Ordered by a voice wrapped in flames to confront a mighty emperor, Moses said no. “Make someone else your agent,” he said (Exodus 4:13).
Seeking a way out of what seemed like a suicidal mission, he made two arguments that showed he knew all too well what dissidence would entail.
His first argument concerned the objects of his prospective struggle. “What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me?” he asked, voicing the same fear of the masses that now paralyzes Likud ministers who privately criticize their colleague Yariv Levin’s anti-judicial assault.
With this argument ineffective, Moses turned to his communication skills. “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” he said, and thus pointed to two gifts that to this day fuel public careers: the vocal clarity and verbal eloquence that are an effective oration’s prerequisites, especially when intended to stir the masses and inspire them to act.
Now, provoked by Levin et al, some prominent figures among the millions he provoked proved as unprepared for their improbable roles of dissidents as Moses was when he faced the burning bush.
What did they do wrong, what should they do to be right, and what are their chances of success?
Brain and guts
DISSIDENCE BREWS between the brain and the guts. The brain detects power’s abuse, crime and conceit, and the guts stir revulsion, alarm and resolve. As this process matures, the urge to cry for justice in the face of evil, and for truth in the face of deceit, becomes stronger than the dissident they unsettle.
That urge is what drove the biblical Amos when he attacked those who “sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes” (Amos 2:6); that is what made Isaiah cry out, “Your rulers are rogues and cronies of thieves, every one avid for presents and greedy for gifts” (Isaiah 1:23); and that is what made Micah scold, “The rulers” and the “chiefs” who “detest justice” and “build Zion with crime” and “make crooked all that is straight” (Micah 3:9-10).
Now, the specter in the same Zion of convicts and defendants appointing judges, replacing prosecutors, and remote-controlling courts of justice is making dissidents out of people who, like Moses, Jeremiah and Mordecai, had never planned to assume such a role.
That is how a corporate lawyer like David Hodak made the mistake of saying he would use live ammunition if forced to live in a dictatorship. Justice and courage burst forth from him, and lacking media experience he chose words that were immediately misinterpreted and, fortunately, retracted.
The same went for hi-tech entrepreneur Ze’ev Raz, who retweeted someone else’s statement that “if a sitting prime minister assumes dictatorial powers, this prime minister is bound to die, simply like that, along with his ministers and his followers.” Though phrased conditionally, it was quickly quoted as a call for assassination and civil war, and was also soon retracted.
So yes, like Moses in front of the burning bush, these evolving dissidents are heavy-tongued, but – like all dissidents – what drives them is a patriotic love of their country and an instinctive impatience with their people’s abuse. And as has been the case with other dissidents, from Moses to Andrei Sakharov, these are very serious people.
Unlike this government’s collection of zealous tin soldiers and holier-than-thou draft dodgers, Raz and Hodak are real warriors: The former, a combat pilot, led the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. The latter, a former tank-battalion commander, fought in the Sinai Desert in 1973 even after being severely wounded, and then escaped his hospital bed in order to return to fight.
True, they don’t yet have the dissident’s language, but they do have the dissident’s engine and fuel, and that’s what counts.
Yes, there was a time when the phrase “Israeli dissident” sounded oxymoronic. Dissidents belonged in communist Russia, Ba’athist Syria and Pinochetist Chile. That was before Yariv Levin set out to hijack Israel’s judiciary and walk it blindfolded into the sunset. That is why Israeli dissidence is suddenly a very realistic prospect, and why its rules of operation must urgently be set.
No violence or harm to the country
ISRAELI DISSIDENCE should be governed by two “don’ts” and three “do’s.”
The first “don’t” is violence. It worked for Lech Walesa in Poland, and it will work for us here. Violence is required in the face of foreign invasion, but a domestic invasion is fought with persuasion – persuading citizens that the regime is decadent, its leaders are weak, and the people are strong.
The second rule must be: Target the regime, but don’t harm the country.
It means that sending Israeli capital overseas, as some hi-tech tycoons have already done, is a bad idea. It’s one thing if foreign investors retreat from here out of fear that a post-democratic Israel will be a risky investment. That is an impartial business move. However, if one of us does the same thing, it’s not a cold business move. It’s a hotheaded shot in the foot.
The first “do” should be: Have faith. That is how Daniel survived Belshazzar’s anti-Jewish feast, and how Natan Sharansky survived the Soviet gulag, before both witnessed the downfalls of the empires they braved.
The second “do” should be: Don’t relent. Like the Jews of New York, London, Paris and Melbourne, who year after year held rallies, vigils and pickets wherever Soviet officials emerged, demanding “Let my people go,” we will take to the streets week after week, and cry Isaiah’s vow, “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment.”
Lastly, our overarching rule will be what Moses told our forebears when the Red Sea gushed ahead of them while Pharaoh’s cavalry emerged in their rear: Have no fear.
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.