Israel is currently facing prolonged protests over judicial reform proposed by the right-wing coalition under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israelis are generally outspoken and, as it is in the US, protests are protected free speech. But the current protests are challenging the fabric of Israeli society with the protesters claiming the reforms threaten democracy. The government has responded with heavy measures including firing stun grenades, water cannons and confronting the crowds on horseback.
Israel365 News asked Moshe Feiglin, the leader of libertarian Zionist party Zehut and an Orthodox Jew, how he sees protests as part of the political process of a Jewish state.
“Protesting has many precedents in the Bible,” Feiglin said. “Unlike Noah, Abraham, the archetyp[al Jew, argued with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. As did Moses, when he told God that it was unacceptable to wipe out the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf. Natan spoke truth to power when he confronted David over Batsheva.”
“For the non-religious, protesting against a political regime comes from a moral imperative acknowledging that there is a higher authority, what they might call a conscience or perhaps even God calling them from within their heart, ” Feiglin said. “But for a religious person, the requirement to protest comes from acknowledging that there is a greater hierarchy above the political hierarchy.”
True to his word, protesting has been an essential part of Feiglin’s political career and he has been willing to pay the price for it. Prior to becoming a Knesset member, Feiglin co-founded the Zo Artzeinu (“This is our Land”) in 1993 to protest the Oslo Accords. On 8 August 1995, eighty intersections throughout the country were blocked in a massive act of non-violent civil disobedience against the Oslo process. As a result of his activities, Feiglin was sentenced to six months in prison in 1997 for sedition against the state in a decision confirmed by Israel’s Supreme Court. The sentence was later commuted to community service.
Feiglin is unrepentant for his protests and his arrests.
“I was arrested many times,” Feiglin told Israel365 News. “To be honest, I wish I had been arrested more. A person who is willing to protest and even willing to be arrested is showing that he is not simply doing what he wants. He is doing what he must as a conscientious citizen.”
“Definitely in a democracy there is a requirement for the individual to protest, or be willing and able to protest,” Feiglin said. “But not only democracy. Free speech is the pillar that a free state stands on. The concept of free speech and the freedom of stations is fundamental. It is an obligation for the members of society to speak up, to protest, when they feel that the country is crossing a red line of moral actions and moral behavior. In a democracy, the country is acting in the name of the citizens. The state belongs to its citizens. If your state is doing something fundamentally wrong, it is doing so with the power you’re giving it. So if you’re not protesting, you are responsible.”
Feiglin acknowledged that the obligation to protest was limited.
“Protests should not be trying to destroy the state,” he said. “That would drag the society down into anarchy. The protest should not try to erase the concept of law and order or exchange the regime that was established democratically. Protests should be trying to fix without trying to destroy the state.”
As a Biblical example, Feiglin pointed to the revolt of Korach.
“The claim that all of Israel was at Sinai was correct,” Feiglin said. “But the intention was to destroy the priesthood.”
Despite his support for the right and responsibility to protest, Feiglin objects to the current protests.
“The energy that moves these protests are anarchist energies,” Feiglin said. “While they claim to be trying to reform a part of the government, they are plainly trying to replace the government or tear it down. They are looking to destroy the elected regime and replace it with one of their choosing. Even worse, they seek to destroy the structure and build a state that does not serve a democratic function.”