The need for compromise in the judicial reform - opinion

It is such a privilege to live in Israel, so why choose to endanger it over the possibility of compromise?

 Israeli lawmakers gesture amid a chaotic session of the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee in Jerusalem during a debate on judicial reform, on February 13, 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli lawmakers gesture amid a chaotic session of the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee in Jerusalem during a debate on judicial reform, on February 13, 2023.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Looking at the political scene in Israel today, I am reminded of an incident I witnessed some years ago at the Rehavia post office branch in Jerusalem.

An American tourist came into the postal branch to send home a package of items purchased here during his visit. When he approached the clerk, the package was weighed and the postage determined. As was the custom before there were machines that spewed forth the postage on a self-stick label, the clerk counted out the stamps and gave them to the customer to lick and paste on the package.

The customer looked aghast and said, “In America, the postal clerk does this for you!” At which point another person in line tapped the tourist on the shoulder and said, “You know, for 2,000 years we have been waiting to have the privilege of licking stamps that say State of Israel and the clerk does not want to take that privilege away from you.” At which point everyone else in line applauded.

What is it about this story that brings it to mind now? Well, as I read the vitriol coming from those who absolutely demand judicial reform and others who say it will mark the end of democracy in Israel I sense that they have all forgotten what a privilege it is to live here.

For the first time in 2,000 years, we created a sovereign nation that is the envy of the world for its technical achievements and its staying power in the face of the enemies around us who have been bent on our destruction for so many years. It is where our people are so confident about their future that it has the highest birth rate of any western nation, bar none.

 ISRAEL POSTAGE  stamp celebrating  Chaim Weizmann’s  role in the Balfour  Declaration, 1967. (credit: Karen Horton/Flickr) ISRAEL POSTAGE stamp celebrating Chaim Weizmann’s role in the Balfour Declaration, 1967. (credit: Karen Horton/Flickr)

Having such a record of achievement in the face of significant odds to the contrary, it seems the best we can do now is tear ourselves apart internally about an issue that probably 80% of the population agrees needs addressing.

Have we really sunk to the level of American politics where everybody who disagrees with us is an enemy to be demeaned, disenfranchised, and belittled?

Middle ground for judicial reform

Have we no ability to recognize that when it comes to the topic of judicial reform, there is a middle ground just like there is in every situation where there are opposing viewpoints? Are we actually totally bereft of sufficiently intelligent people who can bring the sides together and hammer out a compromise that the majority can support?

Do politicians on either side of the issue seriously want this disagreement to end in a civil war with Jews fighting Jews? Does Justice Minister Yariv Levin not remember the words of former prime minister Menachem Begin, of blessed memory, who when faced with the possibility of civil war just after the founding of the state, said simply but powerfully, “Do not raise a hand against a brother, not even today.”

And does Levin not remember that this man, who had the foresight to understand the challenges of sovereignty, was the sandek (the one who held the infant) at Levin’s own ritual circumcision?

The fact is that this is only the third time in the history of mankind that Jews have enjoyed sovereignty over this land. On both prior occasions, sovereignty lasted just 75 years, according to historians. In two months, the modern state of Israel will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding, as well.

THE CHALLENGE before us is whether we will get past this milestone as a nation united in our commitment to the land and its values or, heaven forbid, go down in the history books as the third unsuccessful try at sovereignty.

Everyone, yes everyone, those who say they are for judicial reform and those who say they are against it, everyone knows. They know that there is no successful way forward for Israel to survive without compromise. They know that we are alone, that there is no one but ourselves to protect us.

This has become ever so clear to us as we watch the world let Russia basically do what it wants in Ukraine where the words “never again” have once more been observed in the breach.

They know that a compromise can be worked out that will be acceptable to the majority of Israelis all of whom know judicial reform is needed.

They already see the social impact that is tearing the country apart and pushing people into “us” and “them” categories.

They know the potential economic impact on Israel’s future growth if investors do not feel their investments are secure and protected.

And they know that the lesson the last 75 years have taught us is that the only way to survive here is to band together in the face of those who, even today, remain committed to our ultimate destruction.

It would be a sad day in Jewish history if we were to fall by our own sword and give our enemies the victory they desire by our own desire to be right rather than smart.

Former New York State governor Mario Cuomo once said: “You campaign in poetry but you govern in prose.” The rhetoric that got people elected was poetry but now that they have the power, their governance has to be in prose. Campaigning is the easy part, governing and maintaining political balance is the hard part.

Rumor has it that the American tourist who was appalled that he had to lick his own stamps was so moved by the incident in Rehavia that he now lives in Israel with his family and many relatives. This all may be just a nice story but Israel is not just a nice story. Israel is the fulfillment of 2,000 years of dreaming coupled with a commitment to make that dream a reality. We dare not be guilty, yet again, of letting that reality slip out of our grasp. Should we let that happen, the stain will be ours to bear for generations to come.

The writer has lived in Jerusalem for 39 years, is the CEO of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based international business development consultancy, is the former national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, and a member of the board of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce.