These are tumultuous times for Israel. The international political climate is uncertain, protestors fill the public squares, and democracy-threatening legislation is presented to the Knesset again and again. Yet I suggest that for liberally-oriented, dovishly-inclined people such as me, this is a hopeful time for the following reasons:
1. The spate of laws that threaten civil liberties in Israel – the Nakba law
, the loyalty oath law
, and now the anti-boycott law
– are not signs of a reinvigorated Israeli right but of a right that is desperate, adrift, and ideologically bankrupt, and is pushing outrageous but nonetheless largely symbolic legislation in order to recapture public attention.
2. The nearly wall-to-wall opposition of American Jewish groups to the anti-boycott bill sent a clear message to the government of Israel that there is only so much of this grandstanding that American Jews are prepared to tolerate.
3. Young Israelis taking to the streets to protest housing shortages is an exhilarating political development; these young people, average Israelis of the middle and working class, are telling political elites that the huge disparities in income between the very wealthy and everyone else may be acceptable in the US but are not acceptable in Israel—which is, after all, a tiny democracy at war with its neighbors where national solidarity is not merely desirable but essential for survival.
4. The protests are calling attention to dislocations in the economic system, including the fact that for decades, building permits and public funds have been far more available for housing in Judea and Samaria than elsewhere in Israel. Whatever their political orientation, young Israelis who lack apartments and cannot get through the month on their paychecks are demanding fair treatment in all realms of economic policy—and that means an end to favoritism for the territories, particularly in those areas outside of the major settlement blocks.
5. Support for the ultra-Orthodox will also be subject to review. The Haredim are poor, not wealthy; but the full-time Torah study that so many adults have chosen is possible only because beginning in 1977, the ruling coalition received ultra-Orthodox support in return for generous subsidies that came at great cost to government budgets and to economic productivity. With so many young people needing decent housing, the ultra-Orthodox – like everyone else – must work to support their families, and if they choose to study, must do so at the expense of private donors.
Am I being too optimistic? Maybe. But the people of Israel have risen up in righteous anger, and perhaps – just perhaps – this will be a time for change.