Some of Israel's political right is engaging in deep self-reflection. Will the left and the center do the same?

PLUS an invitation to join the he Times of Israel’s Amanda Borschel-Dan, Matti Friedman, Yossi Klein Halevi and me for a webinar on how American Jews ought to respond to this unique historic moment.

I’ve now had the following conversation more times than I can count: someone says something about how Gantz and Lapid should join Netanyahu in a unity government, so he can jettison his extreme right flank and lead the country back to some normalcy.

“Let Bibi stay Prime Minister,” the person says. “Gantz and Lapid don’t need a rotation. Just give him a lifeline.”

“What’re the chances they would actually do that?” I always ask.

“I don’t know,” s/he says. “I think they know that a big chunk of their voter base won’t forgive them if they do anything to that allows Bibi to stay in his position.”

I fear that that assessment may be correct.

I joined the protests many months ago because I thought then, and still believe, that the the judicial reform that the government was proposing would undermine—and quite possibly destroy—Israel’s democracy. (That danger is far from over.) But I didn’t join the protests in order to topple the government. As the chant “we’ll bring down the government, you messed with the wrong generation” grew ever more popular, I became increasingly uncomfortable.

Not because I love the coalition (to put matters mildly). But rather, because while I didn’t vote for the winning parties, that’s life, even if some of the characters are reprehensible and anathema to everything I think Judaism ought to stand for. Maybe my choice will win next time; that’s what elections are for. But if the losing side is going to take to the street en masse after every election, the country will be (even more) ungovernable. Had judicial reform not arisen, I—and many of those I know—would not be in the streets.

So when someone says to me that they aren’t sure that Lapid or Gantz would give Bibi a lifeline because they’re afraid of their hard core voter base, I cannot help but notice that on the right, there is a good bit of self-reflection going on. There’s far too much evidence of that to fully illustrate here, but almost none of it makes its way to the English press.

So in an attempt to offer a bit of a lens into “Israel from the Inside,” we’ll take a quick look at two indicators. There’s much more to show, but we’ll suffice with these for now:

  • The video above, from Channel 12 which made its way around social media, so we’ve added English subtitles to illustrate how some lifelong right-leaning voters are rethinking their commitments.

  • A Facebook posting below, from Assaf Sagiv, probably Israel’s most prominent conservative public intellectual, explaining why there is nothing democratic about what this government is doing.

One would have expected such comments neither from the men in the video, nor from Sagiv, just a year ago. But, often away from the English headlines, things are shifting.

How about on the other side of the spectrum? Is there similar hand-wringing going on in the Meretz-Labor voter group? I’m not so sure; if there is, I’m not hearing it nearly as much. After months of resistance, it will be quite ironic if and when we realize that we to get us out of this morass, parts of the left and the center are going to need to become no less self-reflective than parts of the right, that they, too, are going to have to compromise.

More on that below. First, this week’s schedule. Then an invitation to a webinar. And then, our subject …

Here’s what we have planned for this week (subject to changes as the new cycle requires):

  • Monday: A column on the IDF, its combat reading in the face of many now refusing to service, and the notion of the IDF as "the people's army": when did the concept start, and did it just end?

  • Tuesday (today): There are those (including many on the right) who believe that just as the Second Intifada (2000-2004) spelled the death of the left, the crisis which the present coalition has created could spell doom for the right. We look at two takes on this … a posting by Assaf Sagiv, perhaps Israel’s foremost conservative public intellectual, and a news clip, which we will provide in English, interviewing Likud voters—who say that their Likud days may be over.

  • Wednesday: a new book, Israel's Declaration of Independence: The History and Political Theory of the Nation's Founding Moment, by Neil Rogachevsky and Dov Zigler, explores Israel's Declaration of Independence and the debates that accompanied the Jewish state’s founding. Our Wednesday podcast is a conversation with these two authors about their fascinating book.

  • Thursday: Chuck Freilich, a leading Israeli security expert, has appeared on the Israel from the Inside podcast before, This week we’re posting an additional podcast with Chuck, in which he discusses his new book, Israel and the Cyber Threat: How the Startup Nation Became a Global Cyber Power. Cyber warfare is the new front line — is Israel prepared?

Earlier this week, Matti Friedman, Yossi Klein Halevi and I wrote an open letter to American Jews, which you can read here.

We would love to see you with us on your next trip to Jerusalem. In the meantime, we’d like to invite you to join the three of us, the Times of Israel’s Amanda Borschel-Dan, and leaders of the Jerusalem protest for a live Zoom webinar on September 4 at 11:00 a.m. ET – a discussion of where events in Israel are going, what they mean for the Jewish world, and what each of us can do. This webinar is co-sponsored by the Times of Israel and SOS—Save Our Shared Home.

Do you have a question that you’d like answered on the webinar? Leave your question here and we’ll make every effort to address it.

Register here for the webinar

As the video above notes, many polls are suggesting that a chunk (40% of late) of Likud voters are no longer certain that they would vote Likud in the next elections. Numerous polls show Gantz beating Bibi—and Bibi obviously knows that. Will there thus come a moment when Bibi would accept an offer of a unity government from Lapid and Gantz camps?

Many people think “yes.” But would Lapid and Gantz be open to it?

That is what’s far from clear. Have the left and center become as unyielding as the hard right has been?

If you share our desire to forge a community of people engaged in reasoned discussion and respectful disagreement when it comes to Israel, please subscribe today.

"Democracy, by definition, means the consent of the ruled."

Israel's leading conservative public intellectual has a message for the government

Assaf Sagiv has long been associated with Israel's intellectual right. He was the editor of Azure, the intellectual quarterly once published by the Shalem Center, and was later also the head of Shalem Press. Articulate and brilliant, he has, he has written extensively on conservative political philosophy, and is a captivating public speaker.

Since the present coalition was formed, however, Sagiv has broken with his friends, colleagues and the government, becoming a ferocious critic. (Many of his FB posts are public—you’ll have to paste them into Google Translate if you don’t speak Hebrew, but even the inelegant results will give you a sense.)

Even Haaretz took note of Sagiv’s shift, and ran an extensive interview/conversation with him in March.

Haretz screenshot at https://tinyurl.com/yurtyehd

For those with access to Haaretz, the interview is well worth the read. But for those who do not, we’re translating a recent post of Sagiv’s (with his permission), which though brief, captures a fundamental component of his objection to the way the present coalition has been comporting itself.

Asaf Sagiv August 16, 2023

I am very busy editing a book, but I feel that I need to explain something quite elementary to all the self-proclaimed political philosophers who lecture us about democracy and the need to respect the "sovereignty of the people" as a justification for the coup d'état, and can’t understand how this mass protest movement and the soldiers’ refusal to serve suddenly landed on us:

Democratic government is first and foremost, and before anything else, government with the consent of the governed. This is what gives democracy its legitimacy and strengthens it—not some procedural or constitutional apparatus of one kind or another, but rather, this subjective and elusive thing called consent.

And here is the problem: when we talk about "government with the consent of the governed," that means not only the majority but also the minority.

Give up on the consent of the minority, and you are left with tyranny—tyranny with wide public support, but still tyranny.

And what lies at the heart of the consent of the minority [to be governed]? Two fundamental assumptions.

The first assumption is that the majority will not change the rules of the democratic game so dramatically that the minority no longer recognizes the state as its own; and the second, equally important assumption—that the democratic game will be sufficiently fair to leave the minority with the hope (however faint) that one day it, too, will be able to assume power, and perhaps shape the country in the spirit of its values and preferences.

Unfortunately, both of these assumptions have suffered a fatal blow in the current situation. What is the right-wing camp up to in its abysmal folly? They publicly announced their intention to change the nature of the country beyond recognition and also emphasized at every opportunity (as if it wasn’t obvious) that it is highly doubtful that this state of affairs would be reversible, even if only because of demographics, which work in their favor.

In other words, the representatives of the majority actually went out of their way—with glee and with an undisguised thirst for vengeance—to make the minority feel that "the country was taken from them" and to understand that the change is permanent; that things will never revert back to the way they were.

What the scoundrels and fools in power today apparently did not take into account is that a large public that deeply identifies with the state, contributes to it and makes substantial sacrifices for it will react to this coup just as would be expected of any one whose house has been taken from them: they fight furiously for what is (also) theirs, but then starts to come to terms with the loss. And this coming to terms [with what they have lost] is the reason for the disintegration of the army, the crumbling of society, and the fact that many good and talented people are planning to emigrate from here.

And no, that’s not extortion. An extorter is animated by hope; he believes that he will keep the bounty and is in no rush to relinquish it. Many of the Israelis who oppose the coup have already given up or are seriously considering giving up. They’re not even bothering to protest. They are just fading away. Their house was taken, and with it, their hope, too.

And when they leave—after they stop simply showing up when the state calls upon them—those who remain here will have no time for missing them, or for regret. They will be too busy desperately struggling to survive.

Is anyone in the coalition listening to voices like Sagiv’s? If they are not, then the days of Israel’s right (or its democracy, I assume) could be numbered.

A friend for whom I have profound admiration—and who I am pretty sure disagrees with me on many of my positions these days—wrote me this morning, after this post was almost entirely finished. He echoes the concerns I articulated at the very top of this column.

The central problem is that the political opposition does not control the demonstrations which are being led by a cadre of individuals whose goals are not clear and may, themselves, be anti-democratic. The demonstrations, in my estimation, have already succeeded, and the PM would love to compromise and reform the government. But there is no one with whom he can efficaciously negotiate. 

If this analysis is correct, and you may not agree, then all constructive efforts should be directed at the demonstrators to encourage compromise through the established political leaders. 

Ktiva Vachatima Tova to you and your family. 

Perhaps I’m naive, but I don’t share the suspicion that the leaders of the demonstrations are animated by anti-democratic aspirations. (If I’m wrong, then this country faces yet another major challenge.) I do, however, share the concern that some of the leaders of the resistance, from left and center, may indeed feel that the protests have been successful (I’m much less certain that’s the case) and that, with the wind at their backs, there’s no reason to compromise.

If that is true, then the best way out of this crisis may prove to be a dead end.

If that is the case, the good news is that the right, the center and the left will all be responsible for whatever may unfold here—which will likely be something not all that different from what Assaf Sagiv describes.

We will know, soon enough, whether the spirit of introspection—which is meant to be at the heart of this period of the Jewish calendar—spoke to as broad a segment of Israel’s population as we must hope it did.

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Share Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis

With the High Holidays just weeks away, we wanted to share the schedule for Israel from the Inside during that period.

  • During the week of Rosh Hashanah and the Fast of Gedaliah (on Monday, there will be no written column on Monday, September 18th, but we will post our regular Wednesday podcast on September 20.

  • During the week of Yom Kippur, there will be no written column on Monday, September 25th (which is the day of Yom Kippur), but we will post our regular Wednesday podcast on September 27.

  • During the week of the holiday of Sukkot (Monday, October 2 and Wednesday, October 4), we are planning not to post.

  • The regular schedule of written columns on Mondays and podcasts on Wednesdays will resume the following week.

To all who are observing and celebrating, our wishes for a meaningful and joyous High Holiday season.

Update on Autonomies (אוטונומיות)

In a recent post, we noted that we had not found any versions of the TV series, Autonomies, with English subtitles or dubbing. Some readers, though, knew of some options, and share them. If you’re interested in watching the six-part series, check out these links:



Impossible Takes Longer is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at other booksellers.

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Our Threads feed is danielgordis. We’ll start to use it more shortly.