Protests disrupt Israeli democracy to preserve it - opinion

Ruthie Blum needs to recognize that people are scared and intimidated by the aspirations of egocentric and inexperienced politicians whose sudden taste of power goes immediately to their heads.

 A PROTEST takes place in Haifa on Saturday night. People have taken to the streets in protest against a massive takeover of our free choices and self-determination to live in accordance with what we decide is right for us. (photo credit: SHIR TOREM/FLASH90)
A PROTEST takes place in Haifa on Saturday night. People have taken to the streets in protest against a massive takeover of our free choices and self-determination to live in accordance with what we decide is right for us.
(photo credit: SHIR TOREM/FLASH90)

There is no question that opinion writers present their own personal perspective, which generally is greatly influenced by their political leanings but what, perhaps, sets apart those writers is the ability to sometimes put aside politics in favor of clear thinking and conscience.

In that regard, Ruthie Blum’s weekend article entitled, “Disrupting Israeli democracy” (March 3), fails to do that. Blum has always been a Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu devotee and remains one, despite so many reasons why she should question her loyalties at this point in time.

I, too, was once a Netanyahu devotee. Before making aliyah, in 1993, my late husband and I so admired Netanyahu. We would watch him on American television, bursting with pride, knowing that one day he would rise to the position of prime minister.

In fact, it was on the plane to Israel just five weeks after my husband’s unexpected death that I came to live here permanently, carrying Netanyahu’s book, A Place Among the Nations, under my arm. I strongly believed in every one of the principles laid out in his writings so it came as no surprise that I voted for him twice.

The problems with Benjamin Netanyahu

What became apparent to me, in time, was that he always built his coalitions upon the ultra-Orthodox, giving them preference and advantage as they endeavored to further their agendas, enhance their positions of power and influence and in so doing generally disregarding the 70% secular Israeli population who make up the majority of the country.

 Israelis block a road and clash with police as they protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (credit: ERIK MARMOR/FLASH90) Israelis block a road and clash with police as they protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (credit: ERIK MARMOR/FLASH90)

It didn’t matter if members of his coalition had been convicted of crimes or if there was an imbalance of equity somehow always favoring the religious. What was predictable was that the more centrist voices would be drowned out by those who received power through the hands of Netanyahu.

That finally came to an end when Israelis decided that a more moderate, middle-of-the-road coalition should replace the 12-year Netanyahu run, from 2009 to 2021, which tended to favor one side. While that government was short-lived, Blum states that the Day of National Disruption was an “apt name for the endeavor, whose purpose was to impose the will of the minority on the entire populace” in an attempt to prevent “the duly elected coalition in Jerusalem from becoming a ‘fascist theocracy.’” She goes on to say that this “made a mockery of the concept of democracy.”

IT IS that claim of the will of the minority, which is debatable. While it’s true that Likud, Netanyahu’s party, received the most mandates in the last election, they still fell short of the threshold needed in order to form a coalition. It was only through the preponderance of several right-wing, ultra-religious political parties, that they were able to meet the required number in order to govern. However, without the sum total of all those smaller parties, that would have never happened.

The question is do any of those smaller parties on their own enjoy the majority support of the Israeli people?

The answer is a resounding “no.” Not only do they not have the backing of most Israeli voters but they are viewed as extremist individuals whose agenda is to put an end to the plurality and wide variety of others in our society who do not share the very narrow and often subjective interpretations of the ultra-religious.

Among these smaller parties are the same people who want to override the judicial system and have the ability to determine the law as they see it. They want to influence what Israeli students study, what determines acceptable dress in certain places and other positions of daily life that up until now each Israeli has chosen for themselves.

With that kind of looming intimidation that threatens to upend the country’s democratic freedoms and liberties, the response has been overwhelming, as people have taken to the streets, protesting against a massive takeover of our free choices and self-determination to live in accordance with what we decide is right for us.

Such opposition, based on the real threat of losing personal freedoms and being forced against our will to adhere to new laws that would favor one segment of the population, is far from a mockery of democracy. Those on the streets are fighting for the right to a much wider and more liberal interpretation of the ideal of live and let live.

That is not to say that each one of us agrees with certain chosen lifestyles but the idea that someone can force another to conform to a way of life which they reject or adhere to observances that are meaningless to them, is also not the way to win new friends and influence people. Everyone has to be convinced and persuaded that the choices made by them are being done so freely and out of personal conviction. Anything less is coercion and something akin to a dictatorship. Free-wheeling Israelis are the last to agree to that kind of forced tyranny.

SO IN their fervor, they have blocked main highways and come out in full force, fighting for the continuation of the ability to live freely and while that may be a major inconvenience, perhaps the loss of democracy as we’ve known it will be the mother of all inconveniences. But no one is too anxious to find out, so for now, massive protesting is the only voice that remains for those who don’t want to see their beloved country end up as a police state, enforcing a slew of laws that can be subjectively interpreted to suppress those unwilling to conform to a new Israel.

It’s sad that this reality escapes Ruthie Blum, calling out protesters as hypocrites who have never quite internalized how the haredi population feels. Yes, some protesters may have chanted vicious things but worse chants throughout history have been heard from the lips of those who were able to seize ultimate power, causing their populations to tremble in fearbecause living freely was not an option for them.

Blum needs to recognize that people are scared and intimidated by the aspirations of egocentric and inexperienced politicians whose sudden taste of power goes immediately to their heads.

That is when partisan politics needs to make way for justified fears and the uncertainty of our future as a democratic country, one which has enjoyed the admiration of others who recognize that we make room for a plurality of thoughts and lifestyles.

Blum ends her article by trying to tug at the heartstrings of her readers as she speaks of the burial of 27-year-old American Elan Ganeles, who was killed by Palestinian terrorists, stating that the “hundreds of mourners, the bulk of them strangers, chose to grieve the death of a young Zionist – gunned down for being a Jew – not bemoan the imaginary demise of Israeli democracy by disrupting it.”

Certainly, the protesters also mourn the senseless death of Ganeles but the demise of Israeli democracy is far from imaginary. It is facing each one of us head on and if we don’t try to stop it now, then when?

The writer is a former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal. She is also the author of Mistake-Proof Parenting, available on Amazon, based on the time-tested wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs.