Here in Israel, the current political crisis is causing acute anxiety and dread. But the reason isn’t what so many diaspora Jews think it is.
Most in Britain and America haven’t a clue about the complexities of this crisis, because news outlets rarely give them information that challenges boilerplate prejudices. Instead, diaspora communities have swallowed a cartoonish media distortion.
The Israeli protesters claim they are defending democracy and saving Israel from dictatorship. In fact, the opposite is the case.
Sure, there are grounds for criticising the judicial reform programme. There are also legitimate concerns over the extremism of certain coalition members, while the behaviour of some ministers and Likud politicians has been disgraceful.
However, it’s ludicrous to claim that the reforms threaten democracy. They are needed to repair Israel’s democracy. This has been undermined by the total absence of checks on Israel’s supreme court, which uses arbitrary power to thwart the government’s ability to govern.
In any event, the reforms would merely reinstate the balance between judges and politicians that existed from Israel’s foundation in 1948 until the supreme court started its power grab in the Nineties.
The protesters’ real agenda is to bring down the Netanyahu government. Indeed, Yair Lapid and Ehud Barak, the two former prime ministers leading the protests, declared this was the aim from the start.
The plan was hatched even earlier. A video recently surfaced from 2020 in which Barak laid out, for a group of military reservists, what can be interpreted as a plan for a coup d’état which turned out to be a template for these mass demonstrations.
His strategy was to encourage the population to revolt by exaggerating the danger to democracy and bankrolling protests that would manipulate popular patriotism by the mass purchase of Israeli flags.
Such an uprising, said Barak, had to be spun as a defence of democracy rather than a coup against Netanyahu. Astonishingly, he suggested that he himself would be called upon to lead the country should the dead bodies of Jews killed by other Jews “float in the Yarkon river” in Tel Aviv.
The protesters have unforgivably weaponised the economy and even — hitherto unthinkable — Israel’s security. They have encouraged investors to move their money out of Israel in order to produce financial chaos. Billionaire Kobi Richter, a prominent backer of the protests, predicted that they would lower Israel’s credit rating and produce such an economic meltdown that Netanyahu’s voters, many of whom are poor, would suffer badly.
Military reservists are blackmailing the government by threatening to refuse their call-up to military service — even if the country is attacked — if the government doesn’t abandon its reforms. As one Ha’aretz article boasted: “A military coup is underway in Israel — and it’s completely justified.”
Then there’s outright thuggery. The Kohelet Policy Forum, a scholarly, conservative think-tank that helped formulate the reform programme, had its offices vandalised and then barricaded with barbed wire and rubbish. Its senior thinkers have been demonised, threatened and abused.
For months, Kohelet’s principal funder, American billionaire Arthur Dantchik, was harassed by Israeli demonstrators outside his Philadelphia house and office and had his character blackened by association with Kohelet. Eventually he cracked under the pressure and ended his funding.
Earlier this month, at a Zoom conference with more than 1,000 participants gloating about the victory over Dantchik and Kohelet, Yaya Fink, a far-left political activist, declared: “The protest isn’t the goal. The protest is a tool for implementing a world view. We’re in the process of building infrastructures for the long haul.”
A video has also surfaced of the Madame Mao of the insurrection, physics professor Shikma Bressler — who has declared that the reform would turn Israel into a “theocratic dictatorship” — drilling ranks of masked men dressed in black T-shirts, standing to attention with legs apart and hands behind their backs like a paramilitary army.
This uprising is being mounted by Ashkenazi elites, seeking to maintain the power they exercise through the court to marginalise socially conservative and lower-class Mizrachi Jews.
It’s being supported by liberal diaspora plutocrats who have withdrawn their funding from Israel, thus showing that their professed love of the Jewish state was always paper-thin and conditional.
And it’s being further incited by left-wing writers in both Israel and the diaspora, sobbing into their keyboards about the destruction of Jewish unity while they bully and denounce the Israeli “right” as people with whom they refuse even to identify; and while they implore diaspora Jews to save Israel from its own “non-normative” government, and replace democratic process and the rule of law with control by a judicial oligarchy comprising people in their own image.
They are all helping promote and endorse threats, bullying, intimidation, harassment, character assassination, defamation, thuggery and blackmail. They are doing deliberate and untold harm to Israel’s economy and security in order to get what they want.
Moreover, they claim this represents democracy, human rights and, quite obscenely for such traitors to the Jewish people, Jewish values.
Melanie Phillips is a Times columnist