Friendship and Dissension

The cause should be the issue.

Israelis of every stripe have taken to the streets to protest judicial reform. Some protest all judicial reform; some object to parts; and others protest because they can.
    Chagit has been my client for the past three years. Much of our bonding has evolved from a shared passion for protecting the environment, eschewing plastic and obsessing over tiny homes. We exchange design videos and sigh the same sigh, both of us dreaming of purchasing a piece of land in Israel’s north and constructing a few rustic, cleverly designed units for our respective families. Both Chagit and I are religiously observant, married and educated, albeit she has earned a doctorate and is a widely published academic historian. 
    While I have never hid that my political and social views hover comfortably on the right side of the aisle, Chagit leans solidly to the left of center, standing out from many like-minded citizens because she is Sephardic/North African. She is descended from a prestigious family of Moroccan educators. I have observed over the past 28 years of living here that the Israeli right is where most North African (Mizrachi) Jews place their votes. The left appears to be the natural home for those with European ancestry (Ashkenazim). Although I am undoubtedly Ashkenazi, I’ve always voted with the Sephardim. Go know.
    Chagit and I concur that the protests are suspect due to glaring participation of special interest groups that have nothing in common with the issue at hand. These groups dilute the efforts of well-informed individuals like my friend, who are attempting to sway the direction of the government. I have never attended one of the protests because frankly, I am curious to see where the government initiative will lead. I am not frightened. When I’ve asked acquaintances who are hell-bent on upending the plan to explain what is being pushed and what do they propose in its stead, I discover that too many haven’t done their homework, haven’t actually read the proposals, and are protesting an agenda that remains, to them, an enigma.
    I suspect that it is simpler to access a 40-second sound bite and determine one’s stand. I’ve also been guilty of this type of intellectual sloth. Still, too often, I’ve heard young people plan the upcoming Saturday night with, “Are you going to the protest? It’s a great way to meet girls/guys.”
    Chagit attended a recent demonstration and came away shocked and saddened. Instead of hearing inspiring chants that trumpet the cause of nearly six months of taking to the street, she was besieged with deafening shouts of “Rak Lo Bibi”! (“Anyone but Bibi!”) Not only did she see this as a shortsighted, anemic strategy, she feels that the Rak Lo Bibi camp deepens the divide between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim.
    Chagit intuits that those who blindly call for the dissolution of the administration are, either unwittingly or deliberately, fundamentally racist. “I’m an outsider at a big party where everyone else is loosely related.”
    A national crisis center reports that there is an approximately 25% uptick in the calls they typically receive since the beginning of the protest campaign. According to the director, the people attend these protests for disparate—not unified—reasons. The populace is unnerved and anxious to find a common enemy: Something or anyone who can level the playing field and help them speak the same language. But alas, like the Tower of Babel, the unity that these protesters seek is fragile and elusive.
     When the cause is no longer the issue, we’ve lost the ability to celebrate our differences or be kind to the stranger that sits next to us on the bus. That is the day when everyone loses.

New York native ANDRREA SIMANTOV has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.






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