You have no doubt read the papers and watched on TV over the past 12 weeks as the population of Israel rose up against the legislation on judicial reform proposed by the current Knesset’s governing right-wing coalition of 64 members of the 120-seat legislature.
Independent of what the United States government or other Western democracies thought or thinks, huge masses of Israelis (myself included) while in favor of judicial reform, were not in favor of the specifics of the majority government’s proposals nor the speed with which they were trying to push them through.
The reaction from patriotic Israelis was stronger than we have ever seen in the past. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated all over the country for 12 weeks, as well as participating in a general strike last Monday, all to try to impress on the government in power that they choose to bring the country to the brink of civil war and in the process, they gave cause to the entire world to wonder about Israel’s stability.
The protests were peaceful and except for a few cases where people fell and injured themselves trying to negotiate with the masses of people, there were no injuries and only a handful of arrests of those who both broke and flaunted the law.
It took Monday’s general strike, as well as the universal outrage at the prime minister’s announcement of firing his defense minister the day before to convince the Prime Minister to do what is right and delay the process until after the holiday period, which begins this coming week (Passover, Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen and our 75th Independence Day). Hopefully, that will be sufficient time to craft a compromise with which most of us can live.
On Tuesday morning, you could sense the palpable sigh of relief on the street, given that the pressure has eased and we withdrew from the brink of civil war.
AGAIN, PROBABLY 85% of the country is in favor of judicial reform, altering the way Supreme Court justices are selected (today, it basically done by a selection committee composed of a majority of sitting Supreme Court justices) and giving the legislature the right to override a Supreme Court decision (but not by a simple majority of Knesset members as was initially presented).
Fortunately, the president of Israel, who has gravitas but little direct power, has acted honorably in moving the parties to at least discuss a compromise. The first follow-up meeting of both sides took place on Tuesday.
I live 20 meters from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem and just three blocks from the Prime Minister’s Residence, so we have had a front-row seat for many of the protests for some weeks. Tuesday morning, when I went to synagogue at 6 a.m., the president and his wife were out walking with two security officers.
As I got out of my car, I said to him “Mr. President you are the hero of the moment and the only adult in the room... well done!” To which he replied, “Let’s hope it is not just for the moment.” Well said.
Again, there was never any intent during the protests to either challenge or overthrow the democratically elected government of Israel. The purpose was to protect the validity of the supreme court as the only arm of government that performs checks and balances on the actions of the Knesset.
In the minds of most of us, it was a prime example of democracy in action in a democratic society. No one was arrested because they voiced disagreement with the government and the government heard the voice of the people and reacted positively. I am grateful to be living in a democracy where its principles can be applied without fear of retaliation or retribution.
The writer has lived in Jerusalem for 39 years and is the CEO of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based international business development consultancy. He is also a former national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, a member of the Board of Directors of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce and the chairperson of the Executive Committee of Congregation Ohel Nechama, in Jerusalem.