Israel's Judicial Struggle is TectonicBreaking News
tags: Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud
Michael Oren is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, member of the Knesset, and deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, and author of the forthcoming Israel 2048: The Rejuvenated State.
Last Thursday night, the sirens started wailing in Tel Aviv, the telltale sign of an attack. My first thought was Please, God, let it be a terrorist. Better the familiar trauma of Palestinian terror than the novel horror of Jews shooting at Jews, igniting civil war. Because such a nightmare these days indeed seems conceivable.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets on a nightly basis to protest the government’s judicial-reform initiative, which they believe will strip Israel of democracy and permanently install dictatorial, racist, and, in some cases, criminal politicians. But to many of the millions of Israelis remaining at home, the demonstrations represent something else—a last-ditch attempt by an embittered elite to regain the power it lost at the polls.
As these resentments mount, and the danger of internecine conflict increases, friends are asking me whether we’re witnessing a replay of the year 70 C.E., when Rome besieged Jerusalem while the Jews inside descended into fratricide.
My mother, a former family therapist, was fond of saying that the presenting problem is not the most serious problem, and that is emphatically true about Israel today. Those opposing the reforms, mostly from the political center and the left but with a significant representation from the moderate right, genuinely fear for Israel’s soul. They want to raise their children in this country and are willing to fight for its future. Many are threatening to leave the state entirely if the government destroys its democracy. “Let’s see how long those fascists survive without us,” a business associate of mine declared, pointing to the prominence of high-tech professionals and veterans of elite military units in the protests. “Israel will become Lebanon.”
But those supporting the government believe no less fervently that they are defending their democratically won preeminence, their traditional values, and the embattled Jewish state.
The real problem is not the question of judicial review but the existence of two opposed and arguably irreconcilable Israels. The first is the Israel of its founders, a largely secular, Western-oriented country now living at peace with a growing number of its Arab neighbors. That Israel yearns to be a normal country, a nation of world-class clubs and restaurants, of art and innovation. It wishes to be a state that guarantees equal rights for women, the LGBTQ community, and its Arab minorities. Its citizens are hyper-educated, affluent, and connected with the world. “They basically want Sweden,” a member of my synagogue, a recent immigrant from Paris, told me. “They basically want France.”