September 26, 2023
Over the last several months, Israel has seen a massive wave of demonstrations overtake the country. The heart of the matter lies in the ongoing debate over Israel’s judicial power and the very essence of its democratic core. Israel, a nation operating without a formal constitution since its declaration of independence in 1948, has yet to sculpt a definitive system of checks and balances. Nevertheless, the core principle of freedom of speech and expression is deeply embedded in the fabric of Israeli culture. Demonstrators, resolute in their beliefs, have taken to the streets, allowed to protest weekend after weekend against the proposed judicial reforms, disrupting traffic on highways and even at the airport with no legal repercussions.
Amid this backdrop, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on his first visit to the United States since resuming his position as Prime Minister. His trip included a meeting with Elon Musk and a tour of the Tesla factory in California, followed by participation in the annual General Assembly meeting of the United Nations in New York, where he met with several political leaders, including President Biden. Yet, wherever he ventured, the chorus of protest echoed in his wake.
Some demonstrations took a more extreme tone. Just before Netanyahu arrived in California, activists projected provocative images on the walls of the iconic Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, depicting the Prime Minister behind bars and referring to him as a “Dictator on the run.”
Israel faces a nexus of challenges, from a heightened existential threat from Iran to daily terror attacks within the country. Simultaneously, potential agreements with Saudi Arabia loom on the horizon, brokered by the Biden administration, capable of reshaping the geopolitical landscape of the entire world. Coupled with a cooler-than-usual relationship with the Biden administration, these protests can appear as more than peaceful dissent. Especially as Netanyahu heads into his first meeting with President Biden since retaking office, these protests now bear the weight of far-reaching implications for the nation of Israel.
Intricately woven into this geopolitical tapestry, the question of land concessions in Judea and Samaria emerges as a pivotal point of discussion. While presently, it appears that the Biden administration is more interested in this issue than the Saudi Crown Prince, should Israel’s leadership appear weakened, negotiations with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia may pressure for such concessions as a precondition for peace accords. The delicate balance between economic windfall and the continued development of Judea and Samaria hangs in the balance.
This situation brings to mind an ancient story that teaches us about challenging and protesting governments. In 1 Samuel chapter 24, David and King Saul cross paths in a cave. Although David has the opportunity to harm King Saul, he refrains, saying: “God forbid that I should do such a thing to my lord—God’s anointed—that I should raise my hand against him; for he is God’s anointed.” Instead, David merely cuts off a corner of Saul’s cloak. This act of mercy and respect eventually led King Saul to acknowledge David’s rightful position as the succeeding king.
This story imparts a valuable lesson. The freedom to dissent and protest is critical to any properly functioning democracy. But, for the well-being of the State of Israel, I pray that we avoid the kind of dissent that could do more harm than good. A stronger, more united Israel will benefit its people and the rest of the world.