A good friend, a bright entrepreneur in his mid-30s, recently confided to me that, while a lifelong Likudnik, he had recently attended an anti-judicial reform rally. He said that there were basically two groups of people there: the Bibi-haters, deploring the “Crime Minister,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had engineered some kind of coup; and then there were people like himself: fearful, sad, worried that the country they knew and loved was being taken away from them.
I have heard this refrain many times, and I do not think that it is cynical or manufactured. I believe the concerns are heartfelt and sincere.
More troubling though is why these concerns have been felt. There has been a lingering concern, exacerbated by claims put forward by anti-reformists who are probably among the Bibi-hating bring-down-the-government cohort, that left to their own devices, our elected officials will run amok.
Running amok can and does take several forms: unbridled religious extremism that will be forced on everyone else; corrupt agendas that will be legislated to provide cover for the nefarious deeds of crooked politicians; and narrow-minded, self-serving acts that will lessen our freedoms and restrict the rights of minorities.
If I felt that we were on the verge, or even approaching the metropolitan area of this kind of political thinking by our elected representatives, I would join the protests. But here’s the important point: these concerns are groundless. Not every MK is a budding Churchill, but overwhelmingly they care deeply about this country, and have its welfare at heart.
Israelis entertaining concerns out of ignorance
That conception of what is good for the country might not always line up with my own; however, when it does, I disagree with them, but do not demonize them. I fear that too many of our citizens, out of ignorance or lack of familiarity, are willing to entertain “bogeyman” concerns.
Perhaps it is the lack of familiarity or comfort of the secular with religious people, or Ashkenazim with Mizrahim, but whatever the factual background, a great many of our citizens have decided that they would be better off ceding their democratic sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable oligarchic group of 15 rather homogeneous justices, than the messy mosaic of popularly elected officials.
Whatever else one thinks of the prime minister, does any sane person think he has been in this for the cigars and Champagne? This is a man who could have made tens of millions in speaking engagements, board seats and consulting arrangements. Money has not been his driving force.
Most religious people, including our religious legislators, would love to see more people actively embracing our faith; however, they have zero interest in shoving religion down anyone’s throat. There is no interest here in a theocracy, period, end of story.
One objection to the idea of having the selection of justices no longer being controlled by the justices themselves is that somehow our elected officials will appoint hacks who will be complicit in the devious workings of the government. This assertion is at a total variance to the universal reality that once appointed, judges are independent and basically rule the way they see it, with no accountability whatsoever to those who appointed them.
A great example of this was the experience of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Trump has had more accusations, recriminations, hatred and contempt spewed at him than any politician in memory, yet he appointed three brilliant, wildly accomplished and uber-qualified nominees to the US Supreme Court, who have each gone on to pursue their own paths, irrespective of Trump’s.
The vast majority of leaders seek to enshrine themselves as custodians, guardians and protectors of their countries and citizens. Again, we can disagree with their road maps as to how to play those roles and to accomplish their mission; however, they are overwhelmingly caring and acting from benign and often noble motivations.
Those decrying the threat to democracy that they see in any incursion on the power of the Supreme Court, are really saying that they themselves don’t actually trust democracy. They don’t trust democracy in the sense that those who were democratically elected to enshrine the will of the people are actually suspect and untrustworthy.
That is a terrible indictment of our system, one that begs the question of what do the worriers really want. If it is to have a government where more representatives are, per the views of the frightened, more trustworthy, then work to make that happen.
That is the essence of representative democracy: have your representatives reflect your values, priorities and sensibilities. Vote more of them into office. Demand accountability for what you believe to be the right path, the right policies.
But don’t leave the field. And most especially, don’t leave the field by default to those who have basically picked themselves, and have their own priorities and sensibilities, ones that have absolutely nothing to do with you.
You have no voice in their decision-making. You have no influence on their world view, and thus their rulings.
Friends, let’s all take a deep breath and be willing to ascribe legitimacy to those with whom we disagree. Let us not throw the baby of democratic government out with the bathwater of those we politically oppose.
The writer is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu, and a director of B’yadenu and the Israel Independence Fund.