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Taking to the Streets: an Israeli Teen Shares Her Perspective

Niva Cohen

Editor In Chief

Democracy’s alarm bells are ringing globally as the Israeli Knesset considers a set of judicial reforms that could remove all checks on the governing coalition. Western leaders are worried; Diasporic Jews are worried; my family is certainly worried. My mom obsessively consumes and reshares media about “the latest” in Israel. I try to stay engaged, but one can only learn so much from thirty-second Twitter clips and three-minute articles from The Times of Israel. To get a sense of what Israel actually feels like right now, I texted my friend Idan Breier Ben Mosha. Idan is an Israeli high school senior witnessing the “chaos,” as she calls it, firsthand.

When it comes to the governing Knesset and its reforms, Idan is afraid. She sees the current leadership as radical, homophobic, chauvinistic, and racist. “People who hold extreme views and hate for Arabs are in the government right now. It’s very scary,” Idan said. Of course, not all Israelis feel that way – Israel is a diverse country with myriad political perspectives. Some are overjoyed about the religious presence and right-wing ideology of the Knesset’s governing coalition. But many seem to share Idan’s worries.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest the proposed judicial reform. Even “people who were indifferent until now are going out and protesting,” according to Idan. It’s a movement with force and manpower, not one relegated to the fringes of Israeli society. Idan has seen wide religious and political representation at the protests. The rallying cries have called forward members of every demographic description.

The first protest that Idan attended was quiet, but momentum and intensity have mounted since. Today’s protests boast larger crowds and more hostile confrontations with police forces. “It’s an experience,” Idan said. “It’s a feeling that’s good[, to be out in the streets]. Sometimes, there’s a feeling of anger and sadness and pain and fear, but there is also a lot of hope. You see full crowds of people that feel like you feel and worry like you worry – it’s empowering.” It seems to me that the potentially antidemocratic reform has stirred up democracy at its finest, as people gather in the streets to demand change.

The international community worries about where these reforms will leave Palestinians, but I wondered if Israelis were considering the same questions. This government took charge over three months ago, so its attitude toward Palestinians and settlements is nothing new. “There is really no discourse on anything [other than the judicial reform] that is interesting and important,” Idan said. From public transportation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all other issues have fallen by the wayside as Israelis fear the loss of their voices. Jewish settlers attacked the Palestinian village of Huwara in the West Bank last month. Idan condemned the violence, as have many of the protesters, but it is not where their attention lies. “It’s not really something that’s central right now. It’s a shame, but that’s the situation.”

I asked Idan if her community knew about the outpouring of support from American Jews. My mom has joined a WhatsApp group deeply upset by the potential loss of democracy in Israel. She spends time every day rewatching speeches on Youtube and decoding the Hebrew. I wondered if Israelis knew anything about Americans like my mom, who feel so connected to Israel that they are losing sleep out of concern for it. Idan told me that there have been some articles about the world’s reaction. But like Palestinians, Diasporic Jews take a backseat to the present fight to preserve democracy and protest the reforms.

“For me personally, it’s important for American Jews to criticize Israel. It is part of the point,” Idan said. I had asked if she thought we had the right to state an opinion – if it was worth our condemning the Israeli government when our words might be twisted as some prooftext for our disillusionment with Israel. Idan seems to think it is worth it. As long as we’re curious to hear from Israelis and genuinely care about Israel’s future, any criticism is loving and constructive. Idan insisted that, no matter what the country, it’s important for the international community to watch for wrongdoing and call it out. For Jewish Americans, this responsibility compounds – we aren’t just the international community. As members of Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel), we must condemn when we see fit to condemn (and by all means, support when we see fit to support). We owe that to our people. We owe that to Idan.

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