What are the Protests in Israel REALLY About?

R. Shmuel Veffer

For the 12th week in a row, there were protests on Saturday night around the country, primarily in “left wing, secular” strongholds. The biggest protests were in Tel Aviv as seen in the photo above.

Based on the banner above, you might think the protests are against Netanyahu personally, but the protests are supposedly about the changes being proposed by the current government concerning the Judicial System in Israel.

Currently, there is no constitution in Israel, and the Supreme Court has taken upon itself the authority to reject any law enacted by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) that the court finds “unreasonable.”

Young Jewish girls expelled from their homes in Gush Katif by the Israeli Army

For example, the Court felt that uprooting Jews from their homes and destroying the Jewish communities in Gush Katif (Gaza) was “reasonable.”

The same Judicial system decided it was reasonable for Jewish children as young as 10 years old who were involved in the protests against the forced evacuation of Gush Katif to sit in jail until the proceedings against them were complete.

Most of the Judges on the Supreme Court have personal left-wing progressive world views. The current mechanism with which they are appointed is biased to ensure that the court is populated primarily by secular leftist progressive activist Judges.

This has often created a bias against the values of the Jewish, Right-Wing and Religious communities and favored the minority Arab communities. The practical effect is that the un-elected Supreme Court justices have the final say on all laws in Israel, not the elected Government by the people.

For years, politicians on all sides have called for reforms of the judicial system because of its activist agenda.

Now the Netanyahu coalition which for the first time includes right wing nationalists, religious Zionists and ultra-orthodox parties has decided to change the system to appoint judges, and allow the Knesset to overturn a decision made by the Supreme Court.

Currently they are proposing a slim majority of 61 out of 120 members having the ability to overturn a ruling by the court, which is a big point of argument and will probably be adjusted at some point to a larger majority.

The irony is, that if Yair Lapid (representing the center left) had proposed the same changes when he was prime minister, they would have passed without any noise or protest in my opinion.

Because it is precisely Netanyahu and his right-wing/religious coalition that is passing the legislation, half the country is crying out, “This is the end of democracy, the economy will collapse, all hi-tech people will leave the country, Netanyahu will become a dictator, Israel will become like Iran, ruled by religious fanatics!”

(The same people predicted that the Oslo Accords and the Evacuation of Gaza would bring peace to Israel, so it is hard for me to take seriously their predictions of catastrophe in this case.)

Battle for the Soul of the State of Israel – “Jewish or Democratic”

The Israel Declaration of Independence declared that Israel was a Jewish State, but that ” it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex;”

In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled that the Declaration of Independence should be a guiding principle of Israeli society in the absence of a constitution. Therefore there was a need to define in law the “Jewish Nature” and the “Democratic Character” of the State of Israel.

So an amendment was passed to the Basic Law:the Knesset, which included banning any political party if their goals or actions, expressly or by implication included the “negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish AND democratic state

This was done so that any party, or ultimately any individual, running for Knesset could be banned if they believed that Torah Law should be implemented in Israel and that Jews should have special status as citizens of the State of Israel.

The Supreme Court’s View of the “Jewish State”

Aharon Barak, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court explained, “the characterization of the State as Jewish is not intended to bestow extra privileges on its Jewish citizens and does not obligate the imposition of religious requirements by state law,”

The Supreme Court’s View of Israel as a “Democratic State”

Barak further explains, “the sovereign is the entire community of the nation’s citizens (and it alone), irrespective of ethnic-national origin. In the main, the character of the State as a democratic country is manifested by two basic principles: the first being the recognition of the dignity of man qua man, and the second, derived from the first, is the recognition of the values of equality and tolerance. Arrangements regarding free and equal elections, the recognition of the core human rights, including dignity and equality, separation of powers, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary, are all drawn from these principles.”

In plain language, according to Barak and the Supreme Court, the State of Israel is primarily a secular progressive democracy with a Jewish flavor. That is the view of the vast majority of the protesters.

In contrast, the current government has many religious Jews who believe that the Almighty gave the Land of Israel to the Nation of Israel to live by the Torah of Israel – meaning Jews have a special status in this Land. Why they haven’t been banned from serving in the Knesset by the Supreme Court, is probably only a function of nobody filing a petition against them with the Supreme Court for political reasons.

For 75 years there was a struggle to ensure the survival of the physical State of Israel. There was no time to have the national dialogue to define what does it mean to be a “Jewish State.”

Today were are seeing that debate taking place in the streets and corridors of power in Israel.

As the Festival of Passover approaches, may we all be blessed with wisdom, tolerance and love for our Jewish brethren, no matter what their views. Our Sages teach that the Temples were destroyed and the People sent into exile because of a lack of Jewish Unity. It is only through brotherly love and unity will we see the final redemption.

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom.


What are the Protests in Israel REALLY About?

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