By Kenneth Bob, President, Ameinu
Walking down 42nd Street in Manhattan last Tuesday a few minutes before 4:00 PM, it began to rain. Although I really don’t think God turns on a weather spigot, I looked up and quietly said, “really, right now?” Fortunately, that was the worst of it and the demonstration sponsored by the Progressive Israel Network (PIN)* in front of the Israeli Consulate was mostly dry and went off without a hitch.
The crowd of 200 or so protesting the extreme right wing Israeli government’s anti-democratic and anti-human rights agenda responded enthusiastically as a lineup of PIN representatives, including myself, shared brief remarks, interspersed by singing and chants. For my part, I emphasized that the proposed hijacking of the Israeli judicial system and the de facto annexation of the West Bank threaten our progressive Zionist vision of a Jewish, democratic Israel. Noting one of the signs being held by an attendee which read אין דמוקרטיה עם כיבוש – Ein Democratia Im Kibush, I provided a quick Hebrew lesson, translating it for everyone: “There is no democracy with occupation.” I concluded by saying this is very personal for those of us connected to Israel and we must continue to support our friends and colleagues who are there in the streets.
Saturday night found me on a bus leaving Jaffa which I dubbed the “Demonstration Express,” because it was full of people all going to the same place, armed with flags, stickers and signs. While critics of the protests from both the left and right have inaccurately labeled them primarily older and Ashkenazi, I noted that my co-passengers included, among others, a large group of young Mizrachi female friends and both young and older couples. I also observed the following exchange: A young Israeli man struck up a conversation with three young Australians who are participating in a gap year program. When the conversation came around to him, he revealed that he was an active-duty soldier in an intelligence unit. As the bus reached our stop, he lifted up his handmade sign depicting the prime minister as a criminal.
The photo below from the Tel Aviv rally shows an estimated 160,000 on Kaplan Street – this in addition to the tens of thousands who demonstrated in other cities around the country. The protestors varied in age, religious observance (kippot noted) and ethnic background (as best as one can base assumptions on outward appearance). There were also a broad array of signs expressing concerns about specific issues and even a separate mini-rally focused on the occupation and the violation of Palestinian human rights.
While making our way through the masses to a place where we could actually see the main program on a screen, we passed an office building on which Israel’s Declaration of Independence was projected line by line, simulcast with the well known voice of David Ben-Gurion reciting it… over and over again in a loop. Very effective.
There were many excellent speakers, including an ultra-orthodox feminist leader and the self-identified religious, right-wing, former chief of police. But I will highlight two others. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the leader of the U.S. Reform movement, shared a well-received message stating that diaspora Jewry is worried about the democratic future of Israel and supports their brothers and sisters in the streets. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak addressed what he called the ”Declaration of Independence community,” calling on them to oppose the “D-9 government” that wants to bulldoze Israeli democracy.
The demonstrations all over the country will continue weekly and it is clear that the protests are winning the battle for public opinion. Polls are showing that a large majority of citizens oppose the proposed judicial laws. In addition, an election poll released on Friday had the opposition parties at 65 seats and the government parties with only 55.
However, elections won’t be held any time soon and public opinion alone can’t stop the passage of the laws. People are asking, will the demonstrations and external diplomatic pressure be enough to stop or at least slow down this destructive process?
Barak laid out his vision, stating that first we try to stop the legislation. If that doesn’t happen, then the Supreme Court rejects it as “unconstitutional” with the ball going back to the government’s court and the Knesset to consider overturning the court decision. The security forces leadership (IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet) can then try to convince the government to abandon this path in the name of Israel’s security. If all else fails, he says the people of Israel will need to follow the approach of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and engage in civil disobedience.
As the Ameinu office finalized the distribution of this newsletter, we learned the details of the violent settler rampage that took place last night in the West Bank town of Hawara. Coupled with the threats to Israeli democracy, the situation on the West Bank must be considered by diaspora Jews as we weigh our future actions that support the protesters on the ground in Israel.