Update from Israel: Flags, and Chill

June 16, 2023


(photos are representative – from Shutterstock)

Friday June 16, 2023


Israel Update: Flags, and Chill


We had an odd moment last Shabbat late afternoon here in Tel Aviv. We were on a walk through Neve Tzedek (nice part of southish Tel Aviv), and a young woman casually dressed walked by with an Israeli flag on her shoulder. I was taken aback. In all my years visiting Israel, I never saw anyone walking down the street hoisting an Israeli flag. Some long-buried habit in me almost saluted as the flag passed by.


Then the “dime dropped” (paraphrasing an Israeli saying). “Oh, she’s headed to the demonstration against the judicial reforms.”  By herself, she looked like a nationalist flag waver. She needed the group to fill out the picture.


The demonstrations were occurring a few blocks north of us, but you’d never know it from the filling cafés and bars as Shabbat ended. I thought I might hear an echo of loudspeakers and shouting taking place, but it was all quiet in Lev Ha’ir (Heart of the City).


A few hours later, we saw people streaming down Rothschild Blvd away from north/central Tel Aviv, walking back from the demonstrations, flags on shoulders. The rather bohemian dress juxtaposed with the flags was truly incongruous. The groups, mostly young people, didn’t look angry. They just looked like kids out on a Saturday night, except for the flags.  I don’t think I had ever seen what people looked like walking back from a demonstration.


I read later that last week the former prime minister Ehud Barak said at that demonstration that it was time for a “civilian rebellion” (meri ezrachi). Others have been warning of a civil war. From the small sampling I saw, the rhetoric did not match reality. No one seemed that they were looking for a fight.


In the press, we read here and there of very small groups of people (in the tens) disturbing the peace at government conferences and speeches, and then at the police stations where those arrested are taken – an almost infinitely small percentage of the 100,000 and more who show up for the demonstrations around the country.


What to make of this?  There is no civil war reported anywhere. No one is taking up arms against each other. There is no civilian uprising. Whom are they going to shoot anyway? The ubiquitous citizen/soldiers dotting the cityscape? People oppose the judicial reforms. Let them vote their conscience when the time comes.


Here is what is happening. The political “opposition” to the ruling “coalition’s” judicial reform program is truly furious, engaging in rhetoric that is as irresponsible as it is ineffective. There is no “fighting in the street.” There is no one to fight. Those supporting the judicial reforms are not showing up to counter-demonstrate. (Were they some of those filling the cafes and bars while the demonstrations were taking place?)


Whatever form of the judicial reforms is passed, I don’t predict much violence. No overthrow of the state. No fascist takeover. I predict that the elections in 2026 will take place, maybe earlier if this government falls. If the opposition becomes the ruling coalition, they will reverse the judicial reforms. The way democracy is supposed to work.




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