Israel’s Shiva-Asar Betamuz moment - opinion

What Israel’s enemies are truly celebrating

 Thousands wave the Israeli flag as they protest against the judicial overhaul, outside the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem. February 20, 2023 (photo credit: ERIK MARMOR/FLASH90)
Thousands wave the Israeli flag as they protest against the judicial overhaul, outside the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem. February 20, 2023
(photo credit: ERIK MARMOR/FLASH90)

Every year on Tisha Be’av, as we commemorate, among other calamities, the destruction of the Temples, we read Lamentations, in which it is said (2:16): “All your enemies have opened their mouths wide against you; they hissed and gnashed their teeth [and] said, ‘We have engulfed [her]! Indeed, this is the day we longed for; we have found it; we have seen it!’”

The Jewish people’s enemies will always yearn for and celebrate our suffering and downfall. Israelis and our supporters around the world know our modern-day enemies, detractors, and the threats Israel faces, well.

At this moment, those enemies and detractors are celebrating what’s happening in Israel with our government’s attempt to decimate our judicial system, a pillar of our liberal democracy. As one of Israel’s leading security commentators, Nir Dvori, recently said: Israel’s enemies are gleefully watching Israel’s disintegration from within. 

But it is critical to identify and name what is truly behind their celebration. Their celebration is not, as the government is desperately clamoring, somehow the result of the campaign against the judicial overhaul being waged by the opposition.

In fact, this narrative is not only political spin by the government, in a desperate ploy to restrain an opposition it has no good response to, neither policy-wise nor politically. It also fundamentally misunderstands what strengthens or weakens Israel and its standing in the world. 

The truth is that our enemies are celebrating a self-defeating decision by our government to weaken the economy. They are celebrating our government’s reckless decision to distance Israel from allies, such as the United States, which will leave Israel more isolated and therefore less capable of handling the threats it faces.

They are celebrating our government’s choice to reject the values and undermine the institutions – including the Israel Defense Forces – that have helped make this country strong and prosperous. They are celebrating this government gifting terrorist groups and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, in a matter of weeks, with what they have failed to achieve over the course of years.

Damaging social cohesion

While President Isaac Herzog and all those worried about damage to social cohesion in Israeli society are right to worry, the ultimate cause of this damage is the government’s choice to pit Israelis against one another in pursuit of a radical, antidemocratic plan that would permanently “other” huge swaths of the country. This is what our enemies are celebrating.

All things considered, even if one were to accept the cynical spin that working to prevent these disastrous outcomes somehow causes damage to Israel, that would at best be the equivalent of someone, after an arson, blaming firefighters for water damage rather than blaming the arsonist. 

But the government’s self-serving spin – that what harms Israel is not its own antidemocratic crusade, but the democratic campaign against the judicial overhaul – is not only absurd in this sense. While I am not surprised that a government whose leaders have for years done tremendous damage to Israel’s standing in the world would not understand this, its spin is also outright wrong in that it fundamentally miscalculates what truly strengthens or weakens Israel and its standing in the world. 

This goes well beyond the obvious: that the opposition is fighting to prevent what would, in the long term, ultimately be catastrophic damage to Israel’s democracy, diplomacy, security and economy. But in the short term, with global perception of the government’s undeniably antidemocratic agenda as it is, hundreds of thousands of Israelis taking to the streets in defense of democracy actually serves to protect Israel’s standing abroad.

They are the best of Israel on display for the world to see. Today, those proudly waving our flag in photos displayed on the front pages of newspapers around the world are champions of democracy, not a small gang of violent hilltop youth. Around the world, the Israeli popular and political mainstreams are today associated with fighting to defend liberal values rather than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption and illiberalism.

Our law enforcement and legal institutions are being seen for what they rightfully are: upholders of the rule of law and democratic rights, as opposed to how our fiercest critics frequently seek to portray them. The fervent opposition to the judicial overhaul also shows our enemies once again that Israelis are not going anywhere; that even when the going gets tough, people are not packing their bags for Poland or elsewhere, as our enemies dream. They see that Israelis will always fight for their home no matter the circumstances. 

ON SHIVA-ASAR Betamuz, three weeks before we read Lamentations on Tisha Be’av, we mark the breach of the walls of Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. The State of Israel is our people’s Third Temple – of all of our people, both in Israel and around the world.

And while the precise circumstances and time frame may very well be different, the proposed judicial overhaul increasingly feels like the Third Temple’s Shiva-Asar Betamuz moment, a moment that could be remembered as the initial defeat on the path to the Third Temple’s destruction; a moment where walls that defined the nature of our intentional collective – the way we lived together and therefore protected our collective well-being – came crashing down.

It is in our hands to determine whether the State of Israel will go the way of the monarchies of David and Solomon and the Hasmonean dynasty, or will learn the lessons of the past and reject the corrupt and power-hungry leaders and politics that also brought down these prior Jewish states. We must reject the internal division such leaders and politics foment before they once again become our downfall.

The writer served as international communications adviser to then-prime minister and foreign minister Yair Lapid.