Follow the Magan David by Dr. Bettyruth Walter

It was Saturday evening in Tel Aviv. I was sitting on my meerpeset (terrace) overlooking Ben Zion Boulevard, watching the comings and goings of walkers and bikers. I slowly realized that almost everyone was going in the same direction, toward Kaplan Street.  Many were carrying the Israeli flag waving above their heads. A peaceful civilian army, and A beautiful sight. I knew that there was to be a demonstration that night because there is now a demonstration every Saturday night across Israel now, in February 2023.

My grandsons had advised me not to go. They were afraid I would be trampled by the hoard of people.  But how could I not?  Not show up. Just follow the flags, I thought. And I did, across Kikar HaBima, and heading toward Kaplan Street to the center of the city. That’s where they were going, and I marched with them.

Somewhere in front of Rabin’s memorial, thousands of people had congregated, and there was a sea of flags, banners and placards, cow horns being sounded, slogans being shouted out in unison.  There was a podium somewhere that I couldn’t see, and there were speakers that I couldn’t understand. A man spoke, and then a woman.  Imagine my surprise the next day to learn from HaAretz, the English newspaper, that the Hebrew speaker inspiring the protesters, encouraging them onward, was none other than our own Rabbi Rick Jabobs,  leader of the Reform Movement of America and Canada. Even though I couldn’t understand his Hebrew message, I knew exactly the meaning of what he was saying, and cheered with the throngs around me.

It was a strong but peaceful protest.  There were older people, like me. Some were men who I knew without knowing had fought in the wars to establish and protect Israel.  Now, once again , fighting through protest to protect Israel. There were many younger men and women, many who brought their young children to witness what was happening. There were babies in buggies, people on bicycles  – with the Magen David flags affixed to and waving from them.

The placards proclaimed:  “Save our Democracy,” “Palestinian Lives Matter,” and I was moved by a very young girl, maybe 5 or 6, holding her own message:  “No education without Democracy.” 

I was incredibly proud to be a part of this demonstration to save the heart of Israel.

The demonstrations are both planned for Saturday nights, after Shabbat, and also occur spontaneously on other days.  People congregate in places throughout the city, as in Kikar HaBima, right next to where I live in Tel Aviv. A flag arrives on the scene, then another, then protesters.  I attended every one that I knew about.  At one, I talked with a woman, with tears in her eyes.  She told me she was a ninth generation Israeli, her family having come from Austria, and was incredibly frightened at this moment for her country.

Why must the protesters go through these painful episodes of trying to save their country, and from what?

The answer is the latest government formed by Netanyahu.  He has formed that government, according to the very wise Yossi Klein HaLevi, of convicts and criminals, or those awaiting trial for crimes committed, like Netanyahu himself. 

The aim is to eviscerate the Supreme Court and give the power of law making and legal decisions to the Knesset, their congress, which Netanyahu won and holds power in by 1 single vote.  His purpose?  To avoid standing trial for fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes.    

The very best description of the issues that I have read are covered by journalist Trudy Rubin in the Philadelphia Inquirer of March 8, just a few days ago.  The title is “Netanyahu’s Attack on Israel’s Judiciary Also Impacts the US.”  She writes, “Bibi’s attention appears mainly on saving his own skin.”

What happens next? It is really hard to predict, of course. The protest rallies not only continue, but grow in size and frequency. If the Supreme Court of Israel is made a puppet of this new government, Israel will no longer be a democracy, but an autocracy. Israel, which has always been Jewish and democratic and an ally in kind with the United States, will no longer exist.  If it becomes an autocracy, will our government continue feeding billions of dollars for security to her every year?  I doubt it.  Will we American Jews still be proud of defending this once partner for peace in the Middle East? I question it.  I will not stop giving money to Israel, but I will carefully choose to whom I give that money.

In an address to the nation, President Herzog urged all parties to come to the table and talk. He stated that the present plan of the new government is destructive and anti-democratic, and called on all sides to put the country ahead of political interests. He reminds those who were elected by the people to office are “representatives, servants of the public, and not their own masters.”  

I hold my breath and hope that these demonstrations continue and grow, and thereby encourage this precious democracy to hold steady.

Dr. Bettyruth Walter