Friday March 17, 2023 – כ״ד אַדָר תשפ”ג
Have you ever asked someone a question about Israel, made a point, expressed an opinion, or tried to challenge someone else’s claim, and received the following response: “Well, you see…it’s complicated…”
“It’s complicated” is likely the most unhelpful, knee-jerk, and overused two-word response, and here’s why we should stop using it.
Ok, it is complicated, but we’re pretty smart people and we’re able to understand complicated things. Beginning a session by saying “it’s complicated by way of an explanation of the current political situation in Israel and/or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a kernel of condescension because it presumes that one’s conversation partner or student isn’t sophisticated enough to comprehend and internalize the so-called ‘complexities’ of the material at hand. So, let’s avoid saying “it’s complicated” and instead be honest and straightforward in our conversations with one another.
Reason #2: It’s Actually NOT That Complicated…
Here’s the thing. The current proposals being bulldozed through the Knesset in a blitzkrieg of legislation are hard to follow and challenging to keep track of (which is why I recommend this Judicial Legislation Tracker as a helpful tool). However, the issue is not actually complicated.
First, let’s establish what people are protesting and what they aren’t. Those of us who have turned up at protests over the past ten weeks are NOT protesting the election results. The current Israeli government coalition won the democratic elections fair and square. They were able to assemble a coalition of four political parties landing them a majority of 64 mandates out of the total of 120 Members in the Knesset – a relatively luxurious majority compared to the narrow 61 or 60 majorities of the past few coalitions. The left-wing parties can be upset, lick their wounds, protest, and analyze their status in being relegated to the back benches of the opposition. They can bemoan the fact that the protesters are coming out of the woodwork now when it’s too little and too late to make a difference in the make-up of the government, that the Likud never so much as mentioned comprehensive judicial reform in its platform, but the left has no grounds to challenge the election. That’s not what these protests are about despite some people’s claims.
As professor and bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari explained on Channel 12’s main Friday night news magazine last week:
“We need not focus on the details of this reform or that. The essence is not about the process for appointing judges or how many Members of Knesset can override a Supreme Court ruling, but one simple question:
What will limit the government’s power?
If, for instance, the Knesset, by way of its elected majority wants to pass a law to prevent Arab citizens from voting, or cancel the right of workers to strike – what will prevent them from doing so?”
That is the essence of the protests here.
Much ink has been spilled about the social cohesion of Israeli society coming undone, and the protest movement and that the proponents of the judicial overhaul see it as the chickens proverbially coming home to roost in unseating the “elites” from power and curbing the Supreme Court’s undemocratic activism and overstepping its boundaries by imposing universalist and progressive values. However, the protest movement comes down to the simple fact that if this judicial overturn goes through, the majority will have unchecked power over the minority. As greater sages than me have said, that is the whole issue, the rest is commentary.
It isn’t complicated, therefore, and I believe that most North American Jews understand this and can find the right vocabulary to speak out against what amounts to radical change in the role of the Department of Justice and the High Court as a check-and-balance vis a vis the Knesset’s unilateral legislative/executive power.
We would be against this proposed tyranny of the majority even if we were the ones in the majority.
As of Wednesday evening, in a prime-time speech, President Isaac Herzog offered a compromise proposal, which many Israelis across the political spectrum believed they could live with.
The ink hadn’t yet dried on the paper before the ruling coalition under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership rejected the proposal claiming that the “central elements of the proposal he [Herzog] made just perpetuate the existing situation.” The leaders of all coalition factions then issued a joint statement denouncing the President’s plan as “one-sided, biased, and unacceptable.”
This nay-saying coalition, despite polls that indicate that the vast majority of Israelis oppose the radical legislation being rushed through the Knesset, reinforces the perception that the current government – because it has the democratically elected majority – will not agree to or be willing to compromise on anything that falls short of complete dominance over the judiciary.
Some see cracks in the system in that the prominent MK David Bitan has advised slowing things down. They don’t need a big group of MKs to slow the process, and hopefully, this will inspire others to come forward and express their concern about the implications for Israel in how this is playing out with the Palestinians, vis a vis the region, Diaspora Jewry, and the international community, and at the least push for a compromise.
Former Minister and Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky expressed his feelings for the President’s framework:
“I support President Herzog’s initiative because it offers a way out of this dangerous situation. Do I agree with all of his proposal’s particulars? No. Do I think it needs to be altered? Yes. But this compromise doesn’t have to be accepted or rejected wholesale. Nor does it usurp the Knesset’s role in approving whatever is ultimately agreed upon, or the judiciary’s role in commenting on its legal ramifications. Rather, the president’s proposal offers us the opportunity to come together again and sit around the negotiation table. Simply saying “no” with the sort of ferocity that was appropriate when facing the KGB is a tragic mistake when we face one another.”
“When we face one another.” That overlooked detail at the end of Sharansky’s critical memory-evoking thought says it all. It’s not complicated, but it does require people on opposite sides to face one another and renew the spirit of amity and commonality of purpose among all Jews in the State of Israel. Think about this image from this week’s Torah portion Vayekhel-Pekudei:
“וַיִּהְי֣וּ הַכְּרֻבִים֩ פֹּרְשֵׂ֨י כְנָפַ֜יִם לְמַ֗עְלָה סֹֽכְכִ֤ים בְּכַנְפֵיהֶם֙ עַל־הַכַּפֹּ֔רֶת וּפְנֵיהֶ֖ם אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֑יו אֶ֨ל־הַכַּפֹּ֔רֶת הָי֖וּ פְּנֵ֥י הַכְּרֻבִֽים׃” (שמות לז:ט)
“The cherubim had their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. With their faces toward one another (each to their sibling); [turned] toward the ark-cover were the faces of the cherubim.” (Exodus 37:9)
The Tabernacle (i.e. the central institution the Israelites created in the desert) offers a perfect example of how we ought to see ourselves. We are like the cherubim here, hesitant to face each other. Now that we understand what this is about – it is NOT complicated – let’s turn towards one another, our siblings, families, friends, and those with whom we disagree and stress unity over division and address the matter at hand in a spirit of reaching common ground.
That, sadly, in
the current politically charged and polarized climate in Israel, may be more complicated than anything else.