In America, Donald Trump continues to insist the 2020 election was stolen somehow, but perhaps he needn’t have bothered to make that preposterous and embarrassing argument. In Israel right now, we’re seeing a different way to handle losing an election and winning the post-election, one that is vastly more effective—and in its effectiveness, potentially more dangerous to the future good working order of democracy than the election denialism Trump practices and that liberals so revile.
In November, the right won the election in Israel and then, upon assuming power in January, began to implement the policies on which it ran. At which point, some of the losers of the election took to the streets. Ever since, those in ideological agreement with the losers have expressed continual wonderment and pride at the fact that 8 or 9 percent of the population of the small country is out in the streets on a weekly basis. Yes, but more than 50 percent of the electorate in Israel voted the other way. Imagine if they took to the streets. But you can’t, because they won’t, because they shouldn’t have to. Democracies exist to make street action unnecessary. People go to the streets when they have no other way to express themselves—and what’s more, tragically, street action is almost always futile. And dangerous for those who undertake it, who show heroism by doing so.
Democratic elections and the legislation that follows them are morally, politically, and practically better than street action because they have specific aims, specific goals, and have been legitimized through victory. In a democracy, demonstrations provide a sense of camaraderie for those who participate in them and a source of propagandistic images for those who are trying to use them somehow to get their way when they were unable to do so at the time it counted most. In a democracy, a demonstration is an oxymoron—it’s a supposed show of force that is actually an expression of frustrated powerlessness. And an attempt to turn the desperation caused by that powerlessness into a political weapon.
I said last month in this space that the Netanyahu government had been extraordinarily imprudent in the way it pursued its agenda—trying to ram through changes at lightning speed in a country where domestic policy had been pretty much frozen in place over the previous eight years. I think that opinion was borne out by Netanyahu’s decision to suspend the judicial-reform process and enter into negotiations to calm the roiling political waters.
He did so in large measure out of fear not of the demonstrations but of the effect of the demonstrations on the behavior of the nation’s military and reservists. Here Netanyahu showed a kind of pragmatic and necessary foresight he had lacked at the beginning. Just as he was doing so, Israel found itself challenged perhaps as never before by what appears to be a four-front assault—rockets from Gaza and Lebanon and terrorist attacks from the West Bank, all of it apparently directed by Iran.
The right that wants to disempower certain aspects of the nation’s judiciary and the left that is staging a revolution against Israel’s democracy supposedly in the name of preserving that democracy got wrapped up in their own melodramas over the past six months. And both seemed to have forgotten about the existential threat Israel has faced over the past 75 years from its enemies—and still faces today. Luckily for the nation he leads despite protestors shamefully likening him to Pharaoh on the eve of Passover, Netanyahu hasn’t.
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