The Israeli Resistance Protests from the Sidelines: An Expat’s FOMO

As Israelis living in the US for the past twenty years, there are a lot of things that my husband and I miss and feel homesick for. Politics was not one of them, but – for the past 31 weeks, we have been riveted to Israeli coverage of the massive protests against the so-called “Judicial Reform” bills proposed by the current extreme right Kneset (the Israeli parliament) coalition.

The judicial reform bills are being pushed through in order to limit judicial review of the executive branch. The changes amount to what would be a constitutional change to the system of government in countries that have a constitution. In countries that don’t have a clear separation between the parliament and the government, judicial review is essential to balance the power of the executive branch.

We’ve been equally disappointed by the negligible coverage by the US media. Except for the widespread protests and subsequent march to Jerusalem immediately following the July 24th vote to abolish the “reasonableness” clause that affords the supreme court power to overrule government decisions, there has been little mention of these extremely well-organized, peaceful (albeit disruptive) and inspiring grassroots protests that include an unprecedented array of participants: young and old, secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, liberal and conservative, metropolis and small town or rural residents, and any other distinctions that the right-wing parties have been deliberately stoking divisions through for decades.

 Much as we are all in awe of and proud of the young adults at the forefront of the demonstrations – the ongoing, popular protest refrain “you’ve messed with the wrong generation” (Nafaltem al ha’dor ha’lo nachon!) is more a reflection on the awakening of an apathetic, disengaged citizenry rather than a particular age group. Our dear friends in Israel (who are at the top of the list of things we miss…) are mostly about sixty, and they are out on the streets week after week, with their kids, grandkids, and their parents. We follow their social media posts daily and talk to them frequently to ask how they are feeling, to make sure that od lo avda tikvatenu, that we’ve not yet lost hope, to be an am hofshi  – a free people – b’artzenu, in our land. (That the words of our national anthem are versed in a future tense is particularly poignant these days.)

Our friends and family members are genuinely scared about the future of the country, but they are not giving up hope. They are willing (and remarkably able!) to brave extreme weather and water cannons, and to sacrifice their time, lost income, and vocal cords to stop the corrupt, racists, misogynistic, homophobic, and shameless gang of fascistic nationalists, punch-drunk messianic settlers, religious parasites, and opportunists, not to mention indicted and convicted criminals who hold, for the time being, power.

That includes Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was charged with accepting nearly $300,000 worth of gifts, fraud, breach of trust, and influencing the press. Many of the protesters believe that the entire formation of this immoral coalition and the reform bills are Netanyahu trying to shield himself from the law.

One of my friends got so tired of losing her voice shouting De-mo-crat-ia and Busha! (For shame!) that she finally broke down and bought her own zambura (more commonly known to English-speaking soccer fans as vuvuzelas…). She blasted it for me over the phone. It hurt my ear but, sitting here in my birdsong-filled suburb, I felt like I deserved it. 

We feel envious of our protesting friends, taking part in what we believe is a revolution, even if it takes the next election cycle to come to the realization. They are holding the line in the making of history, while we watch from Sof Ma’arav, the Edge of the West. Cincinnati feels like a particularly remote (flyover?) part of Ma’arav. Though we donate money to support the protesters, and we’ve written to our congress members to ask them to support Israeli democracy, we are also envious of our friends and family members who have been able to participate in demonstrations and protests happening in some of the bigger cities in the US. I am particularly proud and envious of my sister who lives in the greater Philadelphia area and had the honor of participating in the protests in front of the main Kohelet Forum donor Arthur Danchick’s house in Bala Cynwyd PA. Surely, they were a part of Danchicks’ decision to withdraw his support of the ultra-conservative research and lobby group supporting, if not guiding, the judicial coup. 

Until we can (or must) get ourselves to the protests, we can but sit in front of our screens, to sit in on the inspiring and uplifting mass Zoom calls to listen to the activists planning and organizing next steps. They are smart, they are strong, they are powerful, and they are right. (And, BTW, many of the leading figures are women.) People around the world are watching them to learn how liberal, humanistic, tax-paying, and law-abiding citizens can peacefully, but determinedly, stand up to injustice and anti-democratic trends around the world. These protesters are Or Lagoyim, a light unto the nations. Would that we, and our children, be able to bask in their radiance.