Opinion | All My Children

A family’s differing views on Israel’s judicial crisis mirror societal divisions.
By | Jul 13, 2023
Opinion, Summer Issue 2023

The protests. The raised fists and raised voices. The road blockages. The shocking, vitriolic, in-your-face confrontations between secular and religious Israelis. All have brought this country as close as it has ever been to civil war.

I recently asked my children and grandchildren to give me their take on what’s been happening. Though politically diverse, they have much in common. They are all sabras (native-born Israelis), some religious and some secular, with academic degrees ranging from a BA to a PhD, including one Rhodes Scholar. All are employed in academia or at nonprofit organizations.

Because politics here is so fraught, I agreed not to name names, but asked offspring A, B and C for their impressions. A and B both have army-age kids, while C is still single. Only B lives over the green line.

B went first: “Two hundred percent, the demonstrations have nothing to do with changes in the judicial system, which previous governments, and the majority of people, agree are necessary. The courts have been used to legislate sensitive issues concerning Palestinians and the IDF, taking these issues out of the rightful hands of elected representatives in the Knesset, where they belong.

“The fight is really about how Jewish Israel is going to be,” B continued. “A lot of the rhetoric from the protesters sounds like antisemitic propaganda. The protesters say they want a ‘new story.’ What, the return of a people who were slaves in Egypt after 2,000 years, after the Holocaust, isn’t sexy or modern enough for them? They want to forget all that and start over? With what? That’s our story. That’s what we are doing here. They want to leave the country and live like Germans in Berlin? Then go! Believe me, we’ll manage.”

A had a different take: “It’s not that the court system is great. But what kind of laws will they pass once they remove judicial oversight? Even without the reform, the government has tried to pass personal laws to allow tax evaders to hold office, a law to criminalize dressing immodestly at the Kotel (six months in prison if the Rav of the Wall thinks your dress is immodest—I am not making this up!); of course, laws that allow Haredim to avoid the army forever, laws that limit the independence of the Bank of Israel, a law that allows politicians to legally accept private ‘donations’—in other words, legalized bribes. Can you imagine what they’d do if there really were no limits? What laws we’d have in ten years?

The most potent threat to Israel is the fraying of social solidarity.

“Most of all, it’s a threat to democracy. This is how it has played out in Eastern Europe. You start with a small electoral majority—in the last election there was a 1 percent difference between right and left. You use that to gain a slightly larger parliamentary majority, then use the court system to turn that into a stable one. If you can decrease the other side’s turnout by 2 percent—there are so many ways to do this, like limiting voting stations in Arab areas—then within a decade, you go from vibrant democracy, where politicians worry about getting voted out of office, to Turkey, where you can never get rid of the guy once he’s in office.

“Now let’s talk about the economy. The 400,000 people who work in tech and related services account for half of the country’s exports and value. The amount of money they bring into Israel is insane, and it makes us a Western rather than a Third World country. I have heard from multiple people that it’s getting harder to raise money because of the reform. If it passes, and the crazy laws keep coming, these people, the ones who recruit funding and build companies and create the economy, will leave.”

As much as they differ, though, all my kids are united in believing that the most potent threat of all to Israel is the fraying of basic social solidarity.

B says, “We need to draw Haredim closer, to work with them on creating a dialogue, not push them away.”

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A agrees. “We need steps to build solidarity, not to undermine it. Find the 80 percent of issues that 80 percent of voters agree on and focus on those. This government has a politics of finding the 15 percent of issues where there is deep disagreement and using those to fire up the base to maintain us in full campaign mode forever. It will tear this country apart.”

C offers a suggestion: “Many people in Israel never meet outside their own social groups. It’s an easy, lazy, entitled thing to hate people according to stereotypes. But if you are sitting in the hospital and the nurse who changes your grandmother’s diaper is Arab, or if a worried Haredi father from Bnei Brak is sitting at a sick child’s bedside near an equally worried leftist father from Haifa, it’s impossible to hate. You can only hate if you live in a fortress and view the world outside as black and white. We need to admit things are complex and search together for answers.”

Truthfully, I agree somewhat with all these points of view. They don’t cancel each other out. And if the microcosm of my family reflects the macrocosm of the country, then there is room for hope. Yes, we are at loggerheads. But that doesn’t stop us from joining together for Shabbat lunch.

Naomi Ragen is a novelist and playwright living in Zichron Yaakov, Israel.

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