Anti-government demonstrations cause demonstrative harm.
A lot has happened since my article was published in these pages (“Daf Yomi Provides Template for Negotiating An End to Israel’s Uncivil ‘Civil War,’” April 4, 2023) about the demonstrations rocking the rock of Israel (tsur Yisrael) to its core. Most recently, a few days before this paper went to press with this issue, the pro-government supporters staged a rally of their own, leading many people to compare the demonstrations or to minimize their significance. In fact, there were superficial similarities, but a case can be made that their differences and significance go deeper than most people realize.
First, a preliminary personal observation: It is true that I wrote that I was not taking sides, but it is also true that it is possible to subliminally (or not so subtly) support the substantive merits or demerits of one side (whether or not I actually did), while at the same time refraining (as I did) from availing oneself of the opportunity to argue the merits of that position. The thrust of the article was against the manner and tenor of the demonstrations—not their underlying arguments—and that the daf yomi at the time the article was written, presented and continues to present a more positive template to replace intemperate demonstrations with constructive negotiations in good faith.
The arguments cut both ways, now that the supporters of judicial reforms have recently staged their own mass demonstration, although the disruptions caused by one demonstration (by the pro-reformists) to make a point—or a counterpoint—can’t compare with the many demonstrations (against the reforms and the government) made long after their point was made; but they were arguably designed to intimidate the supporters of the reforms and to sow seeds of contempt and distrust of the government in the eyes of people inside and outside of the country.
Another stark contrast with the chaos-inducing street blockages by the anti-reformists in defiance of the police was that the pro-reformists sought to minimize disruptions and chaos and did not block crucial roads (as noted by a leader of Israel’s Media Watch in an email to this writer a few hours after the pro-reformist demonstration ended) and did not include violence—except for the physical violence by anti-reformists (in the name of “democracy”) against prominent leaders of the pro-judicial-reform movement.
This article will elaborate on the harm caused by the anti-government demonstrations.
The pendulum had arguably gone too far in favor of the Supreme Court’s arbitrary exercises of discretion and its ability to perpetuate itself and its attitudes, while some on the right may have gone too far in calling for blanket override powers of the legislature over the court (even if in reaction to past and continuing existing excesses by the undemocratically appointed members of the judiciary), and calling for unjustified military operations of the military over civilian cities (even if only theoretically), but there is room for negotiating a resolution that will satisfy most reasonable and informed people.
My opposition was and remains to demonstrations that intentionally prevent Hatzalah volunteers and other first responders from being able to reach their destinations in a timely fashion, and my opposition is also directed to those who prevent honest apolitical people from being able to earn their living at all times, except Shabbat. My opposition is also to the reservists who refused to serve to defend the country of Israel.
Many people are familiar with the basic proposals for and against judicial reform, but “the devil is in the details,” and the people who interfere with the safety of Israeli civilians and with the military are doing the devil’s work.
Even if it is true that the protests have been mostly nonviolent, preventing ambulances and patients from reaching their destinations results in injury and death, no less than missiles and bullets. Not allowing the army to fulfill its missions can result in injuries and deaths, no less than missiles and bullets.
The demonstrations and traffic disruptions also cause untold hardship to hundreds of thousands of people who can’t carry out their lives as planned, not to mention the havoc to people who have weddings, circumcisions, funerals or other once-in-a-lifetime (or death time) rites of passage on schedule (or even within a reasonable range of a schedule) and with the participation of all the primary parties, let alone all the other participants and guests.
Many people do not realize that there are major disruptions of essential bus services that many people rely on even in many parts of the city that are far from the demonstration, since a tiny sliver of various bus routes may border on the demonstration site. Similarly, a mother may be taking care of various “short” errands and can’t get back home to her children as planned, routinely, to ensure their safety and to prevent traumatic anxiety or worse, because the bus service was temporarily disrupted and discontinued.
The disruptions caused by these repeated demonstrations clearly cause irreparable harm. Judicial procedures may as well—but they can be overturned as judges and governments change—but the harm caused by the demonstrations often can never be undone.
If people really care about the wellbeing of their fellow citizens and their ability to function without devastating disruptions, they would refrain from calling illegal strikes that cause much hardships and they would arrange for their mass rallies to take place in open fields, plazas or stadiums. Backups that tie up city streets can backfire on the people whose rights the rallies are meant to protect.
I submit that when painting a picture of what is happening on the streets of “Jerusalem of Gold” and on the other major thoroughfares of the country, it is wrong and counterproductive to smear the opposition with broad strokes of false allegations that they are against democracy—causing irreparable harm thereby to Israel’s civilians, security, military, economy and political standing in the world, when most (surely many) of the advocates of judicial reform simply want to add checks and balances, and reject extremism in either direction.
Rabbi Reichel participated in a fair share of demonstrations over the years, though never designed to block traffic or overthrow a government. Actually, most of his demonstrations have been by means of written discourse, not on a public concourse.