In Love Story, Ali MacGraw’s dying character Jennifer says to Oliver (Ryan O’Neal), “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”. Two years later, when Barbara Streisand’s character repeats the line in the comedy What’s Up Doc, O’Neal’s character exclaims, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard!”
Saying sorry is part of a healthy relationship. Even if you haven’t done anything wrong. Naturally, we offer apologies when we’re wrong. Even when we think we’re in the right, and that we’ve done nothing to cause pain, we can still be sorry.
We can regret that the argument has generated hurt feelings, that both sides have suffered, and that a relationship has been damaged. Sometimes a tactical retreat, in battle or in chess, is the smart strategic move. So too in relationships – whether between individuals or countries, or within a civilization like the people of Israel.
There is nothing to be ashamed of in acknowledging pain. All the more so if we think that truth is with us. We can, and should, be magnanimous from a position of strength. Saying sorry may well be one of the most powerful demonstrations of love. This seems a fitting reflection in this week of Tisha Be’Av, as we mourn the civil strife which led to the destruction of the Second Temple, the loss of sovereignty in our ancestral homeland, and the murder and expulsion of our people, some 2000 years ago.
It’s “dumb” – or insanity – to think that by repeating what has failed, we might achieve different results. Do coalition leaders think that pushing ahead with judicial reform legislation will be successful without some consensus? Do the opposition leaders think that continuing their disruptive and damaging protests and refusing to propose alternatives will achieve their goals of either moderating the legislation, or bringing down the government?
In the judicial reform debate, both sides won and lost
Both sides have already won, and both have lost. The government has passed the first round of legislation, but they have lost the battle for hearts and minds, and the goodwill of many of the most important people, including some whose support they need.
The opposition has proven its ability to inflame passions and bring thousands onto the streets: an active, loud, angry minority (perhaps 3-5% of Israel’s population), supported by the media, academics, many hi-tech execs and the labor union of course, as well as some IDF reserve officers. But they lost the vote itself, proving that working within the democratic system is what affects the language of legislation, not disrupting the economy.
And in their “winning”, with their hostile rhetoric, bordering on Orwellian double-speak, they have both dangerously damaged a central aspect of our society – our faith in each other’s commitment to our joint enterprise.
THIS IS a call for the leaders of the reform movement to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of the opposition; to apologize for their use of overly harsh rhetoric (calling the demonstrators “anarchists”); and to sincerely engage in negotiations to moderate the remaining proposals on the table.
This is directed in particular at those members of Likud who still carry moral authority and enjoy the public’s respect, like Yuli Edelstein, Nir Barkat, Yoav Gallant, Amichai Chikli, and others – as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in keeping with the remarks he made in his recent speech.
And this is a call for the leaders of the protest movement and the opposition to recognize the widespread support, over the past two decades, for reforms to restore Israel’s democracy to how it was during the first 50 years of its creation. At that time, it was largely accepted, respected, and even celebrated, before Aharon Barak’s 1992 judicial coup, or “constitutional revolution,” as he referred to it.
Opposition leaders and protesters must also apologize for their continued use of inflammatory rhetoric, and stop bandying around words like tyranny, dictatorship, fascism, and destroying democracy. Further, they should seek to engage sincerely in negotiations to propose sensible amendments to the remaining proposals on the table.
My plea is addressed, in particular, to politicians like Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, and Gideon Sa’ar, as well as former politicians such as Tzipi Livni – most of whom are on record, publicly, as supporting some form of judicial reform.
This applies also to most of the protest leaders, media and hi-tech company bosses, academia and labor union heads, and so on.
We need a professional mediator to enable effective communication in a series of closed meetings to bridge the gaps over the summer. This effort can, and should, be led by President Isaac Herzog, and facilitated by an experienced moderator.
But we will not see even a hint of resolution, until our leaders (and the media, and activists) stop demonizing each other and delegitimizing each other’s points. And this starts with a sincere apology, and a stated and demonstrable commitment to begin anew with a genuine desire to reach agreement.
It matters not whether the arguments are principled or ideological, self-serving or tactical, anti-Netanyahu or pro-democracy. Negotiations broke down not over the reasonableness clause – this was in fact agreed upon – but over the length of a “freeze” in additional legislation. This was politics at its worst: public figures playing to their audiences, rather than working for the benefit of society.
A mechanism is needed for all sides to back down and talk over the next few months. Both sides can claim success and will have to admit failure, and forgive the other for winning and for the hostility of the rhetoric to date.
As President Herzog noted, the coalition has the power, and therefore the responsibility, to be the adult here, and must demonstrate its willingness to compromise. But the loudest camp, the anti-Netanyahu, anti-Right, often anti-religious crowd, will have to do much soul-searching, as they – not the politicians – are driving the continued protests, and doing so with the most exaggerated and hateful rhetoric. Lapid and Gantz would be delighted to sit down and work things out, and be hailed as heroes; but until the protests cease, they cannot be seen to reduce their fervor.
IN MY book, My Israel Trail: Finding Peace in the Promised Land, I write about five lessons learned while hiking across Israel, which helped me heal from my devastating divorce. These five principles are an ideal basis for reconciling the torn-apart segments of our society. We all – and especially our leaders – need to find the humility to accept that the other’s perspective is legitimate, and to be grateful for the shared blessings of our heritage and the miracle of our state, and for each party’s idealistic dedication.
We must forgive each other for the past six months of rancor, deafness, and disrespect. And most importantly, we ought to rededicate ourselves to our shared goal of strengthening our Jewish state and our democracy. Though we may differ in our definitions, we can, and must, focus on our shared sense of purpose, as part of the Zionist enterprise.
Proponents and opponents of the reform should focus on finding solutions, not attacking each other. At base, Israelis and the Jewish people must return to their traditions of respect for one another and their opinions; to their Talmudic tradition of civil debate and dialogue; and to using their cognitive faculties to affect their emotions, not the other way around. And we have to keep the virus of social media under control.
Rav Kook believed that only when we unite in love for others, can we live here in peace and tranquility. As virtually every sermon across the Jewish world this week has insisted, this is the time for conciliation. Our sages teach that it was baseless hatred which caused the destruction and expulsion... and it is the unconditional love for our people, for each other, as individuals and as a social fabric and a family/tribe/people/nations, which will enable this third Commonwealth to survive and flourish.
I believe that even Rav Kook would agree that love means being able and willing to say you’re sorry.
The writer is a business leader and public activist and the author of My Israel Trail: Finding Peace in the Promised Land (www.myisraeltrail.com). email@example.com