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Full Text: What Are Israel's Protests All About?

In an interview with Sidharth Bhatia, documentary filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe says the protests represent an existential crisis for Israel. 

The protests in Israel for the last three months against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to overhaul the judiciary have made headlines all over the world. Citizens who have taken to the streets to stop say the prime minister’s attempts to alter the judicial system will once and for all finish off the courts’ independence.

While the plan has been put in abeyance for the time being due to the protests, it is yet unclear if Netanyahu will try to push it through once the anger dissipates. What exactly is Netanyahu trying to do? And do the protests have the full support of the citizens? To answer these questions, The Wire‘s Sidharth Bhatia spoke to Danny Ben-Moshe, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and academic, who is currently in Israel shooting the protests and talking to the protesters and experts. The following is a transcript of the podcast interview that was published on April 4, 2023. It has been edited for style, clarity and syntax.

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First question, because I’ve been following a little bit of your work after you made the documentary on India. This is kind of here and happening. How did you find yourself covering the protests? Did you go there to shoot or happen to be there and thought of making this documentary? 

No, you know as a documentarian, really what you got to do is follow the story. And unfortunately, the story is not always round the corner from where you live. And also as a documentarian, you have to be passionate about the story. I’m Jewish. I’ve lived in Israel previously. I have a great interest in what’s going on in Israel. And really, when we’re speaking today, it’s just over three months since the protest movement began in Israel. And you know, sometimes, a protest will go and it will be on a weekend and then that’s it. And everyone goes back to their normal life.

These protests – I’ve been watching from afar, I live in Australia – have just been gathering greater and greater momentum. More people, more locations, more passion. And I really wanted… I missed being able to participate in them because the stakes were so high. Sometimes, you know, historic moments occur. I was in the UK not that long ago when the Queen, may she rest in peace, passed away. I’m making a documentary at the moment for the BBC and I was in the BBC building looking down on the newsroom floor, as the news was coming in and then being there at the time of her funeral and memorial, and you kind of feel you’re part of this historical moment. And what’s going on in Israel now is such a moment.

So one, I missed that – being able to be part of it just personally and experiencing it personally. But then I… this might sound a little weird, but let me explain. I have these kinds of little fantasies about time travel. Where would I go, where could I go, if I could travel in time? And I would love to be in Israel in 1948, when it declared independence, or in 1967, after the Six-Day War, when people descended in their thousands to the Kotel, the Western Wall at the end of the war. And then, and not all my travel fantasies are Jewish, by the way.

I woke up a week ago and I thought these protests need to be captured in virtual reality. The 360 round shooting that you wear with a headset. So it’s not just like you’re looking at it but it’s you’re there and you’re experiencing it, you’re part of it. And I wanted to do that, not just now – for people to understand now what is going on. But also if weird people like me down the track, and they want to look at how some of these historic moments pan out, then this footage would enable them to do so. And, and, you know before we were recording, I gave an example. Imagine the moment when the Indian flag went up on Independence. If you could have not just watched the archive of that in black and white, but actually be immersed in that environment, your understanding of it, your feel for it, the emotion of it would be that much clearer.

So basically, I realised that these protests were really coming to a critical head. And they were coming to a critical head because the Passover holiday is coming up here in Israel which is a big national holiday – perhaps an equivalent to Diwali. And I realised I had to get this now. I arrived in the country on Saturday, and I filmed the main protest – which was the largest protest so far – on Saturday night in Tel Aviv, and then on Sunday, unprecedented events happened in this country. And I just, fortunately, was here and was able to film the blocking of the main freeway. And then on Sunday, the demonstration in the Knesset with 80,000-100,000 people. And everyone said to me, of the three months of protests, I got the three biggest days so far. So I was very fortunate. Documentary gods were looking down on me and I was very fortunate to be here at this time. That’s really the long answer to why I chose to make this film now, and to make it in the way I am. 

So, you reacted because you were seeing them grow and grow, and grow. And I’m surprised, you mentioned, they’ve been going on for three months. Protests usually happen for about four or five days and then taper out for various reasons. And [the protest in Israel is] showing no signs of going away for the time being. They’ve made the prime minister slightly take a step back. What are they about? 

Well, I think what they are about explains why the momentum is gathering. Because you’re right, people are coming out, people are coming out every Saturday night. They’re not sitting at home watching TV. They’re not going to see a movie and the numbers are growing and growing. I don’t know, in terms of India, I mean, you’re a massive population… the number of protesters, I’m not good at maths, but we would be talking about hundreds of millions of people coming out every week. I mean that’s the scale proportionally, the equivalent, that’s the scale of what is taking place here.

And why are people coming out? So basically Israel’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence – Israel doesn’t have a constitution, But its founding document is the Declaration of Independence, which really says two things: Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. And that means it’s Jewish in its national character, its public holidays, the colours of its flag – things that are not actually that dissimilar to India. But it is a state where everyone has the right to vote and everyone is protected under the law. Everyone is equal under the law. You cannot be discriminated against – it’s a Jewish state, but you cannot be discriminated against because you are not Jewish.

What happened earlier this year, Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister, formed a government – there was a national election. In Israel, governments are – it’s a bit like Italy – coalition governments. You can have four, five six, seven parties form the coalition. And this coalition was the most extremist… Israel has had right-wing coalitions and conservative coalitions over many years. But still, [there was] an acceptance of the fundamental values of democracy and the rule of law. Here, Netanyahu forms a coalition with two parties that were extreme – Jewish Home was one of them – and the proposal was to enact legislation that would change the governance and the role of law and the Supreme Court in the country.

And I’ll just explain a couple of things. Basically, the Supreme Court here is a really important check and balance on government. That’s a basic of, you know, the Westminster system, the government system. Israel only has one chamber in its parliament. There’s not a second house like the House of Lords in the UK or the Congress and Senate in the US. It has one chamber. So the Supreme Court is a very important check and balance, and has traditionally been very activist. Israel’s a very mobilised, politicised society. So, the government will propose a law, a civil society group will contest the law in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court will say this is legal or illegal. [It does so] particularly under – I don’t go into too much detail – a series of quasi-constitutional laws, I think seven laws, that guarantee sort of fundamental human rights and equality.

The government came along with a very extremist agenda, and I’ll come back to that in a minute because these protests are on two levels of concern. One is the immediate legislative concern about changing the law. And then the other, and arguably the most important, is what could happen if the law is passed. So, in fairly basic terms, just to explain it, there to two key aspects of the legislative reform – one was of the appointment of judges. The appointment of judges here is… there’s a committee made up of jurists, lawyers from the Israel Bar Association and the government. So essentially there has to be a consensus reached that the judges are agreeable to everyone professionally. The law is to change that and it in simple terms gives the government the power to appoint Supreme Court justices. So the risk there is they appoint stooges. Someone who will do their bidding. Someone who will not take the law as the priority over an interest to the governing party. That’s one.

Because they have been appointed by the government.

Exactly, exactly. So that’s one and Israel has a very proud, very fierce and very active judiciary. You know, I mean, Israel is a modern state but Jews are an ancient people. We came into being as a people with the Five Books of Moses, the Old Testament, you know. Law, and adherence to the law, is something that goes very deep in the Jewish tradition. And without getting Biblical, you know, Abraham and Moses, these are people, the patriarchs, they argued with God. And here comes along [Netanyahu who wants] judges who would just bow to whatever the government wants to do, which would fly in the face of the history of the legal, independent judiciary that’s been in this country now for almost 75 years of its existence. So that’s one.

The other thing is there are these quasi-constitutional laws that guarantee fundamental rights and fundamental human rights and the government, these quasi-constitutional laws, the government in the basic human rights. And the government wants to change that so that it can override any law if there’s a conflict between the quasi-constitutional law and the government policy. So that’s basically it in a nutshell.

But why are people so impassioned about this? Because the extremist parties that are in the coalition now, are very opposed to some fundamental rights for all sectors of the community. You know Israel, over 20% of its population is an Arab minority. You have a sizable Muslim minority. Israel has a sizable Muslim and well Arab, Christian and Muslim minority. Israel, while it’s a Jewish state, it’s also a secular state. So in this city, I’m speaking to you from, Tel Aviv, incredible city, the majority of people are secular. They’re Jewish, they identify as Jews. They would celebrate the main Jewish festivals, but they’re not going to be wearing a skullcap, a yarmulke; they will get in a car on the Sabbath and drive, which someone religious would not do. So they’re secular. And there is a real fear in this country that has this long tension between religious and secular. The government will come in and they’ve already proposed certain things to limit secular freedoms. So, essentially, there’s the concern that Israel could move in a theocratic direction. The government could come along, the government are not doing this, but this is the concern and there are elements in the government who wish for this and advocate for this and say we want to have religious law, basically. Imagine how, in Iran, in the 1970s – it was a very liberal progressive place under the Shah. I mean oppressive under the Shah of Iran, but culturally very liberal, and then the Ayatollah comes in and all that freedom goes away. So there have been ministers who have said, you know, wanting to limit freedoms of women or freedoms of gay people – and if there’s no Supreme Court empowered to stop them, then that could happen. So, that’s basically what it’s all about. 

Yeah. As you said, the Supreme Court has been [an] activist [court] and I read a little about what the Supreme Court has done over the last few years. It has overturned political decisions, it has overturned anything to limit LGBTQ communities. And basically, on many occasions told the government, this will not do and there is no stopping – if these laws go through – what this government could and would do. That’s what you’re saying, right? 

Correct. So if, for example, the government came along and said, you know what, we feel that the balance between the role of the judiciary and the government is not working perfectly and there’s a need for reform – I think a lot of people might say, ‘Yeah, okay. How do we do that?’ But one, they’re coming along advocating for that, but also with an absolutely extremist agenda, an extremist agenda that has not existed in government here before.

Let me give you an example. In the 1980s, there was a Jewish fascist party – and Israel prides itself on democracy and with great justification, you know. It’s, you know, it’s used a catchphrase, and I believe it’s right: the only democracy in the Middle East to date. In the 1980s, a party came along, an extremist party – a fascist, Jewish theological party – wanted the country to be a theological state, not a democratic state, by a man called Rabbi Meir Kahane. In the 1980s, his party was banned. In the 1980s, you were not allowed… he had been in the parliament, he was banned from being in parliament, banned from running in elections for being racist. The other night, three-four nights ago, I’m in Tel Aviv at the pro-democracy demonstration. There’s a line of people waving the flags of the Kahanist Movement. So for all these years, they’ve been contained and legal and now they feel, it’s our time, and every element of life in this country as a free society, would change.

The ministers [Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich, are from the extremist parties, who are pushing this legislation, proposing things like in hospitals, on the Jewish holiday of Passover – you traditionally don’t eat bread… this sounds like a minor thing, but you can’t take bread into a hospital. So we are legislating what you are allowed to eat and not eat if you were sick during this holiday. Or hotels, government and businesses should be allowed to decline services to LGBTQ individuals, if that is their preference. So they have no protection against anti-discrimination laws. So these ministers and this party actually come from a very anarchic tradition. Ben Gvir, the minister, has himself been arrested. There is in the West Bank this movement called Hilltop Youth, who say right… there’s the official settlements that get the support of the Israeli government and protected by the army, and then there’s a more extremist element who say, well that we’re going to run over that hill and we’re going to take it over and build a settlement, without the support of government or anything. Ben Gvir has been part of this historically. He’s been arrested as a younger man. So this kind of… It’s a bit of a case if you know the phrase from To Kill a Mockingbird, you know, the lunatics are taking over the asylum. 

A phrase similar to that was popping into my head. Isn’t there a bribery angle also, that Netanyahu is facing corruption charges?

Okay, that is a very good question. Because the issue is: Does Netanyahu actually believe this [the need for judicial reform]? Now I mentioned to you already, we have coalition governments. Benjamin Netanyahu is the head of the Likud party. The Likud party is a traditional centre-right political party, it’s not an extremist party. To the contrary, its foundations, pre-the state of Israel, and for the many years of the state’s existence, it was actually an advocate – in its philosophy and its ideology – of a liberal democracy. The ideological founders of this party, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and its longtime leader Menachem Begin, they were actually jurists, and they spoke about the need for checks and balances and independence. So why is the leader of that party all of a sudden undoing its whole history, and taking a moderate centre-right party to the extreme right and actually turning it into something completely different?

So the question here, is does he believe it? He’s not himself a religious man, even. However, you know, power corrupts and essentially he’s been the leader of the Likud for almost 30 years. That’s a long time, right? Do you lose your objectivity in your direction?

But secondly, he was under investigation for corruption and there was this issue of whether a serving prime minister could serve as prime minister and indeed other ministers, there was another minister who has been, a proposed minister who’s barred from office, Aryeh Deri, because of convictions against him. And essentially it is argued.. I’m just a documentary filmmaker, I don’t know what’s in Bibi Netanyahu’s head. Clearly, he loves power, committed to holding power, and he has been found to be or alleged to be corrupt in his governance of power, that the Supreme Court could prevent him from being in office and holding office. If he can shift the power and the dynamic within the Supreme Court, then his prospects of being found guilty of corruption and therefore not being able to be prime minister would go out the window.

The protesters are saying Bibi go home, just go home, all right? And why are they saying go home? They’re saying go home because he wants to bring the whole house of Israel, the state of Israel, down with him to save his own skin. Just to give you an example. On Sunday night this week, I was on the phone with a journalist, just talking about, “Well, what’s going to happen this week? What should I be filming?” She said, “Oh my god, I’ve got to go”, and slammed the phone down, which when a journalist does that, you know, something big has happened. So Netanyahu had just fired the minister of defence who was from his Likud party, because Likud are not traditionally an extremist party and the defence minister said, “We shouldn’t be doing this law. It’s causing such a backlash.” Two things, one people are refusing to go and do their reserve military service and Israel prides itself on having a people’s army. How can you have a people’s army if you don’t have a democracy? And Israel’s enemies are looking in from the outside and unfortunately, there are lots of them – Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon – and saying, “The state, now, people don’t want to serve the country or there’s a risk that people want to serve the country”, because why would you if it’s extremist and not democratic. And so he fired the defence minister. I then get a text, a WhatsApp message from the journalist, saying, ‘Go down to the protest site.’ I get down there about 10’o clock. There are thousands upon thousands of people just descending in every direction. The police put up barriers. The mass of people just remove the barriers and took over the main freeway in their tens and hundreds of thousands. I left when the battery on my camera died, at about 12:30 at night and I’m just walking back to where I’m staying about 15 minutes away. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people descending, because the feeling was that Netanyahu would even threaten, undermine the security and well-being of this precarious country to protect himself. And it seems that this was like the last straw for everyone. The Histadrut, the trade union movement, announced a general strike. If you were flying out, the airport basically closed. The Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, and the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai, you wouldn’t have been able to go to on Monday because all public servants in Israel went on strike – or many public servants in Israel went on strike. Even McDonald’s chains in Israel, closed.

Everyone went on strike and he realised he’d gone too far, Netanyahu. The pressure was reaching a crescendo and so he’s a very smart cunning politician. That evening, Monday evening, the next day he called a halt for dialogue. Now, most people think in his cunning way, he’s just buying time. But what did he agree to in this halt? He agreed to stop the legislation for a month basically, and he also agreed to give Ben Gvir from the Jewish Power extremist party, he agreed to proceed with giving him a special militia. And you go, hold on a second, what’s going on? This is a country that has a reputation for having a very strong army, the best army in the Middle East, arguably, one of the best in the world, a very skilled police force. Why does it need an armed militia that responds and is commanded not by a professional, but by an extremist politician? I mean this is on a whole new level. So on the one hand, and he agreed, “Okay, I’ll postpone the legislation.” But in doing it, to get a new agreement of the extremist Jewish power party, “I’ll give you a militia.” So he’ll do anything to stay in power, basically.

Yeah, a somewhat cynical calculation. 

That’s a mild way of putting it. 

Now, you must have spoken to participants from all sections of society. Does it cut across, you know, of course, age groups, genders, but also ideologies, all kinds of people including the minorities? 

I mean, yes. You know, the supporters of the government are trying to tarnish the protest movement as left-wing, as if democracy is a left-wing thing rather than a universal thing. That’s not the case. It’s not the case, depending on how you define left and right. If you define left and right on the political spectrum, generally, then no, it cuts across the divide, you know, there are protests here in every city and Israel’s a very kind of diverse society. You have a metropolitan centre, like around Tel Aviv, and then you have more remote communities, and then you have settlements in the West Bank, and then you have a more religious city, like Jerusalem. There are religious groups protesting, they have been protesting, the more moderate settlement communities in the West Bank. There are people from the Sephardic tradition, an Oriental tradition of Jewry, and that Ashkenazi, sort of more white tradition. So no, I would say it cuts across the political divide.

However, the supporters of the government and I was in Jerusalem the other night, where there was the first, basically major protest in support of the government. And I was there when the buses were coming in, basically religious and right-wing political extremists, for the most part, you could see coming in from the West Bank. So in terms of… you know, you spoke before about protests lasting four or five days… I used to live in a suburb of Tel Aviv called Ra’anana. I was talking to a friend who lived there. A very middle-class, kind of regular society, not hip activists like Tel Aviv, not religiously inspired like Jerusalem, just a regular middle class. And this friend explains that they went out the other night… Every week there have been here days of national protest, people have been taking off from their work, going to roads and protesting and waving flags, stopping traffic. And this has happened in this particular community – regular, middle-class middle-aged people going out on the streets. And then he saw the other night, there was a water cannon there. I thought, oh my God, if a water cannon has come to this community, if we and now the regular middle-class, middle-aged people are the radicals… everyone’s been galvanised.

And I got to say, you feel at times that this country is on the brink, because it’s not an exaggeration to say this is an existential issue. Because the question is, can Israel survive if it is not a democracy? Can it survive internally, where you have this eclectic mix of Jews and non-Jews? India has a very diverse society, maybe one of the most diverse in the world, right, in terms of language and region and some religions and castes. So Israel, the people come together under this broad framework of Jewish and democratic. Can it survive, or would it actually split? Could, God forbid, there be a civil war? And given that it has countries and forces that actually want to physically destroy it, cease to exist, Iran with its nuclear weapons; Hezbollah in Lebanon, an extremist Shiite group; and Hamas in Gaza. One thing that is holy here or sanctified here is the army because it’s called the ‘great equaliser’ – everyone, whether you’re rich, you’re poor, you’re religious, secular, you go and you serve together, and you do reserve duty. So you do core service, and then you go back to your normal life. But you’re called up once a year for a month and also if there’s a military action. And this is the most sanctified element of this society. And the unprecedented has happened. Pilots who are the elite of the elite of the military have been saying, we’re not going to do our reserve duty. [They say] we’re not serving a dictatorship. At the demonstrations, there are people in green t-shirts with a slogan, nut essentially it’s “reservists against the legislation”, refusing to go and do their reserve duty, because they’re prepared to put their lives on the line for this country. They’re willing to do that but they’re willing to do that if it’s a democratic country, not a dictatorship. And so it really is the most critical moment… when the history of this country is written, whichever way this pans out politically, this is going to be a major chapter. Where if you sit down to write that book and you go, okay, in 1947 the United Nations decided to divide Palestine, British Mandate of Palestine, and create two states, right, that’s the sort of division, very familiar to your audience in India, and then in ‘48 declared independence. The Six Day War. This will be there and we don’t yet know which way it’s going to go.

But I got to tell you, I go through experiences of elation and depression over this. One, the elation that the love, passion, care, identification, and belief in this country is so strong that hundreds of thousands of people are prepared to demonstrate – week in, week out, week in, week out – because they love it. They care for it. They know that this is the only home for Jews. There’s only one Jewish state. And civil society, if you needed… if I was a professor, which I used to be… and I needed to teach a master class on civil society, civil society activism, and maybe this is the reason why a dictatorship won’t happen. Well, this would be my case study. On the other hand, I’ve got to be honest with you, right? We’re in the media, we’re not in the propaganda business. I have people from the local crew that I’m using to film with, and people who I’ve spoken to on the streets in making this documentary, who say, you know, we’re looking at, you know, getting foreign passports, having a back-up plan, there’s no way we’d stay here if this happened. And I kind of go from the swing of emotions of, ‘Yes! Civil society it’s leading the way to…’. But – if the worst happens, the worst will happen. 

It’s almost a quasi-depressive state to be in because, you know, when you think of the country you grew up in and where people came from all over the world, are splitting. On the other hand, there are several things that glue the country together. The Supreme Court is one of them, as you said. What are diaspora communities saying? You live in Australia and diaspora communities tend to be, in my experience, I don’t want to generalise, somewhat conservative. 

Yeah, I mean, it’s true. I live in Australia, I’m from the United Kingdom. So I am familiar and you know, before I became a full-time filmmaker, I used to be an academic. And the Israel diaspora relationship was one of my areas of expertise. Generally speaking, traditionally speaking, we have what’s called a mobilised model, where the diaspora stands by the homeland. And your assessment, I mean of course nothing is ever quite black and white, but it’s generally true, more kind of conservative. And the diaspora has been a great friend of Israel, stood solidly by Israel, which I believe has been right and helpful.

I’ve personally had conversations with individuals in leadership positions in the diaspora saying, ‘You need to speak out about this. Israel needs to hear that the concern about this is not just within the Jewish and non-Jewish population within Israel, but extends across the diaspora.’ Not out of hatred, not out of anti-Zionism, not out of the Boycott Divestment [and Sanctions] (BDS) movement, but out of identification with the state as Zionist, as the Jewish homeland. And I get varied responses, and, you know, I think, well the Australian Jewish community is particularly conservative, but there have been unprecedented statements. There have been, in a park at the end of my street where I live in Melbourne, there was a protest. A civil society protest against the Israeli government’s legal changes. There have been protests in… Bibi Netanyahu went to London recently. Normally the Jewish community, he would be feted, and praised, and adhered to, and lauded. There were protests on the streets by the Jewish community against the prime minister of Israel. I’m not talking about these fringe groups, Jews Against Zionism or what-have-you, who are totally peripheral and anti-Zionist. I’m talking about people who love and care and support the state who are coming out against the visiting prime minister. The same has happened in America. American Jewish groups, leadership groups. Groups like the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League – I’m talking about major Jewish organisations – have come out with statements saying the legislation needs to stop.

I don’t get the impression that Netanyahu is listening. And there is a danger here – it’s very much a secondary danger to the future of democracy in Israel. But there’s a danger here, longer-term, that Israel and the diaspora could fall further apart as a result. Because if your values, if you live in Western or democratic countries, is that democracy is a basic tenet. And then you see that that’s not the case in Israel, then your identification with it would be diminished. So, no this has extended, this has galvanised not just Israeli civil society, but also the diaspora. And I don’t think… it’s not just that Bibi Netanyahu has been told he won’t be welcome to the White House – which would be a big dent to his ego – I think he’s also not going to be welcome in Jewish diaspora circles. And that’s pretty unprecedented.

This whole thing is unprecedented. The scale of protests, the length of the protests, the way the protests have come and captured all sectors of society and extended beyond the state to the diaspora, shows that we’re very much in uncharted waters. The feeling in the streets here is palpable and you know, I’m just sitting in an apartment talking to you from Tel Aviv, and there’s the organised big protests and then I can be sitting here and I hear the chants, you know, one of the chants, “Democratia, democratia!”, and then there will be 100-200 people just walking along flags. When the [defence] minister was fired the other night, I was sitting in the apartment and all of a sudden car horns started going off, you know, everyone to the tune. ‘Dun dun dun dun, Democratia, democratia!’ It is everywhere.

The protests are organised through WhatsApp. Basically, there are WhatsApp groups, and the messages are coming fast and furious. It’s impossible to keep up with it. There’s going to be a demonstration here, there’s going to be a protest there. There’s going to be this tomorrow and this today, and there are also more kind of forums, coffee shop forums. It is everywhere. You cannot escape it. The country is completely galvanised by it and maybe that is the cause for hope, you know, that people care so much, they love so much, they know what’s at stake. Civil society is so sophisticated in this country.

And going back to the diaspora, there have been a number of articles by leading Jewish intellectuals who are involved in Israeli diaspora affairs, who have actually said, we need the diaspora to speak up. There is an organisation called the Jewish Agency for Israel, which kind of governs the relationship between Israel and the diaspora. It doesn’t involve itself in political matters. The head of the Jewish Agency just the other day stood up and said, ‘This needs to stop.’ No one is untouched by it.

I just want to go back and just say one thing about the security of the country, just so people understand how defiant Bibi Netanyahu is. You have the high-tech sector which you know, this startup country who are basically saying the leaders are coming out very formally and saying, “We are going to relocate overseas.” There’s going to be a brain drain or there’s going to be a lack of investment. The economic consequences for this country could be catastrophic. The former governors of the Bank of Israel, Nobel Prize winning economists have said, this will be an economic disaster. Militarily, you’ve had the former heads, Chiefs of Staff of the Military, Heads of the Mossad, Heads of the Shin Bet, the internal security said, this is a danger to our security and well-being. Netanyahu doesn’t seem to care.

So I think when you talk about… it’s not just young, hippie left-wing teenagers, with hipster long beards, and tattoos on their arms who are demonstrating – just to cast a stereotype – and who are opposed to this. It’s [people at] the highest level economic, military and security [affairs], who are standing there side by side with the protesters in the streets, week after week after week. And it’s not going to end until this ends. 

An Israeli flag. Representative image. Photo: Taylor Brandon/Unsplash

Do you have the minorities who understand that it’s important for them? Or they feel that it’s not their concern? The Arabs, the Muslims. 

Yeah. You know, the Arab minority get it, I mean, you know, they would be on the front line. I mean, recently, there was a tragic heartbreaking incident, where there was in the West Bank, in a village – an Arab village – a Jewish car was driving through, someone was shot… I can’t remember the details. I think they were killed and a bunch of settlers went to this Arab town and basically inflicted a pogrom. And I mean, that’s in the West Bank which is slightly different, but it just gives you an example of what could happen if this legislation gets through. And the Arab minority in Israel absolutely understand, perhaps more acutely than anyone else, although everyone else [also] gets it, what’s at stake. Because the parties who are, the extremist parties who are really pushing this, you know, are essentially anti-Arab. So the first rights that they would curtail, you know, would be those of the Arabs. I mean, I’m making a prediction here… It’s not like they’ve put forward legislation. But logically, the first ones would be the Arabs. First it might be Arabs, then it might be gay people, and then it might be women from across the sector. I was at the Jerusalem protest at the Parliament [the Knesset], the other day. You know, the leader of one of the Arab parties, was right there at the front speaking to people, being there alongside Yair Lapid, the main opposition leader, and Benny Gantz. Lapid, the sort of centrist leader, Merav Michaeli the Labour party, the left-wing leader, and this leader of the Arab party was there too. So everyone gets it. You don’t need to be a professor of political science or any other rocket scientist to get this. It’s not that complex. Democracy is a system of governance that ensures our freedoms. Take that away and anything could happen. And history has taught us that. And as Jews, history has taught us that very acutely. So, I think there’s this great sensitivity and understanding to that, and hopefully, that will lead through these protests, to prevail. But, you know, I’m not a prophet, so I don’t know. 

I can see you are still in a dilemma being there. Thank you, Danny, for this lucid analysis about what’s happening in Israel, which as you say, could decide the country’s future. That was Danny Ben Moshe, a documentary filmmaker, who’s in Israel to make a VR, virtual reality documentary, on the protests that have been going on for the past three months.

We will be back once again next week with another guest on The Wire Talks. Until then, from me, Siddharth Bhatia and the rest of the team, goodbye.