I write at an enormously difficult and painful time for our country. On Wednesday night, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chaired by MK Simcha Rothman (RZ) approved – by a vote of 9-7 – the law on the reasonableness clause, paving the way for it to be brought to the Knesset plenum this week for final votes.
On Monday afternoon, debate prior to the vote will begin in the Knesset. Coalition discipline requires that every member of the coalition be present to cast the votes necessary to pass the legislation when the time comes.
Framers of the legislation say they will continue to seek a compromise prior to the final vote but are determined to bring the bill to that final vote barring such a compromise. (Trust me: There will be no compromise forthcoming from the opposition.)
Passage of this law is exceedingly important. Not only because the legislation is good, but because we must have rule of law. If the mob stops passage of the legislation, they will consider themselves victorious and call out the troops to create disorder whenever something displeases them. They thrive on disorder.
And so, the demonstrators are out there in in large numbers, raucous and noisy and filled with self-righteousness. That many don’t know what they are demonstrating for seems to be beside the point. (Young people can be heard speaking about the “fun” they have out on the street, blowing their whistles and banging their drums.) They are camping out in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park and last night marched towards the Knesset. This is their last push to stop the legislation and, they maintain, save the country from disaster.
I am aghast at the claims being made by the leaders of the demonstrations and their supporters. There is no regard for truth, what matters is arousing the populace.
They are saying that this law would reverse what has stood for Israel’s 75 years, and that is a boldfaced lie. It is a matter of fact, not opinion: the reasonableness concept was advanced by then Chief Justice Aharon Barak in the 1990s. It gave the Court a degree of power not possessed by any other Western democracy. Justices are able to knock down executive decisions based not on law, but on the subjective judgment of the justices that these decisions are not “reasonable.”
Typical of the hysteria we are seeing is a statement by MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beiteinu) that what is currently in the text of the law “completely neuters the legal system.”
What utter nonsense! What the legislation actually says is that the Court cannot overturn decisions by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, or specified other elected officials (I believe whose decisions have been approved by the Cabinet) on the basis of “reasonableness.” The Court can still rule against decisions on other bases, such as their running counter to Basic Law.
The issue of IDF reservists who allegedly will not serve if the legislation passes is an extremely painful and significant part of this drama. I have already written about this. See here an important piece by David Weinberg – “Refuse-to-serve: Biased Israeli media is not reporting the full story”:
And from the coalition, an exceedingly pertinent to-the-point statement:
“The position of the government and the coalition is clear: The greatest harm to security and democracy in Israel is subjugating the government and the Knesset to [dictates] by military units.”
This steadfast position is what will save democracy.
What I want to focus upon here is one of the issues that is fueling the national conflict. It is something I have been thinking about for weeks, with a very heavy heart. Time has come to write.
I was spurred to addressing this issue in part because of a letter – shared with me – that had been sent out by the Israel office of the National Council of Jewish Women, an organization headquartered in America that advances a social agenda from what it claims is a “Jewish lens.” But it’s a progressive “Jewish lens,” not a traditional one.
The letter – which speaks in very negative terms about the judicial reform – was written with alarm because of actions being taken by the current Israeli government that NCJW sees as detrimental to the position of women. One in particular caught my eye.
The letter describes as a cause for “panic” “the new Knesset caucus initiated by female MK Limor Son Har-Melech of Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party, aimed at advancing the ‘right’ to gender segregation.” (Emphasis is in the original)
But why should this cause “panic”? No reason, in fact, but I understood immediately where they were coming from.
There are Jews, stringent in their observance (frequently but not always haredi), who believe that men and women should not sit together in public forums. I recall one particular instance (and I assume there have been others) in which a group had scheduled an event – perhaps a speaker – and it was understood that men and women attending would sit separately. A woman’s libber took this to the Supreme Court, saying that she had a right to sit anywhere in the auditorium she wished.
The Court supported her, and consequently the event was cancelled. This religious group had been denied the right to run their event according to their sense of propriety. The caucus that is currently being formed seeks to address this inequity.
Why should this cause panic in the NCJW? Because of a fear that the “religious crazies” of the parties of Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich would ultimately impose this separate gender rule across the board in the country. There is no such intention. But the “panic” persists. I’ve heard talk, not from NCJW specifically, but more generally, about how Smotrich and Ben Gvir are going to create a “theocracy.” It appears that the NCJW, although nominally Jewish, has internalized this concern.
Bottom line: We are seeing anger because a different demographic won the election at a time when the progressive and secular left-wing has been attempting to promote Israel as a “state of all its citizens” rather than a Jewish state.
This anger fuels hostility towards right-wing religious Jews more broadly in the country.
Back in June, a video (in Hebrew) went viral: A young haredi man, with a black kippa and payot, was sitting on a bus.
A secular woman (chilonit) across the aisle began to speak with him – chastising him for not going into the army.
His response was angry, because he had served in the army, was a captain, and now is in the reserves. She had no right to assume because of the way he looks that he didn’t serve.
And it gets worse: she asked him if he served in the army why he wears a kippa.
I was flabbergasted by her assumption that no one who wears a kippa serves, that everyone in the army is secular. Talk about stereotyping and hostility from the left.
What seemed to be the case (and why I specifically mention it here) was that this young man was encountering this sort of overt hostile challenge more frequently than in the past. It is a matter of tone in the country.
Chabad yeshiva students in the city of Nes Tziona, south of Tel Aviv, run a tefillin stand every Friday. The behavior of Chabad in running these stands is not coercive; passersby are asked if they would like to put on tefillin. If the answer is positive, they help them to do so, as it is a mitzvah, and to say the blessings.
There is a Chabad tefillin stand at the Kotel, as in many places around Israel and the world:
Last Friday someone driving a car past the Nes Tziona stand slowed down and threw eggs at the boys running the stand and at the tefillin. To the best of my knowledge, this has never happened before. The work of Chabad is embraced across the country.
MK Yaakov Tesler, of the Ministry of Culture, said: “It is unthinkable that Jewish hands would be raised to damage and desecrate the tefillin in the land of Israel…I call for the law authorities to eradicate…the wild incitement against sacred values, religion and the tradition of Israel.”
Minister of Jerusalem Meir Parosh spoke about the violence in the country against Jewish symbols. “The activity of Chabad throughout the country is a symbol of [baseless] love, in the face of the rampant [baseless] hate. I am again calling on the leaders of the left to stop the incitement train, lest it be too late.”
The Minister of Housing Yitzhak Goldknopf said: “The shocking attack against the tefillin stand in Nes-Ziona while desecrating the holy tefillin is very serious. I appeal to the leaders of the opposition to act as much as they can to lower the level of hostility among the public, to stop the incitement against those who do not think like them and against the Torah and mitzvot observant public…” (Emphasis added here and above)
We have a problem, my friends, a deeply troubling problem.
But there is also good news, which gives us hope for our nation:
The notion that haredi young men do not serve in the army is incorrect. Some do, and they prove to be excellent and devoted soldiers, opting for combat positions. They understand what they are fighting for.
After the publicity about IDF reserve personnel who will refuse to serve if the judicial legislation passes, haredi soldiers responded:
More than a thousand fighters and commanders from the Netzah Yehuda Battalion (known as Nahal Haredi) sent a letter last Thursday to the Defense Minister and the IDF Chief of Staff, stating that they are ready to serve at any time and without conditions and even extend the number of their reserve service days in keeping with the security needs of the State of Israel.
They were from the haredi companies Hetz and Tomers, and haredi veterans of the Military Intelligence and the Air Force.
“The security of Israel is above everything else. We declare our commitment to volunteer and serve, at any time and in any task that is required, routine and emergency, for the sake of the people and the State of Israel.”
Just today, 200 IDF rabbis signed a letter to Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi:
“Serving in the regular and reserve army is a great mitzvah, a national duty, and a rare privilege…we believe that service in the reserves is a sacred duty for the sake of Israel’s security.
“We are appalled by the statements of some of our comrades in the reserves to condition their service on government actions and the use of army uniforms for the sake of improper political pressure. Israel’s security is not a matter subject to political negotiations. As the Book of Numbers says – ‘Shall your brethren go to war while you remain here?’
“We call on all reserve officers to declare that they will not support refusal to serve…” (Emphasis added)
“Thousands of people, both supporters and opponents of the judicial reforms, came to the Western Wall this morning (Sunday) for a special ‘prayer for the unity of the people.’
“Among the participants are Rabbi Yaakov Medan, dean of the Har Etzion Yeshiva, Rabbi Re’em HaCohen, MK Matan Kahana, protest leader Shikma Schwartzman-Bressler, National Unity party chairman Benny Gantz, Yael Shevach, the widow of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, and others.”
Tonight, right-wing supporters of the reform are gathering in Tel Aviv, hopefully by the many tens of thousands.
We are in the nine days before Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of our Temples ꟷ a time of utmost seriousness and concern for consequences for the Jewish People.
And I close with a personal story:
This concerns the yeshiva high school of one of my grandsons. I have written about this yeshiva before.
The students were being taken on their two-day long end-of-the-year trip (customary here). The boys had spent time in the Kinneret and had piled back in the bus to head north to the Golan, where they were to camp out.
Then one student yelled to the driver that he saw smoke coming from the back of the bus. The driver immediately pulled over, opened the bus doors and instructed the kids to quickly get out. Shortly after, the bus went up in flames. Thank Heaven, thank Heaven, the students were all safe.
But the belongings of the students were caught in the fire: sleeping bags, clothes, back packs, and…their tfillin. Every single set of tefillin was either damaged or destroyed, with the exception of one set, that remained totally intact.
“Savta,” said my grandson, “do you know whose tefillin they were? They belong to a kid in my class. There is an army base near the yeshiva. He takes his tefillin and goes down there and asks who would like to lay [put on] tefillin. They say yes, they want to, and he helps put them on.”
His tefillin came through the fire unscathed. And that, my dear friends, is a nes (a miracle). There is a message for us here.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.