When I was a child, Tisha Be’av, a day on which religious Jews fast, was not a day on which restaurants were forbidden to open. In fact, it was only in 1997 (a year after Netanyahu was first elected prime minister in a direct election) that a law was passed to forbid the opening of places of entertainment on Tisha Be’av – the day on which, according to tradition, both the Jewish Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed in different periods, resulting in the Jewish people losing their political independence and being exiled from their homeland.
I believe that turning the fact that this year more restaurants than usual apparently remained open on Tisha Be’av into an issue was superfluous and a little hypocritical. As a secular person, I never fast on religious days of fasting. I do not fast on Yom Kippur, nor on Tisha Be’av. Nevertheless, on Yom Kippur I give myself an account of injustices I committed – either deliberately or incidentally – toward other persons, and try to make amends. On Tisha Be’av I contemplate whether we, as Jews, were responsible through our actions or inactions for our own fate – not because God decided to punish us for these, but because we acted contrary to the principles of realpolitik.
One of the issues to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given thought over the years has been the fact that no Jewish state in history has survived for more than 80 years, and that since the modern State of Israel is approaching the fateful age, we must act judiciously. I do not recall that he ever offered any specific proposals as to how Israel can avoid a third destruction. However, I am sure that he never had in mind what is going on in Israel today, or believed that the day might come in which he personally would be accused of responsibility for leading Israel to the end of its democratic existence, or worse.
Tisha Be'av and the judicial reform
Last week, Bibi’s younger son, Avner, commented that the two Temples were destroyed due to “political silliness” (timtum medini). I happen to agree with Avner, though I believe his choice of words was a little frivolous. This reminded me that in his interview with the American TV network ABC last Thursday (Tisha Be’av), Avner’s father had said that he thinks that the opposition’s description of his government’s judicial reform as “the end of Israeli democracy” is “silly” (that was the word he used). Who was accused by Bibi of silliness? Israel’s academic, legal, economic and military elites, among others, as well as hundreds of thousands of protesters who believe that the “legal reform” endangers Israel’s democracy. And, as Avner said: silly policies were responsible for the destruction of the two Temples.
Netanyahu is apparently unwilling to even consider that it is his government’s policies, now backed up by an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, that are destructive to Israel’s democracy and possibly even its existence, especially when superimposed on the fact that none of his coalition partners are known to support liberal democracy, and numerous private members’ bills submitted by coalition MKs – including many from the Likud – are in blatant opposition to democratic principles.
But leaving aside the argument that political silliness was responsible for the destruction of the Temples, the traditional reason given for these occurrences is “unjustified hatred” (sinat hinam). The current situation is undoubtedly embedded with quite a lot of contempt and hatred between various sections of society – contempt and hatred that might be totally unjustified, but are certainly viewed by those who manifest them as being justified.
In this connection I find the practice of many members and supporters of the coalition to start referring to the demonstrators and members of the opposition around Tisha Be’av as “brothers” rather repulsive, especially when right after Tisha Be’av they reverted to using derogative terms in referring to them. I consider this to be an extreme form of hypocrisy. However, I can say in praise of cabinet minister David Amsalem, who openly expresses his hatred and contempt for the opposition and demonstrators, who are predominantly Ashkenazi, that he did not start referring to them as brothers come Tisha Be’av. At least he is not a hypocrite.
MANY HAVE asked why the coalition decided to bring the amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary regarding the ground of unreasonableness for second and third reading in the Knesset just three days before Tisha Be’av, knowing full well that the opposition and the protesters would not take this lying down. And indeed, in protest the opposition decided to stay away from the final vote last Monday, while a large number of protesters started marching up to Jerusalem several days before the vote, and then after the disappointing result became known, intensified the protests.
Undoubtedly, there were many opponents of the legislation who had hoped that at the last moment the government would either put off the voting or agree to last moment compromises. The sight of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arguing with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, literally over Netanyahu’s head in the plenum, and running around among the leaders of the coalition and opposition parties before the voting began, gave rise to hopes. But Gallant’s efforts and those of others failed, and in Gallant’s case it was felt that unlike his efforts last March, this time his efforts were too little, too late.
Though I believe that Netanyahu would not have gone into mourning if Gallant’s and other initiatives had succeeded, since it would certainly have pacified the US administration and saved him several rather embarrassing interviews with the American media (of which that with ABC was one), I can understand why the Likud and its partners felt that this was not the time for compromise. Even those who are not completely committed to the full plan of the judicial reform felt that they had to deliver something to their voters, since otherwise they would be perceived as having folded up for a second time since March in face of the opposition and the protesters.
I also believe that this is how one should read the new situation in the Likud in the last few days, where eight ministers and MKs – Ofir Akunis, Nir Barkat, David Bitan, Eli Dalal, Avi Dichter, Yuri Edelstein, Yoav Gallant, and Gila Gamliel – have expressed their disapproval of how decisions have been taken in the Likud regarding the judicial reform, and their inability to have a say on the matter. All eight also believe that greater efforts should be made to reach a compromise with the opposition. Nevertheless, all eight voted in favor of the amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary last Monday.
The question now is whether the eight mavericks can and will bring about a real change that will help Israel extract itself from the dangers it currently faces. There is some hope, but the opposition is skeptical, while most of the leaders of the protest believe that before an agreement with the government can be reached, the plan presented six months ago by Levin and the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Simcha Rothman, must be scrapped.
It will be interesting to see where we shall be on Tisha Be’av next year.
The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge last year.