(March 15, 2023 )
I have made well over one hundred trips to Israel in my lifetime, and never before have I left the Jewish state with such a heavy feeling of sadness in my heart. For over 75 years, people have sacrificed everything, including their very lives, to see the resurrection of a proud, independent Jewish homeland on the soil where our indigenous roots had been established. After 2,000 years of forced conversions, Inquisitions, expulsions, dhimmi laws, pogroms, and culminating in the systematic genocide of 6 million of our people, the Jewish people have returned to their native homeland and painstakingly worked to resurrect the third Jewish commonwealth, where they have established a daunting military, a magnificent high-tech economy, an inherent sense of social justice, with all of the institutions for a healthy society to survive and to thrive.
Our generation has been truly blessed to have had the state of Israel resurrected within our lifetimes, the realization of a multitude of inter-generational yearnings.
Yet, in the week that I was there, I had witnessed the very delicate fabric of this nation fraying apart at the seams. It appears to be a genuine kulturkampf, with deep sociological roots. Two nations with very distinct cultural and religious sensitivities and values have emerged, with very little cross-fertilization of ideas.
On a page that could have been torn from Josephus’ The Jewish Wars, the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are brimming with rage. The pretense of this rage is the proposed judicial reforms, but it is actually a great deal deeper than that. The demonstrators share a generalized sense of anger against the system, a deeply-held suspicion of corruption of the Prime Minister and of the potential of executive over-reach by his government, of the possibility of denial of the separation of powers, of dread and resentment of the religious right and of the demographic possibility of Israel becoming a theocracy. And they have taken to the streets in massive numbers amounting to the hundreds of thousands, blocking traffic and doing everything and anything to disrupt the system.
They are, for the most part, the self-anointed intellectual elite of the society, mingled with the old Labor left, who have convinced themselves of their own hyperbolic rhetoric, that Israel “is no longer a democracy”. They feel that they have the academic pedigree, and therefore the moral authority, to know what is best for the state. They look upon the Israeli Supreme Court as a bastion of human rights and liberal democracy, which stands up for the beleaguered, whether it be an Israeli-Arab, a Palestinian, or any other minority.
It is profoundly tragic that 37 of the 40 of the superior Israeli Air Force Unit 69 refused to report for their reserve duty because they “do not want to serve a dictatorship”. Reports have proliferated throughout the airwaves of officers’ refusing to serve. The IDF is the very core of the survival of the state of Israel, and this constitutes a serious national security threat.
It is equally tragic that Israeli billionaires are publicly talking about pulling their money out of Israel, saying that the proposed reforms make Israel “a high investment risk”. It took years and years to establish the brand of Israel as the “high-tech capital of the world”, only to be eroded in days.
So caught up in this frenzied atmosphere of moral indignation and rage, driven by the heightened ecstasy of purpose and of group affiliation, these demonstrators seem not to care a twit about what they are doing to the state their parents and grandparents had worked so arduously to establish.
On the other side of this divide are those who have long felt alienated from, and have held deep suspicions, of the leftist oligarchy of the elite–particularly of the Supreme Court. These suspicions can be traced back to the sinking of the Altalena, the ship bearing arms for the fledgling state, dispatched by the Irgun. Their most recent, and profoundly traumatic roots can be traced back, however to the 2005 Gaza disengagement where approximately 10,000 people had been uprooted from their very homes, their ways of livelihood, and their sense of purpose. Some disengagement protestors had actually spent years in prison awaiting trial, simply for trying to hold onto their homes. It is not too distant to remember that families who were separated from their homes and their livelihood, who had also spent years in temporary structures without any means of employment.
Appealing to the Supreme Court had proven to be of little to no use. They believe that the Supreme Court justices are all self-appointed, mostly graduates of the same institution, Hebrew University, sharing the same left-leaning intellectual and judicial perspectives, and are dismissive of the genuine concerns of the right. They know that in almost every other judicial system, judicial appointments involve some input from the Executive as well as from the Legislative branch and that there must be a diversity of perspectives on the Court. They also passionately believe in a separation of powers, and believe that the way the Supreme Court has been run away with its own power and feels it can make any issue into a judiciary issue, and has been legislating from the bench and over-ruling passed legislation, since the era of Chief Justice Aharon Barak. They believe that Barak’s concept of “reasonableness” is simply a projective test that can be seen through purely political lenses.
On Thursday evening, while the protests were still going strong, three people dining at a café on Dizengoff Street, in the center of Tel Aviv, were shot, one critically wounded, by a terrorist. And Friday morning, the entire world awoke to the Tectonic shift of Tehran and Riyadh forming a new alliance, forged by Beijing.
One would hope that this would awaken the divided people of the tiny and fragile state of Israel to find the commonalities with their brothers and to acknowledge that our many enemies do not ask if we are right wing or left wing before a terrorist fires a deadly weapon or Iran does the unimaginable.
I pray they wake up before it is too late.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth.
The New Rules of the Rules-Based Order
Azerbaijan’s Unifying Role in Turkish-Israeli Relations
Help us work to ensure that our policymakers and the public receive the EMET- the Truth.