There are two terms that need to stay out of Israel’s supercharged political discourse: “civil war” and “sedition.”Civil war because Israel is nowhere near such a catastrophic scenario, and to mention it in the context of the current intense debate over the country’s direction is to plant a poisonous seed in people’s minds.And sedition must be left out of the current conversation because not every protest movement – even protests that go on for months at a time and bring thousands of people to the streets to demonstrate – is a call to violent insurrection.National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz erred badly on Monday when he raised the specter of civil war.Referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as to Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s highly controversial judicial reform plan, Gantz said during a faction meeting in the Knesset, “If you [Netanyahu] think that you were the victim of a miscarriage of justice, don’t correct it by doing injustice to the State of Israel and Israeli society. If you continue along the path you are going, you will be responsible for the civil war brewing in Israeli society?”Huh? Civil war? Who is talking about a civil war?Walk away from the Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and the nightly television news where politicians scream at one another, and instead journey into the streets, and gauge whether there is really an atmosphere here of a civil war.Disagreement among many? Yes. Passionate argument among some? Yes. But civil war? C’mon. Go outside. Does anyone really feel an atmosphere conducive to civil war, an atmosphere where Jews will take up arms and form militias to kill other Jews?
“I heard MK Gantz’s words, and I must say I was shocked,” he said Monday at his own faction meeting. “This is a call from the Knesset for rebellion.”
What would Netanyahu consider sedition?
Would Netanyahu consider the massive protests in 2004-2005 against the withdrawal from Gaza sedition? Did he call the wave of protests against the Oslo Accords from 1993-1995 sedition? No, though the courts did find Moshe Feiglin and Shmuel Sackett, then head of Zo Artzeinu, guilty of sedition, something the opposition should keep in mind when it plans mass protests and moves to block roads, as Zo Artzeinu did back then.Israel is well-acquainted with protests, including the violent demonstrations over German reparations in the 1950s, the Wadi Salib riots in Haifa over the killing of a Moroccan immigrant in 1959, the Black Panthers in the early 1970s, the reservists’ protests after the Yom Kippur War, the Peace Now protests in the 1980s, the anti-disengagement demonstrations in 2005 and the social justice protests in 2011.There is much discussion these days about checks and balances in a democracy. One of those checks is public opinion, and that it is being mobilized now against judicial reform is not a seditious act, but rather a democratic one. It doesn’t matter that elections were held, and one side won and the other lost. The losing side has the right to demonstrate against the winning side, as long as they don’t – as they did in Washington in 2021 and Brasilia this week – “storm the capitol.”Netanyahu did not have to call his supporters into the street last year to bring down the government. He realized that he would be able to do so within the halls of the Knesset as that government had only a one-seat majority. But his rhetoric about the illegitimacy of the government was no less strident than similar language heard today against his newly formed government.This time, the opposition to the government is moving outside the Knesset because Gantz and Lapid realize that – unlike Netanyahu last time – they can’t bring down the government from inside the parliament since they just do not have the numbers. They may, however, be able to trigger a process outside the building that will lead to this government’s downfall.That some in the press and in the governments of the Center and Left wrongfully saw legitimate protests by the Right against the withdrawal from Gaza and the Oslo Accords – protests about issues as fundamental to this country, such as reform of the justice system – as somehow seditious, does not mean there is justification on the Right to now label similar types of protests on the Left as rebellion or seditious. As long, of course, as they remain nonviolent.Massive demonstrations are a legitimate tool used in the past to influence governments – sometimes they succeed, such as the protests following the Yom Kippur and Lebanon wars, and sometimes they don’t, such as in the case of the Oslo Accords and the Gaza withdrawal.
Throwing compromise into the mix
While “civil war” and “sedition” need to be removed from the current political vocabulary, one word badly missing from that vocabulary is compromise.Rather than Gantz talking of civil war and Netanyahu of sedition, they should rise above themselves and look for compromise, where both sides get some of what they want regarding judicial reform, but neither side gets everything it wants.Gantz began walking in that direction last week when he floated the idea of a multi-partisan public committee to come up with recommendations for judicial reform. But when Netanyahu, unfortunately, rejected this, Gantz did a U-turn and now has civil war, rather than compromise, on his lips.This is a pity because compromise is the best way to fend off even the remotest possibility of civil war or sedition.