In the weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning of the destruction for the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, many compared the divisions in Israel over judicial reform to the fight between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II over who was the rightful king and high priest of Judea, opening the door to a Roman takeover two millennia ago. Many commentators on each side of the debate compared the other to the zealots burning the Judeans’ food storehouses after the Roman siege of Jerusalem decades later.
It would have been better if the political leaders in favor of and opposed to sweeping changes to the judiciary worked out a compromise before passing a part of the reform this week. With the way things usually work in Israeli politics, real negotiations on further legislation are only likely to begin days before the Knesset returns from its recess in November.
Israeli politicians ought to overcome their penchant for doing everything at the last minute, because letting the resentments simmer for months will only make them worse, with the judiciary serving as a stand-in for divisions between different groups in Israel.
There is no time like the present to try to bring about reconciliation and heal the deep wounds in our society.
A time to heal the wounds in Israeli society
A video of former prime minister and Likud leader Menachem Begin has spread on social media in recent days. The black-and-white clip comes from the Knesset in 1977, not long after he became Israel’s first prime minister from the Right, as opposed to permutations of the Labor Party. The Left had called Begin a fascist for decades – and now he was prime minister.
“You were convinced that you would form the government,” Begin said. “You got used to ruling. You could not even fathom that the nation would want a change, and therefore you are still in shock. Get used to it.”
Judicial reform supporters shared the clip to say that the Left has not changed in 46 years and still cannot grasp that it isn’t in charge.
But there is a different lesson that Israelis of all political stripes should take from Menachem Begin, from his time leading the pre-state paramilitary group, the Irgun.
Twice, the Irgun faced physical attacks from other Jews, but Begin ordered his men not to retaliate.
First was in the 1944 “Saison,” in which the Haganah turned in members of the Irgun to the British authorities. “We will not have a civil war, not under any circumstances and despite all the provocations,” Begin wrote at the time.
Four years later, when Jewish paramilitary groups were forming the IDF, the Irgun brought a ship, the Altalena, filled with weapons and Jews ready to fight for Israel. Begin and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion deeply disagreed whether some of the weapons should be designated for Irgun members, and Ben-Gurion gave the order to sink the ship as it approached Tel Aviv.
Begin told his men to raise a white flag and not shoot back. He later said that his “greatest accomplishment was not retaliating and causing civil war.”
This Shabbat is Menachem Begin’s birthday. He is named for Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort, on which Jews are reminded that, despite the tragedies that befell us at this time of year throughout Jewish history, redemption lies ahead.
Jews across the world will hear the words of Isaiah chanted in synagogue on Saturday: “Comfort, oh, comfort My people.” This Shabbat kicks off seven weeks of Haftarah readings consisting of prophecies of redemption.
No matter what one believes religiously, these are the days to remember that this is one of the greatest times in history for a Jewish person to be alive. We cannot take the Jewish state – a modern-day miracle that previous generations could scarcely imagine – for granted, and as deep as our disagreements may go, they are not worth sacrificing what we have.
Reach out to someone you may have angered. Think about whether your mode of protest or the political policy you’re promoting does more damage than good.
Comfort, oh, comfort people of Israel.