Israel’s vilified majority isn’t swayed by the protests - opinion

All the protesters really have in common is a shared vision of Israel without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 An Israeli police officer standing near protesters near the Knesset (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
An Israeli police officer standing near protesters near the Knesset
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Most reports on the protests in Israel include the assertion that participants hail from “across the political spectrum,” with aerial shots of mass rallies to prove it. The implication is that the bulk of the public is united in opposition to Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plan to clip the wings of the Supreme Court in favor of the legislature. 

Anyone pointing out that the demonstrators decrying the ostensible onset of a fascist dictatorship are in the minority – as the results of the November 1 Knesset elections illustrate – is met with two conflicting claims. 

One is that a growing number of those who cast their ballots for the parties in power are suffering from “buyers’ remorse.” The other is that “majority rule” is evil; or, as the ad plastered on the Azrieli mall in Tel Aviv reads, “Democracy doesn’t end with elections.”

The sophistry is impressive, but not surprising. After all, the movement to stage a coup against the new government in Jerusalem is rife with members of the educated elite who are well-versed in the art of turning a phrase.

The hypocrisy on display is also par for the course. Had the current coalition’s detractors garnered the lion’s share of the vote, they’d be lauding “majority rule” and insisting that their success at the polls was a sign of democracy in action. 

Not only that. If the predominant part of the populace suddenly jumped on the protest bandwagon, the word “majority” would miraculously cease to be dirty.

 Israelis gather to protest the judicial reform at the Knesset (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Israelis gather to protest the judicial reform at the Knesset (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Israel's government won't fall from protests

Neither is happening in the near future, however. Presently, the only way the government will fall is if it implodes. Yet this won’t happen unless it caves on the implementation of judicial reform and additional policies that weren’t merely campaign promises; they were conditions spelled out in the coalition agreements signed with Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

AT THE moment, President Isaac Herzog is attempting to broker a judicial-reform compromise between the government and the opposition. Under normal circumstances, negotiations on the matter would have been conducted between Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid.

But the prime minister was barred by Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara from involvement in anything related to judicial reform. The A-G (who, unfathomably, dictates to rather than advises the government as its lawyer) determined that, due to Netanyahu’s ongoing trial, any “direct or indirect guidance through other parties, as far as the promotion of the [judicial reform] initiatives are concerned” would constitute a “conflict of interest.”

As a result, it was MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, who met with Herzog on Tuesday evening, separately from Lapid.

It was a magnanimous gesture on Rothman’s part, since he’s not the obstacle to discussion on the reforms. It’s the oppositionist MKs who’ve been shunning serious dialogue, opting instead to disrupt committee meetings by throwing abusive tantrums.

Then there’s Lapid. As he made clear to Herzog, he’s not willing to talk to Levin and Rothman unless his numerous preconditions are met. 

These are aimed at halting the reforms without his having to go through existing democratic channels – you know, the ones he and the protesters keep screaming about wishing to preserve. This moral perch hasn’t prevented him from spewing hate-filled rhetoric at every opportunity. 

On the contrary, it’s in his interest to back calls for civil war to “rescue Israeli democracy” from the clutches of “corrupt criminals” like Netanyahu and “theocrats” such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Indeed, it’s the bubbling violence that keeps him minimally relevant in his official role. 

Ironically, he’s not even leading the demonstrations. Former defense minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon has taken on that job with a vengeance, and financial help from the radical leftist New Israel Fund. 

It might seem odd to mention Ya’alon and the NIF in the same breath, since Bogie continues to be labeled as a “right-winger.” Ditto for Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman, who charmingly declared two years ago that he’d “send the ultra-Orthodox, along with Bibi, in a wheelbarrow to a garbage dump.”

Just as a reminder: This is the guy whose switcheroo after the 2019 elections – the removal of his party from the Netanyahu-bloc side of the pie chart – started the stalemate cycle that resulted in another four rounds in three years.

What do all the protesters have in common? They all dream of an Israel without Netanyahu

WHICH BRINGS us to what the protesters “of all stripes” really have in common, and it has nothing to do with the redistribution of power between the judicial and legislative branches of government. No, the shared vision of an otherwise disparate bunch of politicians, academics, artists, hi-tech entrepreneurs and physicians is an Israel without Netanyahu.

Some of the above groups and individuals are totally secular; others observant. Some consider themselves Zionists; others wouldn’t deign to hang an Israeli flag on Independence Day, but agree to carry one during demonstrations for show. Some identify as liberal; others as conservative. Some are city-dwellers; others live on kibbutzim or suburbs. Some are straight; others gay. Some are married; others single. Some are army officers; others view the IDF as a symbol of Israel’s “evil occupation.” 

The diversity is genuine. The depiction of the disgruntled hordes as “Israelis from all walks of life,” thus, is accurate.

The disingenuousness lies in the contention that the hysteria exhibited by those citizens reflects a seismic shift in Election Day sentiment. The truth is that few, if any, of those taking to the streets and pounding the pavement outside the Knesset voted for Netanyahu’s Likud or its coalition partners. 

In contrast, many among the angry throngs have been longtime “anybody but Bibi” activists horrified that their hopes to be rid of Netanyahu, specifically, and the religious Right, in general, were dashed. They’d been under the impression that the fifth round of elections was going to mimic the previous four. 

And though they didn’t wish for another impasse, they thought it might force Netanyahu to vacate his seat, or that his party would push him aside. They certainly didn’t anticipate that their worst nightmare was about to materialize.

STILL, IT wasn’t judicial reform that they harped on; it was Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. Laser-beam focus on the two religious right-wingers was so constant that they became household names around the globe. Warnings poured in from world capitals that there would be no contact whatsoever with the dangerous duo.

The “homophobe” Avi Maoz then became a cause for frenzy. His highlighted infamy placed the imagined trampling of LGBTQ rights front and center. Again, judicial reform was barely mentioned.

Once those specks of dust had settled, the defeated camp turned its attention to Levin. Doing so infused energy, as well as cash, into the protest movement. It also riled up the international and American-Jewish communities, much to the delight of Israel’s enemies.

Unfortunately for Lapid, it hasn’t had the same effect on the fractured back benches of parliament. No wonder he’s so often AWOL from the plenum.

Meanwhile, the Right is busy working for the vilified “majority” that handed it the reins. No surveys about societal strife can obfuscate that fact.