My Word: Protests and Miss Frearson's Principle - opinion

While Israeli anti-reform protesters were warning of the economic consequences that they themselves were helping foster, attention was being diverted from where it was most needed. 

 PARENTS AND schoolchildren hold a protest in Tel Aviv last month against the proposed judicial reform. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
PARENTS AND schoolchildren hold a protest in Tel Aviv last month against the proposed judicial reform.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

I’d like to share a dilemma with you. When I began considering what to write about in this week’s column, I made a mental list of possible topics that included: the Saudi-Iranian reconciliation, the SVB bank collapse, the ongoing mass protests against the government’s judicial reform, the terror attacks in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, and the death of two-year-old Hadar Noga Lavi, a week after she was injured in a car accident (or ramming attack, according to her mother.) And that was just on Sunday morning. 

I couldn’t tune out the news – it’s an occupational hazard – but at some point I decided to close the list and concentrate on what I had, all of them serious topics. 

The question remained, where to begin. I was taken back in time: To the social protests that swept Israel (and much of the world) in 2011 and even further back, to an important lesson I learned in school. It was what I call Miss Frearson’s Principle. I first wrote about it in the heat of the summer of 2011, when, like today, I saw many friends protesting without knowing exactly who was leading – or funding – the anti-government demonstrations. Even protests which start with the best of intentions and for the best of reasons, can get hijacked, I learned long ago at Copthall School in England. 

One wintry day – particularly cold even by London standards – the window in our classroom broke. I was appointed by my classmates as the representative who should ask the headmistress that it be fixed.

I set off on my own down the long corridor, which always seemed to echo with the call: “No running, girls!” Along the way I was joined, or at least trailed, by an ever-growing number of pupils, each urging me to raise another demand (that we be allowed to wear trousers rather than skirts during the cold spell; that we be allowed to go home early; and other conditions which I’ve forgotten).

Protesting judicial reform. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)Protesting judicial reform. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

By the time I had reached Miss Frearson’s office, there was quite a crowd – I think her word was “rabble” – some of whom had no idea of my original mission. “What are all you girls doing here?” Miss Frearson asked in her most English-headmistressy voice, and, as one, they disappeared – surprisingly quickly considering the no-running rule.

“Why did you bring so many girls with you to my office?” asked Miss Frearson when we were alone. I explained that it had been something like a snowball effect.

“Aah,” sighed the Oxbridge-educated former history teacher. “Let that be a lesson to you. When you start a revolution, you never know who will join you on the way, or what the end result will be.”

I don’t remember if we got the window fixed, but Miss Frearson’s warning remained with me. 

The judicial reform protests

Sparked by opposition to the proposed judicial overhaul, the protests that we’ve been witnessing for the past 11 weeks developed into Days of Disruption and they’re tearing the country apart. Legitimate protest through legitimate means is a principle enshrined in democracy. There’s a big difference between that and encouraging reserve soldiers not to serve in the army; encouraging investors and companies to take their money elsewhere; and talking of civil war. 

The double standards annoy me as much as the havoc caused by demonstrators blocking highways. Last week, yet another Israeli hi-tech company said it was pulling out of the country. Fin-tech firm Riskified, valued at $1 billion, announced it was transferring $500 million out of Israel in advance of what CEO Eido Gal referred to as “a meaningful and prolonged economic downturn in Israel” – a self-fulfilling prophesy, in other words.

Gal declared that the reform “will result in Israel changing from a democracy with liberal values into a more authoritarian state.” From what I could tell, the list of countries where the company has an operational base includes China, where presumably Gal doesn’t think maintaining liberal values and democracy are important.

Also last week, I heard a financial adviser suggesting on a TV news program that Israeli investors transfer their money out of the country because of the judicial overhaul. He suggested Georgia was a better bet. While the analyst was sitting comfortably in the studio of Israel’s public broadcasting company, riots were taking place in Georgia over the so-called Foreign Agents law, making me wonder how much his expert financial advice is worth.

While Israeli anti-reform protesters were warning of the economic consequences that they themselves were helping foster, attention was being diverted from where it was most needed. 

The collapse of Sillicon Valley Bank (SVB), and later of Signature Bank, presents far greater risks to the global economy than which clauses of the Israeli government’s proposed legislation actually come to fruition.

In my time-travel mode, I was reminded of the scene in Mary Poppins, when Michael tries to prevent Mr. Dawes Sr. from taking his tuppence, accidentally causing a bank run. 

Many Israeli hi-tech companies whose funds were held by SVB, are now being wooed by local banks, which seem much safer, judicial reform or no reform. As the old joke goes, economists have accurately predicted nine out of the last four economic crises.

The global village is full of uncertainties. The reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia announced in China on March 10 took many experts by surprise, although there have been negotiations off and on since 2021. It is too early to say what the end results will be, but a regional realignment of this magnitude is bound to have a ripple effect. Some of those ripples might be felt on the Nile where it runs through Cairo. With Shia Iran close to nuclear breakout making nice with Sunni giant Saudi Arabia, Egypt might feel its status in the Muslim world is threatened. It might even demand nuclear capabilities of its own.

The improved relations seem to symbolize the US pullback from Middle Eastern affairs, presenting an opportunity too good to be missed from China’s point of view. Whatever happens next, I refuse to describe any of the three countries – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Republic of Iran or the People’s Republic of China – as “moderate.”

While Iran was pursuing a diplomatic course abroad, at home it continued to persecute its own citizens, particularly young women. 

While my school friends and I might have complained that we could catch our death of cold due to a broken window, we didn’t face any real dangers. Compare that to what’s going on throughout Iran, where there are reports of possible mass poisonings in all-girl schools. 

In the best-case scenario, this could be the result of a form of mass hysteria: But don’t dismiss the fears of the girls in a regime in which a woman can be killed for not wearing her compulsory hijab in a way deemed to sufficiently cover her hair. The Iranian women demonstrating for the hijab mandate to be repealed are brave protesters indeed, literally risking their lives to speak out.

I don’t belittle the fears of my friends who are protesting the judicial reform in Israel. But I do feel the protests are being increasingly hijacked by groups with vested interests who continue to foster the fears rather than trying to calm tensions. Increasingly disparate groups are staking their claim and the goal is clearly to overthrow the Netanyahu government that was elected in November.

Apart from the civil unrest, the country continues to face serious threats – from the ongoing wave of terrorism to the dangers of Iran on the threshold of a nuclear breakout.

The Palestinian terror attack in Tel Aviv and attempted bus bombing in Beitar Illit last week and the news this week of the terrorist infiltration from Lebanon, culminating in the IED that exploded near Megiddo, are more than ample reminders of the ever-present dangers. And, one way or another, little Hadar, whom I mentioned earlier, was a victim of the terror on the roads.

Israel cannot afford to continue fighting itself. Keep the Frearson Principle in mind: Those who seek a revolution never know what the end result will be. It’s time for leaders of the coalition and the opposition to head to the President’s Residence to work on his proposed compromise before it’s too late. If not running in the corridors of power, they should at least be heading in the right direction – fast.