January 24, 2023
The rallying cry to a Tel Aviv crowd estimated to be as large as 130,000 came from a renowned Israeli novelist, David Grossman. “The State of Israel was established so that there would be one place in the world where the Jewish person, the Jewish people, would feel at home. But if so many Israelis feel like strangers in their own country, obviously something is going wrong. Now is the hour of darkness. Now is the moment to stand up and cry out: This land is in our souls. What happens in it today, will determine what it will be and who we and our children will become. Because if Israel will become different and far from the hope and vision that created it, God forbid, in a certain sense, it will cease to be.”
Something terrible must be facing this nation of about 9 million citizens.
Think about how fearful this impending disaster must be when an equivalent size crowd in our country would number almost 5 million people, much larger than the largest pro-choice, anti-war, or civil rights rally were able to assemble.
Surely, for this number of people to come out on a Saturday night, Grossman must be speaking about something very, very ominous.
The threat of which he spoke was the direction being taken by the new Israeli government.
As reported by the Times of Israel, Moshe Ya’alon, a former defense minister and a key protest leader, told the crowd that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was a “dictatorship of criminals….A state in which the prime minister will appoint all of the judges, there’s a name for it: dictatorship. The way we stopped Syria and Egypt from destroying Israel, we will stop Netanyahu from doing the same,” he said. “We all enlisted because we care about the state and its future… Democracy will always defeat dictatorship.”
Were Israelis finally recognizing that it may not be possible to reconcile their desire to live in a democracy with their desire to be a Jewish nation? Were they finally saying “not in our name” to the atrocities that come with being an occupying nation that holds the lives of more than 3 million Palestinians in a decades-long limbo of statelessness? Were they finally seeing their own history as a colonizing nation and saying “no more?”
This massive outpouring of protest was possible because the new government was threatening the fiction of a democratic state and upsetting the comfort of those who were taking to the streets. The policies of this new government that were so upsetting were their efforts to limit the power of Israel’s courts to overturn the actions of its Knesset (parliament); their efforts to impose the religious beliefs of more-observant Jews on the less religious public sphere; and their efforts to delegalize the LGBTQ+ community.
Left out are the concerns of the 20% of Israeli citizenry that are not Jewish. Left out are any concerns about their being relegated to second-class status by the actions of previous governments. Left out are the concerns of millions of Palestinians living in the prison that is Gaza and the harsh stateless life that is theirs in the “occupied territories”. Left out are the threats by leaders of this new government to create a state where you agree to live under Jewish hegemony or you leave.
All of that does not, in the mind of these protestors, threaten democracy.
Haaretz Columnist Gideon Levy was one Jewish Israeli voice willing to recognize the hypocrisy of these protestors.
“We are Zionists, therefore we are loyal, the demonstrators say. The Palestinians and the Israeli Arabs can wait until we finish things among us. It’s forbidden to mix issues, as if it were possible not to mix them. Once again,this camp is shown to exclude Palestinians… no less than the right does…There is not and cannot be a demonstration on democracy and equality, on freedom and even on quality government, in an apartheid format in an apartheid state, while ignoring apartheid’s existence…
“An ideology that engraves on its flag the supremacy of one people over another cannot preach justice before it changes the basis of its ideology. The Star of David is sinking,.. Palestinian blood has been spilled like water in recent days. Not a day goes by without innocents being killed: a gym teacher who tried to save an injured person in his yard; two fathers, in two different places, who tried to protect their sons, and a 14-year-old son of refugees – all in one week. How can a protest ignore this, as if it weren’t happening, as if the blood were water and the water were blessed rain, as if it has nothing to do with the face of the regime?
“…The occupation is farther than ever from ending; it has become an annoying fly that needs to be silenced. Anyone who mentions it is a troublemaker who must be kept away; even the left doesn’t want to hear about it anymore.
“…Even if all the demands of the protesters are realized, the Supreme Court carried aloft, the attorney general exalted and the executive branch returned to its rightful stature, Israel will remain an apartheid state. So, what is the point of this protest? To enable us to revel once more in being ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’”
I had hoped that the severity of this new government in its approach to the Palestinians, both citizens and those over whom they rule, would have been the proverbial straw. But it has not been. Fort Israeli Jews and for those in our country who continue to defend Israel even as they lament this new government, this has not been so. Like the protestors in Tel Aviv last Saturday night, they have been ready and willing to hear only the part of this new government’s actions that touch their democracy concerns. They remain willing to ignore and excuse the actions which negate the lives of millions whom they rule.
If democracy has a tenet that is worth defending it is that all people are created equal. It cannot stand that we can have a democracy of the elite, in Israel’s case that would be its Jewish citizens.
If principles matter, then you cannot look away.