Israeli opposition protests must be kept civil - editorial

Israel knows too well the threats that can tear apart a country.

 Israelis protest against the current Israeli government, in Tel Aviv, on January 7, 2023.  (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Israelis protest against the current Israeli government, in Tel Aviv, on January 7, 2023.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

The right to protest is one of the pillars of democracy. A government needs to protect that right and enable citizens to exercise it.

Preventing that right or threatening force, is anti-democratic and a stain on a country.

At the same time, the right to protest does not mean breaking the law and moving beyond mere protesting into acts of violence. It is upon this social contract that both the government and its citizens engage in the important public debate that underpins our society.

Towards that end, we hope that the protests planned for Saturday night against the current government will take place in a civil manner, and that the government and its coalition partners do not incite against the opposition or the protesters.

Palestinian flag on sign reading ''justice for all from the Jordan to the sea'' at anti-Netanyahu protest in Tel Aviv, January 7, 2023 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)Palestinian flag on sign reading ''justice for all from the Jordan to the sea'' at anti-Netanyahu protest in Tel Aviv, January 7, 2023 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Political division could lead to political violence

Israel knows too well the threats that can tear apart a country. In the lead-up to the creation of the state and during the 1948 war, the country not only faced political divisions among the Jewish population, but also between Jews and Arabs. This led to political violence.

We know how important our democracy is because of the long road we have traveled since that era through the 1990s when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

We have passed through many traumas together, and know, as a result, that this country can be united. This is why the protests on Saturday night should remain civil and why the police must give people the space to express their anger while doing their utmost to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.

In recent weeks, there have been various voices coming forward to highlight how the protests may proceed.

Leaders of the protest movement against the government’s judicial reform plans met with the police commissioner to try to come to an understanding.

This came in the wake of controversial comments by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir regarding the use of police force against the protesters.

According to reports, the police commissioner stressed that the police would act in line with Ben-Gvir’s policy of equal enforcement while exhibiting restraint.

The police have said that “everyone is expected to practice their legal right to demonstrate while maintaining public peace and safety.”

Meanwhile MK and former deputy IDF chief of staff Yair Golan has called for “wide-ranging” civil unrest to protest the Netanyahu government’s moves against the judiciary.

“Against the malicious and evil government, there is only one way – a large-scale civil uprising. Destruction of the justice system, unlimited political appointments, permission for the ultra-Orthodox to do whatever they want with our tax money,” Golan wrote on Twitter.

We appear to be entering a time when some on the far Right sense that power is tipping inexorably in their direction and they want to move against the basic freedoms we enjoy. When we hear talk of jailing opposition members for “sedition” we are reminded of how democracies can be eroded by extremism and head down the road of authoritarianism.

Netanyahu is a keen student of history. He knows very well that extremist rhetoric undermines our country.

On the other hand he leads a government that contains far-right voices. He must act to restrain these voices. The opposition must also tone down its rhetoric. We must unify in the center with the silent majority who want civil discourse and want to be a strong Israeli nation unified against our enemies, not divided internally.

Our adversaries want to see internal strife. They seek to stoke it and then use it to undermine the state and exploit our distractions to work against us, whether that means working against us at international forums, or on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank.

We want to see civil protests and a restrained government that does not lead us into a cycle of discord between the government and opposition.

Netanyahu and the opposition leaders can both play a key role in setting the rhetorical tone that can underpin this call for unity.