by Brian on August 13, 2023

in In the News,Judicial coup,Politics

For 31 weeks straight, protesters demonstrating against the Israeli coalition’s right-wing coup have been chanting “busha!” Hebrew for “embarrassment.” For most of this time, we yelled “busha” at the government. 

Embarrassed puppy

But now that the first of the judicial coup laws has been passed, it’s no longer an epithet being hurled in the direction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, MK Simcha Rothman and their misguided cronies. 

Now it’s me that’s embarrassed – for my country. 

How can I defend Israel to those who call it racist, homophobic and xenophobic, if that’s in fact what we are becoming? 

“Don’t be embarrassed for the country,” my wife, Jody, tried to console me. “This has been an unprecedented moment of patriotism for those of us fighting to keep Israel democratic. Be embarrassed for this particular government.”

Wise words I would normally heed. But these are not normal times.

As I write this, still in shock after the gang of brutish thugs, otherwise known as the coalition, has hijacked my country, embarrassment is indeed the operative term.

My “busha” stems from a deeply disturbing insight: We Jews seem to be prone to corruption whenever we get a taste of power. (Yes, I know this is not exclusive to the Jewish people, but that’s what I’m writing about here.)

Israel had two periods of sovereignty prior to the establishment of the current state. Neither lasted more than 75 years. 

We are now at 75 years again, and we seem to have learned nothing. Baseless hatred, which the rabbis decry as the reason for the Second Temple’s devastation, is the name of the game again. 

Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, puts it this way: 

“I always took for granted that the greatest threat to the well-being of the Jewish people is ‘sinat hinam,’needless hatred. The last months have forced me to revise that understanding: The greatest threat we face is zealotry. Ancient Judea fell not primarily because of hatred among Jews but because fanatics provoked a hopeless war against Rome and then proceeded to burn the granaries within besieged Jerusalem” in a bid to force locals to join the fight.

I write these sentences fully aware that they will be construed by some readers as antisemitic. That I’m giving ammunition to BDS supporters. That by describing an Israel with all its warts, I’m harming ties with our allies abroad.

But how else to explain what is happening in this country? 

Every politician in the coalition who voted for “reasonableness” bill is guilty of a shocking abuse of power. Some simply wanted to hold onto their jobs. Others clamored for a “salami” approach that will allow them to push their agenda once the current furor dies down.

Their goals are rapaciously transparent: Annex the West Bank. Pack the courts with judges who turn a blind eye to discrimination. Shut down media critical of the government. Make draft dodging state policy. 

The fallout from the passage of first coup law was excruciating and quick.

The credit agencies are downgrading us.

Citibank warned investors not to put money into Israeli companies until things “calm down.”

Seventy percent of high-tech firms have already moved some of their money, staff and intellectual property overseas. 

Twenty-eight percent of the respondents told pollsters they are thinking of leaving. Israeli Relocation company Ocean Group says 90% of the queries it receives these days are about how to flee.

That’s on top of the tens of thousands of soldiers, pilots and reservists who are poised to suspend their volunteer IDF service.

Haaretz columnist B. Michael wrote a piece entitled, “In praise of gratuitous hatred for this Israeli government.”

Hatred, Michael opines, “provides immunity to apathy; it thrills, liberates, exhilarates, satisfies. It relieves fatigue and despair. It is the weapon of the weak against the strong, the revenge of the trampled against the tramplers.”

I find myself filled with emotion too – not outright hatred but anger. It’s an awful feeling. I don’t want it! 

But maybe it’s better than “busha,” since, as Michael implies, anger can be channeled into constructive action. The key is ensuring that any such action does not become violent, something at which the protest movement has thus far excelled.

“Don’t give up! Today it is absolutely clear that the current government has lost all legitimacy to rule,” exhorted singer Noa (Achinoam Nini) in the days after the vote. “The healing of Israeli society can only begin with the forming of a new government – stalwart and responsible – no matter what side of the map it’s on.”

Eetta Prince Gibson, former editor of The Jerusalem Report, writes in the Forward that the crisis Israel is facing has “clarified my reasons for and reinforced my commitment to being here. I came to Israel because I believe that the establishment of Israel is the most important experience in modern Jewish history, and I want to be a part of it… I am here to help Israel become Jewish and democratic, even if I still don’t know if those two ethics can ever coexist…I have the opportunity, and the obligation, to at least try to affect Israel’s future.”

The road ahead will be long and strewn with potholes (as well as police water cannons spewing skunk spray). With the Knesset on recess, the summer may be calmer but, unless there’s some dramatic peace initiative over the coming months, autumn will be just as inflammatory.

While it’s impossible to predict the future with any kind of certainty, I do believe the protestors supporting a free and open, non-theocratic Israel will prevail. Maybe the High Court will overturn the reasonableness law when it meets in September. Maybe elections are closer than we think.

But just as democracy and Judaism must go together, so do pride and embarrassment. Only by holding those two clashing emotions at the same time can we see what we’ve become – and put a stop to what we’re becoming. 

To do anything otherwise would be a real “busha.”

I first wrote about my “busha” for The Jerusalem Post.

Image of embarrassed puppy by Design Wala on Unsplash

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