Persons of the year: Yariv Levin and Shikma Bressler

One stormed the country’s judges, the other rushed to defend them, and both shaped a cursed year’s days of awe.

 JUSTICE MINISTER Yariv Levin presents the reasonableness clause to the Knesset in July.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
JUSTICE MINISTER Yariv Levin presents the reasonableness clause to the Knesset in July.

Our person of the year 5783 must be Israeli.

Yes, the war that last year made us nominate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continued to rage this year, and its global impact is, so far, much larger than anything that has happened in Israel. However, that war seems to have become a stalemate, thus producing no new hero, whether positive or negative.

Mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who launched a 24-hour revolt against the Russian military, only to die in an apparent assassination, might have been our person of the year – not because he shaped the war in which he starred but because in his life and death he embodied its futility, recklessness, and absurdity.

Non-Israeli figures like Prigozhin, or Indian President Narendra Modi, whose country’s moon landing underscored its new superpower status, would have been considered had our Israeli year been normal. But 5783 was anything but normal for the Jewish state.

This is a year for Israel's democracy 

 JUSTICE MINISTER Yariv Levin attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
JUSTICE MINISTER Yariv Levin attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

IN THE year 5783, Israel’s elected leaders stormed its judiciary, unveiling an elaborate plan to seize control of the Supreme Court, disempower its judges, and thus steer the Israeli democracy toward autocracy.

In a dramatic televised statement the week after Hanukkah, the government said the new coalition would pass legislation allowing the Knesset to override Supreme Court rulings by a simple majority of 61; that the Judges Selection Committee would be reconfigured so the coalition would control it instead of its current balance between judges, lawyers, and politicians from both sides of the aisle; that the Supreme Court’s president would be appointed by the government; that the court’s ability to cancel executive acts as unreasonable would be canceled; and that the ministries’ legal advisers would lose the ability to flag ministerial decisions as illegal.

The public outcry, political chest-beating, social rift, military perplexity, and economic turbulence, which that short announcement quickly uncorked, were not merely the event of the year – they might be recalled as the end of an epoch.

Moreover, if this judicial overhaul materializes, it may become a milestone in global authoritarianism’s resurgence since the knockouts it was dealt in the last century, with the downfall of the Soviet Union and the communist idea. True, democracy’s march had been blocked by China, Russia, and Turkey, which were then followed by the young democracies of Hungary and Poland. But if Israel follows their path, it would mean that autocracy has penetrated, for the first time, the veteran democratic world.

The assault on Israel’s judiciary is, therefore, the event of the year, certainly in Israel, and possibly also beyond it.It follows, that our person of the year must be someone who personifies this event. And nominating that person is a no-brainer: it’s the man who delivered that televised address, Justice Minister Yariv Levin.

A gaunt, bespectacled, and hopelessly uncharismatic lawyer, the 54-year-old Levin is the man who wrote the blueprint and led the assault that will forever remain associated with his name. Levin thus left an indelible imprint on the year, and very possibly also on the future of the Jewish state, and even on the future of the free world.Then again, while Levin’s centrality in this event is indisputable, there is one problem with his nomination: the plan never passed. 

According to Levin’s schedule, we should by now have faced a subdued court in the process of being re-staffed by eunuchs alongside a battery of legal advisers as opinionated as bowling pins. Instead, the legislation process was stalled, jolted by a popular revolt that Levin first failed to predict and then failed to understand.

The reasonableness clause’s amendment in July was but a fraction of the original blueprint. The rest was suspended, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu balked in the face of massive, weekly demonstrations throughout the country.

That means that in terms of impact, Levin’s candidacy must be weighed against a representative of the rebels who confronted him, the judiciary’s defenders, someone who either engineered the counteroffensive or symbolized it. And that choice is also natural: Shikma Bressler.

UNLIKE HER political inversion, the 46-year-old scientist and former basketball star did not engineer her part of the year’s drama. In fact, unlike Levin, who has been a lawmaker for 14 years and a politician since his student-activism days at the Hebrew University, Bressler never was, and never will be, a politician.

A particle physicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research, she entered 5783 not imagining in her wildest dreams that she would end the year as the face of a grassroots protest movement, an Israeli version of Poland’s Lech Walesa. 

Yet that is exactly what happened over the past 10 months. No, Bressler is not the sole organizer of the protest movement. She is but one of thousands of volunteers who stubbornly emerged every weekend in any weather, at great personal cost. She is, however, this spontaneous movement’s emblem because she represents everything it’s about.

Shikma Bressler embodies the free, enlightened, enterprising, productive, worldly, volunteering, patriotic, and sacrificing Israel that Netanyahu’s reactionary coalition defies. She is the Start-Up Nation’s poster girl, a scientist who despite raising five girls with her husband has set her busy routine aside in order to fight for her country’s democratic soul.

Had our choice of person of the year been about sympathy, Bressler would have defeated Levin hands down. However, this title is about impact, and as of this writing Bressler and her colleagues have stalled the Levin Plan’s passage, but by no means defeated it. 

Instead, the country that Levin threw into 5783’s tizzy greets 5784 torn, bitter, anxious, and shaken to the foundation. That is why Yariv Levin and Shikma Bressler are jointly our persons of the year 5783.

The writer, a Hartman Institute fellow, is the author of the bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s political leadership.