Not in the Fire: A Reflection On The Protests In Israel

The “Country is on Fire,” says one of the signs at the massive protests around the State of Israel. Indeed, the last few days have brought images of bonfires and barricades alongside the now familiar ones of hundreds of thousands of Israelis filling the main thoroughfares of Tel Aviv.

There is certainly something inspiring in these sights. Many have gone as far as to say that these days already constitute some of the most important since the state’s founding. Week after week, night after night, more and more citizens have made themselves into a makeshift branch of government, providing a check on a Knesset that has been trying to brazenly sweep away the authority of the Supreme Court, which is the only counter to the Knesset in an Israel with no enshrined balances and branches.

The latest surge in energy and participation has been triggered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brazenly firing his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for expressing his grave concerns that the planned radical overhaul of the judiciary was causing a rift in the Israel Defense Forces, (which is made up of the same citizens now on the streets.) Gallant, like the sign, was warning that the country is on fire, and being removed from his position signaled that the Government had no interest in turning down the heat.

 And yet the answer is not in the fire. 

 Elijah the Prophet learns this lesson on the heels of his desperate escape for his life in the Judaean desert. He experiences a series of breathtaking displays of power, a great wind, a massive earthquake and fire, leaping from the sky. And, in the words of the story, G*d was not in the wind, not in the quake, not in the fire. And then there came a kol dmama daka. That still, small voice, and G*d was found within it.

 The lesson carries over. These demonstrations are a compelling display of intensity – a whirlwind, a political earthquake, a raging fire. They have arrested the seemingly unstoppable momentum of a Knesset bent on grabbing power, both for self-serving reasons and ideological aims. If the protests ultimately succeed in thwarting this takeover there will be an impressive victory. Already there have been paeons to the vitality of a democracy in which so many can come together to thwart drastic overreach.

For all that, though, Israel will hardly have begun to face the issues that threaten democracy at its core: the lack of constitutional protection for the minority, the growing religious coercion in public life, and, the hardest knot to untie, the cynical move toward permanent occupation and unfettered hegemony over Arab citizens and residents, putting any possible negotiated peace further in the rearview mirror.

Any serious response to these malignancies will not come at the barricades nor in the compromises forced by the protesters. Like G*d for Elijah, real change can come only in hearing the voices barely heard above the silence. A call to not only fight against blatant legislative overreach, but to continue to fight for those who are not Jews, those who desire to live the Jewish life they choose and the many LGBTQ Israelis who are now being targeted as immoral and unacceptable to the Jewish State. From the silence, we are also called to be responsible for Palestinians who have little or no voice in their own government and day-to-day life.

When the shouting is over, what will we do with the call that echoes?

 

 

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