For Israel's Mainstream, Dictatorship Is No Big Deal. An Intellectual Revolution Is the Only Cure

Protesters demonstrating against the contentious immunity law, Tel Aviv, Israel, May 25, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

Kahol Lavan’s Yair Lapid told the mass rally Saturday night at the Tel Aviv Museum that he was looking for five decent people from the coalition to change their stance so that Israeli democracy could be saved. Only five decent people who would play the role of Queen Esther, and with one blow the bad guys would flee to their hiding places and the masses’ lives would be pleasant once again.

Here are two of the saviors who might yet rise up to save the Israeli public. The first is Gilad Erdan, who blatantly lied about the killing of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan from Umm al-Hiran, and who is now acting as chief inciter against MK Ayman Odeh, calling him a terrorist without blinking an eye.

>> Read more: Arab Israeli leader invited to speak at opposition rally after Arab parties not included ■ Editorial: It’s time to take to the streets

The second is Avi Dichter, who, as befits someone familiar with the corridors of hell, had previously consigned the same Odeh to a fate there. It doesn’t pay to say too much about rookie MK Nir Barkat, who as mayor of Jerusalem turned the eastern part of the city into one big ghetto, as different from the western part of the city as heaven from earth.

Lapid spoke loudly with all the appropriate pauses, in accordance with all the rules of public speaking, but the content was hollow. Apparently he hadn’t noticed that this demonstration was against Likud, which is leading the ugly wave sweeping the country. After he called on this series of men, who are the very heart of Likud, to get up and resign, all that was left was for him to call on Benjamin Netanyahu to resign and bring down Benjamin Netanyahu. Lapid sounded so pathetic that I was embarrassed for him.

It must be noted that the Kahol Lavan leaders, or at least some of them, showed courage when they responded to public pressure and invited Odeh to address the rally. On the other hand, without Odeh the demonstration would have been a farce, with one of the pillars of the struggle against the emerging dictatorship, the Arab population, excluded.

It’s important for Lapid and the rest of Kahol Lavan’s leadership to understand that the struggle against dangerous anti-democratic trends cannot be won with one stroke, and it is not dependent on persuading one MK or another to defect. These trends are the product of deep changes in Israeli society that have evolved over decades. The Israeli mainstream has moved rightward, to the extent that in its eyes, dictatorship is no big deal. If we want to cure this, we need an in-depth intellectual revolution, not just some easy way out.

And we need to start within Kahol Lavan, with the ideological right deeply imbedded within it, that isn’t prepared to move a centimeter on the issue of an agreement with the Palestinians, and which is more aligned with the political ideology of the Union of Right-Wing Parties than with its party colleagues. Moreover, we must inspire a change of consciousness among the more than one million people who voted for Netanyahu, even though they knew exactly what he had in store for them, including the crushing of the rule of law. In that respect, the demonstration was a big step in the right direction.

Before Lapid looks for his five decent people in Likud, let him speak to his party colleagues Moshe Ya’alon, who had objected to Odeh’s appearance at the rally, and Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, who because of Odeh did not attend. They are spitting into the well they are drinking from because without Ayman Odeh one can kiss the rule of law goodbye. However, if despite Hendel and Hauser’s boycott the masses turned out well beyond any expectations, then let the two gentlemen continue to boycott while the camp grows and grows.

The opposition made an important stride Saturday night. First of all, it took its message to the public and didn’t leave the square to the radical right. It also marked out a path for organizing all the forces that oppose the destruction of democracy.