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How We Paid for Our Sane Government

avner gvaryahu
Avner Gvaryahu
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Soldiers patrolling in Hebron.
Israeli soldiers patrolling the streets of Hebron.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
avner gvaryahu
Avner Gvaryahu

“Sanity” is apparently the best-loved word of the outgoing government’s ministers. While the brand “government of change” has become bitter and full of holes, sanity has become a key message. In a government embroiled in disputes, paralyzed and losing limbs like a leper, sanity has remained a key message. I don’t discount it. For more than a decade, the governments of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have conveyed to ever-growing parts of the public that they are excess baggage, treacherous, something to be tolerated now, until a solution is found.

Life under Netanyahu was life under psychological assault on all fronts, a set of crude and toxic lies, oozing from every screen and in every headline. The author Amos Oz described the end of Netanyahu’s first term as an air compressor under a window that finally stops making noise. The subsequent Netanyahu terms were even worse. And suddenly, silence. People stopped listening to the news. Not because the government was perfect, but because it achieved this essential minimum: sanity.

I know well the “toxic machine,” as former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described it. Among other things, thanks to Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked who until recently, when they felt it was worth their while politically, happily greased the wheels. I know how people feel when the justice minister, for example, calls for a politically motivated investigation against a friend and colleague only so that at the end of a poorly constructed farce, he could be called a liar.

Their party colleague even managed to call us “antisemites,” one minute before the government of “healing” was sworn in. I know how it is when the powerful people in the state describe you as a traitor, and look over your shoulder to make sure there’s no one behind you.

And so I understand how parties like Meretz and Labor – whose Jewish voters were the first to realize who was next in line, after the Arabs – found themselves in a trap, courtesy of the ever-growing delegitimization by the Netanyahu governments. It’s clear to me why the leaders of those parties, whose voters would not forgive them if they allowed Netanyahu back into Israel’s nerve center, were prepared to make far-reaching compromises to prevent that scenario.

But we paid for that peace of mind in Palestinian currency. For the sake of our compromises we trafficked in their blood, their personal security and their land. We stopped counting how many independent investigations determined that Israeli soldiers shot and killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh; assaults by settlers became a nightmarish routine that made a mockery of the combative statements issued by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev; land was stolen in broad daylight under army protection and government backing at Homesh and Evyatar, and the thieves are still sitting on the property they robbed, while the government gives millions to the settlers to pay for drones that identified Palestinian “illegal construction.”

The justices of the High Court approved the expulsion of more than 1,200 people from Masafer Yatta to turn their homes into a training camp. And to encourage the inhabitants to transfer themselves, for the past week the army has been conducting live-fire training near their homes. The defense minister declared six Palestinian human rights groups terror organizations, with “proof” that was scornfully rejected by every major country. And on and on.

The current government opened a narrow crack that allowed organizations like Breaking the Silence to breathe, to work, to think. Ministers could no longer call you a traitor, because people with similar opinions were with them in the governing coalition. But our ability to speak and act freely is not the goal, and we must not grasp onto it like orphans onto scraps.

It is inconceivable that the line of the current struggle should become the right to open one’s mouth, and the attacks against us must not lead us to forget why we fought to open our mouths in the first place. Only kilometers away, soldiers maintain a tyrannical regime in the name of land-stealing and Jewish superiority; every day, at a bloody price that only rarely finds its way to the media. It’s been a year in which the Palestinians have paid the price of our peace of mind, and doubt has even been cast over their right to defend themselves against Jewish terror.

The liberal sphere in Israel has been under assault in recent years, and still is today. LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights. No achievement can be taken for granted. Any of them could disappear in an instant. But we must not pay for our rights with the rights of another people. Because if we do, then we are not fighting for rights, but for privileges, and they too will be only temporary, devoured from the inside, a celebration of pseudo-democracy on the edge of the abyss.

Avner Gvaryahu is co-director of Breaking the Silence.

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