May 29, 2024
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There were two massive political rallies in Israel on Sunday July 23, a day before the final vote on the bill to abolish the “reasonableness standard” in Supreme Court rulings. Protestors of the bill rallied in Jerusalem near the Knesset; supporters of the bill rallied in Tel Aviv near the Kaplan junction (a site normally home to weekly Saturday-night rallies by those opposed to the judicial overhaul). Our family had representatives at each rally. Both my son Elie (28) and my daughter-in-law Avia (33) feel strongly about the bill, but as luck would have it, Elie had to shlep from his home in Jerusalem to attend the rally at Kaplan, and Avia shlepped from her home in Herzliya (just north of Tel Aviv) to protest in Jerusalem. What made each of them sacrifice their time, effort and a chit with their respective spouses concerning childcare—and during a heat wave to boot?

It turns out that both Elie and Avia couch their positions as preventing an imbalance in the legislative-executive-judicial governing triad; they differ as to where they see this imbalance. Avia sees the legislative branch as overreaching its mandate: “The reasonableness standard is a basic principle of Israeli democracy; it is not to be tampered with lightly—certainly not by a government of 64 MKs, which is just a little above the absolute governing minimum. Why didn’t Bibi try to change the reasonableness standard a few years ago when he last was prime minister? Because he did not have the kind of extreme right-wing government he has now.”

For Elie, the imbalance lies with the activist nature of Israel’s Supreme Court, which, according to Elie, “handcuffs the government and doesn’t give it a chance to govern.” Though “democracy” is a key cry of the opponents to the judicial overhaul, Elie told me that one of the main chants at the rally he attended was: “shisheem ve-arba mandatim” (64 Knesset seats); i.e., behind the judicial overhaul is a democratically elected government. Elie said: “I care about this country. The left is out there every week protesting, and it’s important for the right to express its opinion. I wanted to show support for the MKs on the right, to show that there is another voice in this country—and it’s actually the voice of the majority.”

Each side has its own particular fears and its own projections of the “other.” A long-standing fear of secular Israelis is “religious coercion,” that more and more of the public sphere will be forced to conform to Orthodox Jewish law (e.g., in kashrut, Sabbath observance, and modest dress). With this Israeli government heavily reliant on the religious and the right wing, Avia is concerned: “I want a Jewish state but not a religious state. If things continue to occur, for me and my family there would not be a place for us here. If I could change things by voting, I would, but I can’t, and so the only thing I can do to show that I care about my country, my democracy and my family is to go out and protest.”

About the protesters, Elie on the one hand says: “I am happy to see hundreds of thousands of people who care about this country, and I am happy to see them with the Israeli flag.” On the other hand, the notion of “opting out” is of deep concern to Elie. Recalling the “disengagement” from the Gaza strip 18 years ago, Elie said: “When the state uprooted thousands of people in Gush Katif, there were a few who spoke about the possibility of resisting an order [to evacuate the inhabitants], but no one spoke of opting out completely, whether by not serving at all or by emigrating. These threats (and I hope that they are just threats) will only hurt those who make them, as it shows that they are not really tied to this country, that this country is not a supreme value to them. If there is a problem, be a part of the solution. The reaction of the national religious in 2005 was not to opt out but to set up ‘Torah enclaves’ within heterogeneous cities and towns.”

I’m afraid that in closing this column I cannot report that Elie and Avia have worked out a détente that can serve as a model for the rest of the country. However, their respective 4-year-old sons are having a sleep-over in a few days, and I trust Yehuda and Noam to work things out.

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