Democracy in the US and Israel is being tested - opinion

Something has happened to us in the last four years.

BARACK AND Michelle Obama greet Donald and Melania Trump before the presidential inauguration in Washington on January 20, 2017. (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
BARACK AND Michelle Obama greet Donald and Melania Trump before the presidential inauguration in Washington on January 20, 2017.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
Less than a day after I attended President Trump’s inauguration, the rabbi of a Washington, DC, synagogue spoke emotionally about the privilege of living in a reformed world in which power is transferred without violence or bloodshed. I cannot point out exactly what has happened in the last four years, but the events on Capitol Hill, the demonstrations on Balfour Street, the non-existence of procedures for lockdown, and other recent phenomena clearly demonstrate that democracy is being tested in the United States and in Israeli society.
Four years ago, I was invited to take part in the inauguration of the president of the United States. I was very surprised. I am not a US citizen, I do not have the right to vote in the US, and I did not really feel like I was a part of the celebration. The media were very interested that I had been invited and asked to see the official invitation. They wanted to make sure this was not another settler PR stunt. Members of the Judea and Samaria Council heard that I was not planning to attend, and they made it clear that the invitation had been sent to me as the representative of the settlements and that I was not in a position to turn it down. This is how I found myself on the way to the inauguration of the President of the United States.
The logistics were complicated, as the ceremony always takes place on January 20, late in the morning and regardless of weather conditions. That year, January 20 was a Friday, with Shabbat arriving relatively early. I had no choice but to spend Shabbat in Washington without my family. The ceremonies began early Friday morning amid heavy security and hundreds of thousands (some would claim millions) of people entering through narrow metal detectors. The event was relatively simple. There were no special speeches or activities and nothing too dramatic.
Saturday morning, on my way to synagogue, I witnessed a much more impressive event: The capital was filled with more than 100,000 women in pink hats who came to protest President Trump’s election. This large, spontaneous gathering of women in uniform seemed much more organized and impressive than the state ceremony I had witnessed the day before.
WE CHOSE to pray at the Chabad House with Rabbi Shemtov, known as the rabbi of the White House. Everyone in attendance had come to Washington specifically for the inauguration. And though Rabbi Shemtov was certainly aware of the political nature of his audience, he was careful not to discuss politics.
In his sermon, he chose to focus on a single moment that had occurred the day before: the moment when the strongest, most powerful, most respected and perhaps the most famous individual in the world transferred everything to the person who won the election. Rabbi Shemtov reflected that so many times throughout history, the transition of power resulted in war, revolution and bloodshed. He was simply awed by the fact that we live in an age when a new leader can take over without any violence.
It seems as though I have not been invited to the inauguration this time. And even if an invitation did suddenly arrive, I would be unlikely to attend. But I am certain that Rabbi Shemtov would be unable to give that same speech this time around.
Something has happened to us in the last four years. In Israel, we blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the US, we blame President Donald Trump. Some people who wish to see a bigger picture blame social media. We live in a world where everything is taken to the extreme. Freedom of expression has become more extreme, as has the freedom to protest.
That brings us to the current reality in which public trust in government institutions, in the judgment of the judiciary system, in the authority of law enforcement, and in election results are at an all-time low. The images from Wednesday were foreign to Washington, but we’ve already seen them here in Israel and in other democracies.
If we still see ourselves as living in a democracy, if we want to continue to be a country with democratic elections with a public majority who wish to preserve and protect the governing bodies, we must all wake up before it’s too late. And when I say “all” I mean all, without accusation and without pointing fingers in any direction.
The author is mayor of Efrat.