – it told us that. It is also very likely that the growing Charedi demographic means inclusion of the Charedi parties as part of any future governing collation.
A right wing electorate has in fact been in the majority for several of the last few elections. The only
exception was the last government that lasted about a year and a half and needed the Arab parties to join them in order to secure a majority in the Knesset. So why did all the previous elections not produce a
stable right wing government? I blame the current prime minister for that.
That said, I happen to believe that Netanyahu was one of the most effective
prime ministers in Israel’s history. His longevity in office tells me that a
lot of Israelis felt the same way. But his egotistic desire to retain power has caused him to make enemies of a lot of natural allies. Even some in his own party. He has alienated a lot of potential right wing coalition partners whose political philosophies
are not all that different than his.
His abrasive ego didn’t help him either. A stable ruling coalition could not be built with him at the helm. That is why there has been a series of perpetually short election cycles And that has impaired any kind of
effective leadership. It was Netanyahu’s hunger to return to power that caused him to join
forces with extremists on the right that he would otherwise never have included.
The solution is for Netanyahu to resign as prime minister, to call for new elections, and to resign as chairman of his party, the Likud. That would enable a much saner right wing coalition to emerge that would not need extremists to join it.
I realize of course that this has no chance of happening. Netanyahu’s
ego is too big. But I see no other way out of this mess.
So if judicial reform is passed
as currently written – will there be a civil war? Will Israel collapse under the weight of the extremists
that now rule? Neither alternative is appealing to me. But I see nothing standing
in the way of one of these scenarios happening. Hope I’m wrong.