Here we are, after Israel’s 75th birthday, and… we’re still here! And here we are, not just still a democracy, but an impressive and stable one. We’ve endured months of protests, without billions of dollars of George-Floyd-riot damage, no January-6th-type trashing of government buildings, and no mass arrests, Parisian-style.
Maybe the doom-and-gloomers Left and Right erred. Maybe President Joe Biden, and so many others, didn’t have to lecture us about democracy. And maybe – I’m not predicting, but hoping – Israel will emerge from this crisis stronger and more democratic.
What went wrong with the predictions that by this Independence Day, Israel – and certainly Israeli democracy – wouldn’t survive? What went wrong with the predictions that we would spend the day squabbling rather than mourning or celebrating together? What went wrong with the predictions that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calmed the mad judicial reform rush, and negotiated, his government would collapse because Yariv Levin would quit?
Note, we’ve got the same kamikaze ministers, shooting their mouths off rather than governing responsibly. We’ve got the same protest addicts, who somehow justify writing a Washington Post op-ed threatening to leave Israel if they don’t get their way, then address a pro-democracy rally preaching about democratic values.
And, we’ve got the same feverish, conflict-addled media, overlooking any signs of unity, exaggerating the few outliers who leave Israel, or disinvest, or refuse to serve, or get violent – riling extremists on both sides.
Note how both sides under-reported Avi Maoz’s short, unhappy deputy ministership. His speedy – and predictable – resignation disproves the left-wing narrative that this evil government has no internal constraints. But it also refutes the right-wing narrative that this holy government has no internal fissures.
SO WHAT went wrong? Actually, most Israelis know the right way to behave.
A funny thing happened on the way to Democratic Armageddon – The mature majority resisted. This mature majority knows that you stand silently on Remembrance Day when the siren wails – and call for unity and civility, the message in every memorial speech I heard.
These muscular moderates know that you toast Israel’s many achievements on Independence Day – including its overlapping Jewish and democratic character – while stuffing your face with yummy barbecue rather than chewing your friend’s ear off with partisan bile.
And these patriots know that when protesting, you don’t smash your neighbors’ windows, loot your friends’ stores, or beat your fellow citizens who dare to disagree with you – because we are indeed friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, equally targeted by our enemies.
The government won – even many leftists now say, “Of course, we need some court reform.” And the protests worked, with even rightists now saying, “Of course, this government pushed too far, too fast.” That’s why Bibi-the-barometer now uses the word “consensus” as if he coined it himself. Both sides’ concessions are new. Partisans love rewriting political history to suit their shifting stances.
Every other rumor I hear claims that the President Isaac Herzog-initiated negotiations are close to an agreement; the politicians just have to approve it. Opposition leader Yair Lapid may prefer chaos to compromise, and Netanyahu may prefer delay to dilution – but that’s why their poll numbers keep plummeting, while National Unity head Benny Gantz’s are rising.
Admittedly, we remain just a handful of hotheads away from disaster. But this crisis has gone on long enough to appreciate the many things that have gone right – and recognize them as characteristic not anomalous.
In 1811, the French philosopher Joseph de Maistre wrote, “In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve.” It used to sound like a compliment, emphasizing that democracy reflects the people’s collective wisdom; today, it sounds like a curse. Especially since March 26, through our national holidays, most Israelis have proved to be far better than most of their leaders.
This coalition keeps reinforcing that assessment. If the Israeli people were as aggressive, divisive, incompetent, short-sighted, cowardly and hypocritical as too many ministers are – the doom-and-gloomers would be correct: Israel would have collapsed long ago.
In merely 132 days, this government has made so many Israelis less economically secure, less politically united, less proud of our country, less safe, and less confident about our future. Despite the pre-election crowing that they would solve the ongoing Palestinian terrorist problem, Israel’s defense policy has been very consistent under Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Lapid.
The Israeli people have noticed – and the polls show it. The Israel street is rejecting this government-that-can’t-govern-straight. Even more importantly, we’re seeing a profound vindication of Zionism’s secret sauce – the miracle of “us-ness” – and yes it’s a “ness,” a miracle, that we still think communally, nationally, patriotically. Compared to an increasingly individuated, alienated, secluded Western world, Israel stands out, for the better, as a communal place, as a nationalistic place.
Us-ness is about the family values, the patriotic pride, the community concern, and yes, the democratic discipline we keep witnessing – as well as the passionate clash from both sides, each of which has some legitimate gripes. Us-ness explains our ability to scream at one another, yet still defend one another, mourn with one another, celebrate with one another – and, big miracle compared to Red vs Blue America – talk to one another.
Us-ness is under assault from the super-selfish secularists of the far Left and the divisive demonizing demagogues of the far Right. But so far, the mature majority, rooted in blue-and-white us-ness is not just driving the train – but saving the day. May that trend continue.
The writer is an American presidential historian, and, most recently, the editor of the three-volume set, Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People.