February 3, 2023 – י״א שְׁבָט תשפ”ג
In his book Exodus and Revolution, Prof Michael Walzer teaches that since late medieval or early modern times, there has existed a characteristic way of thinking about political change, a pattern that we commonly impose upon events, a story that we repeat to one another. The story has roughly this form: oppression, liberation, social contract, political struggle, and new society (danger of restoration).
“We call the whole process revolutionary, though the events don’t make a circle unless oppression is brought back at the end; intentionally, at least, they have a strong forward movement. This isn’t a story told everywhere; it isn’t a universal pattern; it belongs to the West, more particularly to Jews and Christians in the West, and its source, its original version, is the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.”
The Exodus from Egypt has resonance with everything we do. We recall it weekly during the Friday night Kiddush and it is mentioned daily in our liturgy. As we read last week, the Israelites “borrowed” valuable materials from Egypt:
וּבְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשׂוּ כִּדְבַר מֹשֶׁה וַיִּשְׁאֲלוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם כְּלֵי־כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב וּשְׂמָלֹת׃ (שמות יב:לה)
“The Israelites had done Moses’ bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing.” (Exodus 12:35)
They not only did away with Egypt’s main labor force, but the plagues, looting, and drowning of the Egyptian military force completely crippled its economy. When two and a half million slaves escaped out of a total population of three million, it left half a million Egyptians to carry on unaided. Widespread looting of jewelry occurred as did a series of plagues that eviscerated the Egyptian livestock causing sickness and suffering. The killing of every firstborn child and an entire army killed in pursuit, including apparently the Pharaoh himself, left the country depleted. We don’t often discuss the fact that Egypt, the great ancient empire, would have been devastated by these events.
There is no official record of the Egyptian losses. One could make the case that the Egyptians brought this disaster upon themselves through their policies of enslavement.
Today Israel is experiencing the beginning of an economic Exodus. Yesterday, in an interview with Channel 12 news, Tom Livne, CEO and founder of the AI software company Verbit, said that he has paid the government of Israel tens of millions of dollars in taxes in recent years, and “hopes that many others” will emulate him and “simply move abroad from Israel” in order to “stop being residents of Israel and to cease paying taxes here.”
Israeli companies, moneymakers, and business organizations have voiced concern over the new government’s judicial overhaul plan which they say threatens democracy and will harm the thriving local tech industry. Many fear that a weakening of the judiciary system will create uncertainty and reduce the likelihood that foreign investors will invest funds into companies here. This, in turn, could force local and international businesses to an Exodus from Israel to set up shop elsewhere.
Did Israel bring this potentially disastrous reality upon itself? The interviewer asked Livne: “Why not stay here and fight? Why give up on Israel? Is that the message that you want to send to your children?”
Livne answered matter of factly stating that he needed to do what was best for himself and his company at that moment and that he had already given so much to the country.
He is not alone.
It is becoming clear that the proposal of these judicial “reforms” is catalyzing change in the judicial system and having widespread, often deleterious, effects in the economic realm, the arena of civil society and discourse, Israel’s international standing, and the everyday lives of Israelis. Like the plagues in Egypt, no corner of society is left whole and unaffected.
Perhaps, through this political struggle concerning Israel’s judicial branch, we are now at the beginning of what Walzer calls the New Society phase. There is a growing civil consensus, not represented by the words and actions of the current government, that is slowly rising to bring about change. Stay tuned to see whether that new social contract will succeed in resisting the so-called reforms and instead bring about a stronger civil consensus in Israel.
It’s not just hi-tech and Start-Up financiers who are exiting en masse. At the risk of being repetitive, the policies of the new government are endangering the connection of support of great swaths of North American and Diaspora Jews. In response, it is incumbent upon us to stand up for Israel’s democracy and the integrity of its current judicial system. To speak out and affirm that Israel is not only a country for its citizens but the Homeland of the entirety of the Jewish people worldwide. These initiatives, should they come to pass, will impact Jews throughout the world, particularly when it comes to issues relating to the recognition of Judaism, conversion, and immigration.
Each of us has a say in how Israel determines our rights and status. We have the right to demand that Israel live up to its founding principles of democracy, equality, and pluralism.
What can I do?
- Click to send the e-mail from our newsletter and from The Pluralist. It will be sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Justice Yariv Levin, and your local Israeli embassy/consulate.
- Share this information with as many people (in Israel and abroad) as possible! Urge them to join the fight.
- Demand that Jewish organizations you belong to become involved in the fight to protect Israel’s democracy.
- Subscribe to IRAC’s and ARZA’s newsletters for more information in order to stay updated.
5. Stand Up For Israel’s Democracy by showing up to gatherings taking place around the world.
The Exodus from Egypt was the single most formative experience in our Master Jewish story. It forged us as a nation and established the foundation of our collective experience as a Jewish people. As Jews, we know that the way to the Promised Land is through the wilderness; there is no other way to get there except by joining together and marching on.
 Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution, (New York: Basic Books, 1985)