Literally every Israeli I know watched the storming of Capitol Hill with astonishment and disbelief. Biden supporters and die-hard Trump believers shared a similar sense of acute unfolding drama, with the grand architectural setting and flaming colors feeling like a Hollywood remake of some past calamity. Perhaps the sinking of the Titanic or 9/11, or (more appropriately) the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths. Not in terms of the human casualties, but rather as a gigantic symbol of power being sunk, blasted or irredeemably defiled.
Then came the details: The picture of an Israeli flag carried by one of the insurgents zipped through Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp threads, alarming patriots and cynics alike. Seeing the blue-and-white Star of David in the company of Camp Auschwitz was not a trivial experience. My own first reaction was to post the photo to myTwitter profile with the hashtag #NotInMyName. Who would have thought, a right-wing blogger mused, that the day would come when I’d be ashamed to see my country’s flag waved in the heart of the U.S. capital? On the political edges one could barely note some anti-American glee on the part of leftist radicals and militant settlers alike. Such voices, however, were decisively dwarfed by the huge mainstream shock.
Two specific reactions stand out and need mentioning. The first came from Channel 12’s star reporter and commentator, Amit Segal, but it could well have originated with Benjamin Netanyahu’s infamous social-media boys, the team of ‘advisers’ surrounding his son Yair. One day after the attack on Congress, Segal aired footage of protesters outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, filmed a week earlier, and dramatically announced that “demonstrators broke through a roadblock, and the Prime Minister and his wife were rushed to a safe room.” While all three main networks echoed his “breaking news,” other journalists and leaders of the anti-Netanyahu protest were quick to point out the fake news: the “roadblock” was an unused piece of fence, and no one stormed the Balfour fortress.
Whether or not this media spin was the Prime Minister’s own brainchild, we have long recognized something Machiavellian about Netanyahu (or perhaps, as I figured out when preparing lecture notes the other day, we can say there’s something Netanyahu-ish about Machiavelli). Here was an attempt to turn the tables on Israel’s pro-democracy protesters, casting them as the Proud Boys of central Jerusalem. I nevertheless think that my PM was less than comfortable about this particular sound bite; he’d much rather compare the peaceful demonstrators on his doorstep to Antifa.
The other reaction came from Israelis who were levelheaded enough to remain tuned to the count of the electoral votes in the joint Congress session, as long as it was allowed to last. I can only speak for my friends, family and several hundreds of digital voices when I say that the speeches of the Senate’s majority leader and minority leader, joined at the moment of truth in their affirmation of what matters most, had a stunning effect. Even the MAGA Israelis, accustomed to trashing Nancy Pelosi and deriding Chuck Schumer, now faced a Mike Pence and a Mitch McConnell decisively dashing all hope for a coup d’etat. The U.S. Constitution proved to be a good-enough constitution. Things fell apart, but the center held.
This is enormously encouraging for many of us. Israel, yet again under strict lockdown and yet again facing elections, is shifting its political mood and is poised to shift its political climate. To paraphrase William Butler Yeats: Many of Netanyahu’s backers are losing conviction, while his opponents are full of passionate intensity.
The United States elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and will inaugurate them. It may even find ways to make its good-enough constitution better than good enough. Democracy may be deficient and defiled, but its staying power is—quite literally, in this case—a sight to behold. This online lesson, and the forthcoming Biden-Harris government, bring new hope and new energy to the thousands of law-abiding Israeli citizens protesting in Jerusalem’s streets on a cold January night.
Credit: Photos © Lloyd Wolf / www.lloydwolf.com