I share with just about everybody else dismay over the “cold civil war” that erupted some months ago upon the newly formed government’s announcement of the proposed judicial reforms.
The bitterness and acrimony grow more intense each day, and neither the coalition nor the opposition are making any sincere efforts to restore calm and stability.
Each side is blaming the other and the possibility of compromise – which is viewed by all participants in the struggle as surrender – is not only becoming increasingly out of reach but appears at times to be virtually nonexistent.
I do take some solace, though, in that it is the ideal of democracy that lies at the core of the struggle. While traffic disruptions and foul-smelling discharges from water cannons are far from pleasant and most certainly not welcome, what is at stake represents a far more meaningful reason for the ensuing turmoil and turbulence than, say, cottage cheese.
This is by no means to suggest that the 2011 demonstrations over the rising cost of living – represented by the iconic container of cottage cheese – lacked substance or significance.
On the contrary, the public has every right to protest increases to the prices of basic foods and commodities, and I suspect that once the current storm calms down – and it will calm down, sooner or later – the cost of living will again be the focus of civil unrest.
In the meantime, though, it would not be unfair to say that the future of our country’s judicial system lies at the center of the storm.
But while the cost of living is neither directly nor indirectly the focus of the ongoing protests, the financial perspective of the struggle is by no means being ignored. Local print and broadcast media have been discussing the substantial costs associated with the ongoing protests, with emphasis on the professional-level fundraising and public relations efforts the demonstrations – emanating from both sides of the demarcation line – require. The expenditures have well surpassed seven digits and might by now have reached eight.
The campaigns designed to raise the required funds involve something more intense than door-to-door canvassing or telemarketing solicitations. Contributions are submitted to umbrella organizations that are responsible for ensuring that the goods and services that have been procured in support of the demonstrations are paid for.
The irony is that these organizations are, more likely than not, officially registered and recognized as nonprofit organizations. Receipts are therefore issued for the tax-deductible contributions, which, in turn, can be submitted to the Income Tax Division for a tax credit or return.
You can’t help but wonder if Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is looking for some way to keep the government from rewarding those who contribute to anti-government protests.
Who is funding the protests?
FOR THE time being, it seems, fundraising campaigns for such worthwhile projects as cancer research, relief of poverty-based distress, enhanced educational opportunities for those in the periphery, and protection of the environment are being overshadowed by enthusiastic readiness to safeguard democracy.
The demonstrations do not appear to be suffering from a lack of funding, which has led to more than a few sharply worded comments regarding priorities throughout the various talkback and social media platforms.
Money that could be used to improve the quality of life is being squandered, goes one argument. The travesty, goes another, is that the protests are against the policies of a legally elected government; the voting booth is where opposing voices should be heard, not in the middle of a busy highway.
And you can’t help but wonder, moreover, if anyone is struggling with the “principle before profit” concept. Many businesses are undoubtedly cashing in handsomely by providing both the pro and con organizers everything from T-shirts to loudspeakers, but are there redlines that dare not be crossed?
Would a pro-reform printer, for example, turn down a lucrative job churning out anti-government fliers, pamphlets, and stickers? Granted, this is not quite the same situation as a conservative baker refusing to create a wedding cake for a same-gender marriage, but the two scenarios are very much in the same ballpark.
Indeed, as is evident from the ills our prime minister has been facing over the last several years, few poisons are as potent as the mixture of business and politics.
But even more troubling is whether or not there is any independent oversight regarding the contributions that are being received.
I’m not insinuating that private pockets are being lined (although it would not surprise me if such was indeed taking place), but I am suggesting the possibility that some of the funds might wind up being diverted in support of other left-wing or anti-religious causes, such as promoting the two-state solution or advocating for public transportation on Shabbat.
Fraudulent activities involving solicited contributions to nonprofit organizations are by no means unprecedented, which is why a watchdog of one sort or another is essential.
Considerable attention has been given to the economic consequences – domestic as well as international – that may result from the instability due to the ongoing demonstrations. These are not, to be sure, idle, empty warnings but, rather, conclusions based on such social protests as the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed such concerns as “silly,” which is strange considering his strong background in economics and successful tenure as finance minister. Pretending the problem does not exist will, unfortunately, not make it go away.
What is not disputed, however, is the sincerity of those engaged on both sides of the debate. The sacrifice of time, energy, and, of course, money, cannot be shrugged off as insignificant. The prevention of despotic rule – by either the Supreme Court or the Knesset – is the driving force behind this social tug-of-war.
History teaches us that despotism was, in essence, the trigger for both the American and French revolutions, which makes the struggle over the judicial reforms one worth embracing and participating in. And, of course, contributing to.
The writer is a retired technical communicator currently assisting nonprofit organizations in the preparation of grant submissions and struggling to master the ins and outs of social media.