The Jerusalem Post

My Word: Law and disorder

 A MAN wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘We are all brothers’ blows a shofar near the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, calling for unity with the anti-reform demonstrators. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A MAN wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘We are all brothers’ blows a shofar near the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, calling for unity with the anti-reform demonstrators.

The morning after the law passed, turned into “the mourning after” for the anti-reform and anti-government camp.

It’s not funny. It might not even be satire. A clip from the comedy show Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) two years ago has enjoyed a viral comeback. In the skit, the character of Shauli tells his wife, Irena, that the solution to the never-ending rounds of elections is civil war. “Nothing strengthens a country more than a civil war. Every day that we’re not fighting each other is a waste,” Shauli declares.

It’s one thing for talk of civil war to be played for laughs on a satire show, but it’s another thing entirely when it comes from the mouth of a former prime minister like Ehud Barak

Another clip went viral last week. It showed extracts from a speech Barak gave in July 2020, in the depths of the COVID-19 crisis. In his address via Zoom to the Forum 550 protest group, made up of many Israel Air Force reserve personnel, Barak uses the same slogans and themes being heard in the current demonstrations. This includes the use of the Declaration of Independence, which has come to symbolize today’s protests.

The “Balfour Protests” against Benjamin Netanyahu, which got their name from their Jerusalem venue close to the Prime Minister’s Residence, evolved into the Kaplan Force, which took its moniker from the Tel Aviv street where the main protests have been taking place for 30 weeks. Many of the protest leaders are the same familiar characters, including Shikma Bressler. Barak notes, as an aside, that it would be a good idea to have a woman at the forefront of the struggle.


Concerned the video clip might have been edited out of context, I spent a very unpleasant 75 minutes watching the entire event. In his speech, Barak calls Netanyahu’s government (the one three years ago) a “dictatorship” in the style of Poland and Hungary. He explains how, if Netanyahu were forced to resign – due to security threats and socioeconomic unrest – he would be willing and able to take over in a matter of hours.

 ASSI COHEN and Liat Harlev in their viral clip (credit: Eretz Nehederet/Keshet)
ASSI COHEN and Liat Harlev in their viral clip (credit: Eretz Nehederet/Keshet)

“Objectively speaking, I am the most suitable person in the state to take control of the steering wheel,” Barak says. At least he had earlier acknowledged that he is not modest. 

He is not stupid, either. Barak presents tactics – actually, a strategy – that could lead to civil revolt and bring about the desired result. The aim is to topple Bibi, and the ends justify the means. He calls for ever more violent demonstrations, which will inevitably lead to clashes between citizens and the police “that can only strengthen the protest.” 

In a chilling moment, Barak recalls how a historian friend told him, “Ehud, they’ll call on you when there are bodies floating in the Yarkon [River].” He clarifies that he specifically means the bodies of Jews killed by Jews. This is not a political plan; it’s a battle plan – a call for civil war. 

I heard Barak’s voice as I watched the live broadcasts from Tel Aviv following the passage of the law canceling the reasonableness standard on Monday. Demonstrators – rioters is a better word – blocked traffic on the main Ayalon highway, burned tires and wooden pallets, damaged infrastructure, and threw objects at police officers and police horses. They endangered everyone.


An Israeli mix of political and military coups

It felt like a very Israeli mix of political and military coups. Former chiefs of staff – Barak, Dan Halutz, and Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon among them – are not trying to reach an agreement on necessary changes within the judiciary, but only on how to get rid of the prime minister and government.

The ever-mounting numbers of IDF reservists refusing to serve are frightening. Ditto the attempts to normalize refusal by calling it volunteerism rather than service. And there is more than a little psychological warfare going on. As a result, Netanyahu and the coalition reached a stage where they felt they could not afford to give in to the mounting threats from the military elite, past or present. 

Involving the IDF in the protests weakens the military and tears the country apart. Groups like the Brothers in Arms veterans are well aware of this but are shooting from the hip nonetheless. It’s an especially tragic type of “friendly fire” that will leave a scar even when the wounds have healed.

There are no winners, except for Israel’s enemies, like Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, relishing the show from the sidelines. “Today, in particular, is the worst day in the history of the Zionist entity, as some of its members say,” Nasrallah gloated on Monday.

WHILE THE vast majority of demonstrators are clearly acting out of genuine passion and concern, hysteria is being whipped up in the echo chambers of social media and with the help of the mainstream media.

The morning after the law passed, turned into “the mourning after” for the anti-reform and anti-government camp. Pictures were shared of the front pages of most of the country’s leading papers – uniformly black with a line of white text at the bottom stating: “A black day for Israeli democracy.” If you looked carefully you could see the word “advertisement,” but many didn’t bother looking. On the reverse side of the page, the ad noted that it had been paid for by the Israeli Hi-Tech Protest Group.

It has been harder to find out who has been paying the considerable amounts that have been spent elsewhere on PR strategists, advertising, transport, and the huge sums required for weekly demonstrations with speakers’ platforms and light and sound systems.

The fear-mongering and demonization are successfully alarming. Earlier this month, during the first wildcat strike led by the Israel Medical Association, a female doctor told a radio interview that if the reasonableness clause is revoked it will lead to a situation in which she, as a woman, would not be allowed to practice medicine. In her panic, she seems to be confusing religious Jews with the Taliban and the reasonableness clause with the still-standing Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation and Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Politicizing the medical system is not healthy, and that includes mental health.

When the prime minister this week had a pacemaker inserted, he had to trust the surgical team treating him. No patient should have to worry about their doctors’ political affiliations.

As an aside, the strikes by doctors, lawyers, hi-tech companies, and university staff, among others, raise the question of the fate of those who don’t support the protests but rely on those who do when it comes to their pay and promotion prospects.

The strike on Monday by certain shopping chains and major malls was even more absurd. And even less democratic. What about the freedom of occupation of those workers and small store owners who didn’t identify with the cause and certainly didn’t want to lose a day’s income for it? And what about consumer rights?

Two weeks ago, the BIG chain of malls threatened to strike but backed down in the face of public backlash. Days later, in a cynical move to regain face and favor, BIG was among the names on a two-page advertisement in weekend papers declaring: “We must solve this together. We can’t destroy all that we have built.”

So much for togetherness. This week, the company closed its malls in a protest ahead of the law’s passage. They made their views clear BIG-time. 

Canceling the reasonableness law, ironically, was in the past considered a consensus issue. It is not reasonable for a judge to make rulings and overturn government decisions based on gut feelings rather than on existing laws and legal precedents. The courts, on the other hand, are not innocent of a conflict of interest in the current struggle. 

The “concern” over events in Israel expressed this week by the polarized US, politically divided UK, and riot-racked France seemed more hypocritical than heartwarming.

But there were uplifting scenes. A video clip showed a young man –  influencer Yoni David – offering a hug to both opponents and supporters of the reform. And there was the literally touching moment captured Sunday night at Jerusalem’s Navon Railway Station where demonstrators crowded the long escalators – those who had been at the anti-reform demonstration descending to the platforms leading away from the capital, and those who had attended the huge pro-reform rally in Tel Aviv ascending on their way back.

Suddenly, despite heading in different directions, people began reaching out across the divide and shaking hands with those on the opposite side. There is no casus belli for civil war.