March 28, 2023
Sondra Oster Baras
After weeks of aggressive demonstrations in the streets of Israel against the Government’s proposed judicial reform, in the past few days, things reached a frenzy that was truly frightening. More and more officers, soldiers and reserve fighters declared their refusal to serve if the reform passes. A fighter pilot was filmed making an outrageous statement: “If the reform goes forward, there will be no attack against Iran.” When I heard that statement, I literally trembled. What is happening in our country? How many red lines have been crossed?
On Saturday night, Yoav Galant, Israel’s Minister of Defense, announced that the IDF was in danger. Talk of refusal to serve was spreading and it was truly frightening. He called upon the government to halt the process to enable dialogue. Netanyahu responded by firing Galant. That triggered larger and more aggressive demonstrations than ever before. All night Sunday night, people were on the streets demonstrating. They closed down a major highway and started fires in the middle of the road. The police seemed powerless, or unwilling, to stop the craziness.
On Monday, the unions and major companies joined forces to announce a general strike on Tuesday. The Airports Authority announced an immediate cessation of all flights to and from Israel. Highways were blocked all over the country. It was insane. It was clear that Netanyahu would have to halt the legislation. Things could not get much worse.
And indeed, just after 8 pm last night, Netanyahu faced the nation and called a halt to the process for the next few months to enable dialogue. He remained committed to judicial reform but admitted that it needed to be passed through consensus.
He opened his speech with a powerful Biblical Story. “Three Thousand Years ago” he began and proceeded to tell the story of King Solomon and the argument between two women who both claimed they were the mother of a newborn baby. Solomon in his infinite wisdom suggested that the baby be cut in half and each mother would receive half. One mother agreed. The other one agreed to give up her claim to the baby to save his life. She, of course, was the real mother.
Netanyahu then proceeded to explain that both sides of our heated debate are convinced they are right. He conceded that most of the protesters are truly concerned and convinced that the reform will damage Israel’s democracy. But a small, extreme minority are moving the country to a frenzy. And the frenzy, rightly or wrongly, is causing real damage to the country. Therefore, Netanyahu announced, he would freeze the legislative process for judicial reform for a few months, to enable real dialogue and consensus. Like the mother of the baby, Netanyahu was not willing to destroy the nation, to cut it into shreds, just to persist in what he is convinced is the right approach to improving the judicial system.
I have to say I am relieved. Netanyahu really had no choice but to halt the process that was creating such a terrible situation in the country. And I hope that the opposition will truly take advantage of this break to enter into real dialogue with the government. Dialogue means compromise. No side will get everything they want. But if the opposition continues to manipulate, to persist in its demonstrations, refusing to halt without a total surrender of the government’s positions, then nothing will be accomplished. Unfortunately, there are still a large number of demonstration leaders and some Members of Knesset who persist in their insistence that their way has to prevail. Only time will tell if there are enough responsible adults to find the right path.
What does disturb me and many on the right, however, is the fact that the left practically pointed a gun at our foreheads, extorting the government to stop. This government was fairly elected. They represent a clear majority of the nation who wanted a conservative government and real change in the judicial system which has been stacked against the right for decades. But when the opposition crossed the lines, when directors of high-tech companies threatened to transfer their companies abroad, when investors expressed hesitation if not outright refusal to invest in Israeli companies (as a result of the distorted portrayal of the judicial reform), when high-ranking IDF officers and fighter pilots declare their unwillingness to fight, while our enemies rub their hands in delight at the deterioration of Israeli deterrence, we have no choice. But what does that mean for the country? When there is a left-wing government, will the right threaten to refuse to serve? Will there be two armies — one which follows the orders of right-wing governments and one that follows the orders of left-wing governments? This, of course, is an impossible situation.
In 2005, close to 10,000 Jews were forcibly removed from their homes pursuant to a hugely controversial government decision. We knew it was a mistake and a move that would cost lives. And we can safely say today that we were right, as missiles rain down on Israel every few months from Gaza. We took to the streets and protested. Hundreds of thousands at a time marched in Tel-Aviv, in Jerusalem and in so many other places. There were those who suggested that soldiers refuse to carry out the expulsion order, as an immoral order. But those voices were quickly silenced. We all knew that we had to keep the IDF out of this struggle. We did not block highways, we did not call for general strikes. We protested and when the expulsion order was carried out anyway, we felt that people in high places did not hear our pain.
Today, as we hear the left complaining of the government acting on its democratically-elected right to pass legislation with their Knesset majority, they complain that their feelings and fears are not being heard. They are frustrated and I can really understand how they feel. I understand how they feel because I was in their shoes in 2005. But those running the demonstrations remain as obtuse as ever to our pain. And that is a problem.
But I refuse to remain stuck in my pain. I understand their pain and I hold out a hope that we will come to an agreement on judicial reform. But at the end of the day, we will only find real healing if each side can feel the pain of the other. I pray that our opponents will learn that lesson.