It’s funny, and it would be even funnier if it wasn’t so scary.
We’re talking about the two-year-old Eretz Nehederet skit that has resurfaced as a viral video now viewed by several million people. In the prescient clip, made well before the judicial reform legislation was born, actor Assi Cohen, portraying his everyman know-it-all character Shauli, prescribes his remedy for the country’s ill – civil war.
“We all hate each other and the country needs a civil war... Ashkenazim fighting Mizrahim, leftists fighting rightists, ultra-Orthodox fighting secular people,” he says in the satire, adding, tongue-in-cheek, that Arab Israelis should be on the sidelines and they can then take on whoever wins in the Jew vs. Jew battle.
Every good joke has an element of truth in it, and the deep divisions in Israeli society are nothing new, and certainly didn’t begin with the government’s judicial reform plans. However, neither Cohen nor the show’s brilliant writers had an inkling back then that Israel would soon appear to be inching toward that “war of brothers,” as it’s called in Hebrew.
The divisive legislation that the government proposed at the beginning of its term and has continued advancing – even amid sporadic attempts at negotiations to reach a compromise with the opposition, and despite the increasingly fiery protests that have greeted it for more than six months – is steadily raising temperatures toward a boiling point, both inside the country and with Israel’s ties to its closest allies, chief among them the United States.
President Joe Biden was reportedly so concerned with the Prime Minister’s Office readout of the phone call between Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week – which summarized that the bill to curb judicial oversight of government decisions would be advanced but that he would try to garner broad public support for continuing the process during the summer recess – that he called in New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman the next day and stated unequivocally that Netanyahu needs to halt the legislative process now and seek broad consensus and compromise.
Between the lines was the message that Israel’s longstanding relationship with the US is built on shared values, and if the Jewish state passes laws perceived as diminishing its full democratic mores, that could seriously impact America’s support.
As troubling as that chasm could be, it pales in comparison to what is happening within Israel.
The protests against the reforms are getting bigger, and the police response to the demonstrations is getting more aggressive with each passing week.
It seems clear that a collision is on the way. It’s time for the government – and especially Netanyahu – to do something about it, before it’s too late.
As Eliav Breuer wrote in Friday’s Post, Israel’s pro- and anti-judicial reform camps are at each other’s throats, and time is running out before the controversial reasonableness standard bill is set to pass into law on Monday afternoon.
Only Netanyahu can end this unrest
Only one person is capable of stopping this runaway train.
It is time for Netanyahu to take the reins of the listing ship, and say “enough.” For the good of the country, and to prevent the crisis in which we find ourselves now from deteriorating further, the prime minister should call a halt to the legislative process and invite the leaders of the opposition to enter talks immediately.
As he told Biden in their call, broad support for judicial reform is needed. Why, then, go through with the reasonableness bill when there is none?
In his address to the nation on Thursday night, he hinted at his understanding that it is the responsibility of the majority – which the coalition and its supporters never tire of reminding detractors that they are – to listen to the sizable minority and recognize their rights. Democracy is not merely a case of majority rules, especially with issues as divisive as judicial reform.
Netanyahu’s allies in the coalition need to realize that their ambitions for comprehensive reform will result in a small victory for them but a potential calamity for the country.
If we don’t want to see Shauli’s Eretz Nehederet vision of a civil war turn into a reality, then Netanyahu must act now. He can cement his legacy as the man who brought Israel back from the brink.