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On the Verge of a Constitutional Crisis

The following is a transcript of Episode 69 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: Hello, my name is Daniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project. Major support for For Heaven’s Sake comes from the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation. 

And our theme for today is stepping back from the abyss. And just like in all the weeks that proceeded, we’re at a momentous time and Elana and Yossi and I, we’re trying to, to understand it, to think about it and, and to help you both see it and look forward in a more productive way. But right now we’re at an abyss and we need to talk about it, and that’s gonna be our theme.

In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself, we discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish. And then Elana Stein Hain, head of the Beit Midrash of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and Senior Fellow, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin. 

Last week, President Herzog publicly pleaded with the government to rescind its judicial overhaul plan as currently proposed and begin negotiating with the opposition. In the meantime, the legislation blitz continues unabated on the other side. The protests against the government are merely growing every day from week to week.

In pushing hundreds of thousands of Israelis into a state of acute fear and rage, and even despair, the Netanyahu government made a terrible mistake, and everybody knows that where we are now is not deniable. Unless the government heeds Herzog’s plea, our country could be on the verge of a constitutional crisis and God forbid, even a civil war, and if not a civil war, a profound, profound level of dysfunction, which will deeply harm the future of Israel. 

How’d we get to this point? What can we do to avert some of the negative consequences? On the one hand, it’s not new. For 75 years, we defy the odds and managed to keep a fractious society together. But there’s a sense that this is a different moment. This is not a moment about a disagreement about a policy, a disagreement about the Kotel, a disagreement about a particular issue.

Here there’s a sense that the future of Israel is on the table. And the way we are talking about it, the way we’re handling it is leading us to an abyss. How do we pick up the pieces, my friends? How do we begin to start talking with each other and to begin to heal our country?

Yossi, nice to be with you.

Yossi: Good to be with you. 

Donniel: You’re hearing us from 10,000 miles away in Vancouver as you’re God willing, awaiting your first grandchild. Hugs and kisses. We’re praying with you and holding on. 

Yossi: Thank you. Thank. Pretty amazing moment and emotionally dichotomous because one side of me is in anticipation, God willing, of great joy. The other side of me is living in constant dread. And I don’t know whether to sleep well because things have never been better for me personally or whether to be an insomniac raging in the night because of what’s happening to my country.

So that about sums me up.

Donniel: Yossi, so right now it’s five o’clock in the morning. So I, today you’re the raging lunatic in the night, right? We got you at five o’clock in the morning. You’re not sleeping well today. Okay, so let me ask, let Yossi, you know, I have no interest in talking about the reform or the overturn right now.

We talked a lot, all our readers have probably read 400 different articles on each one of the core stages. I don’t wanna talk about flaws or non-flaws in the reform itself, but what brought us to a moment where we’re on the verge, literally of civil war or unbelievable damage to Israel’s economy, internationally, Netanya was the master of keeping us safe. That’s why people vote for him. Cause at the end of the day, we’re in good hands. 

But as a society, we’re beginning to break. What brought, what do you think is the principal thing that got us here?

Yossi: Just, just one small but important correction. Netanyahu was the master in keeping us safe.

Donniel: Yossi, just for the record, what I did was, I was trying to give you a chance, because I know this is your mantra and I know, so I tried to slip it through to see, you know, can I get one by Yossi cause it’s five o’clock in the morning. 

Yossi: No, no, no, not on this one.

Donniel: Could you, for like one minute, I’ll, could you for one minute, like

Yossi: Not on this one. I’m, you know, why, Donniel, you know why?

Donniel: Fair enough, that’s okay. But you can’t blame a guy for trying.

Yossi: Right. Because what this moment reminds me of more than any other moment, is the time before the Rabin assassination in the early 1990s. And at that time, I went from being a supporter of the Oslo process to being an active opponent. 

And one of the main reasons for that was I felt that the Rabin-Peres government was tearing Israel apart. They were forcing a policy down the throats of half this country, exactly half this country, that felt that empowering Yasser Arafat was leading us to the abyss and we actually stepped into the abyss with the Rabin assassination.

And it’ll be interesting, I think, for the sake of this conversation, to go back to that moment after the assassination and look at how, how did we pull back then? Because there’s, I think, some very important models that are useful now.

But to just to further unpack your question a little bit, a government is forbidden to go for all or nothing. To try to impose the totality of its ideological agenda on a reluctant half of the country, that in the past it’s been willing to compromise. If you look at secular Israel, the enormous amount of compromises it’s made on religion and state, on accommodating the ultra-Orthodox, on accommodating the settlement. 

And sometimes I think that secular Israel are saints and that’s, that willingness to compromise, which has really defined religion and state issues, left right, all these years has gone unnoticed, unappreciated, until this government came along and forced us to recognize how precious the delicate balance and internal compromises that makeup Israeli society has been. 

We exist because we are a web of imperfect compromise. This government came along like the Rabin-Peres government in the early nineties and broke all the laws. And I remember with the Rabin-Peres government, one of its major mistakes, this was the year before the Oslo process, was to hand the education ministry to Shulamit Aloni, who was a radical secularist. 

Now, when you strip the power of religious Zionism, you hand the education ministry, which was traditionally the bailiwick of religious Zionism, and you hand it to the most extreme secular force and then you empower Yasser Arafat, you’re giving the religious community a sense that there’s no oxygen left, it’s losing everything. 

That’s how I feel today. I feel that my Israel is being totally dismantled and just as I opposed the all or nothing policies of the Labor government in the nineties, that’s how I feel now, for Likud.

Donniel: I really appreciate, the comparisons to Oslo, I think, are fascinating. And I remember how Oslo was passed getting one member of the opposition to join the coalition by giving him a Mitsubishi. 

Yossi: Yes, the Mitsubishi of Goldfarb.

Donniel: Today, you couldn’t, today, you need a better car. You know, you need a Tesla at least. But I think the comparison is really very profound and the reason why I love it so much is that it points to an inherent problem of the potential of the corrupting nature of winning an election, or of power itself.

So you point to the fact that they are trying to push something through. It’s not being done in consensus. And this moment is as significant. You don’t change a country without time and consensus. I think it’s very correct. And all of us have to remember that each one of us are sensitive when the other one is doing it to us. And I really love that.

There’s another feature. When I look at this moment and I see Levin and I see Rothman or I see people who speak about I am for “the Reform,” or in a moment I’ll get to those against the reform, but those who are for reform, most of them spend almost all of their time talking just to themselves.

And your comparison to Oslo reminds me because I loved it. But guess who I spoke to? Myself. Did I know? Ask me. Did I really know depth of the disagreement? Or did I discount the disagreement? I discounted it. I did. And there’s something methodologically. You know, we’re at a moment that we have to figure out like what we’re doing wrong, because our job as Jews is not to repeat the same thing over and again.

You have, each group’s speaking exclusively to their selves, and when you speak exclusively yourselves, that’s the real check and balance on government. Check and balance is not a formal thing. You know, you have the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. It’s making sure that you’re speaking to other people who are telling you, one second, there’s another part of the story that you’re not hearing.

And so when Rothman gets and says all the demonstrations, all they care about, it has nothing to do with the judiciary, they just wanna overturn a democratically elected government. There’s something about political discourse to your own people where when you could sit in your own little room and you can figure out what the country and the pace, and you could say, oh yeah,  by Pesach, let’s create the most significant judicial reform in the history of Israel, and let’s do it in a month and a half.

And one of the more beautiful things, which I wanna come back to in a moment is that a whole community got up and said no. But before we get to that, no, in a moment, Elana, you just went through or you’re still going through, in the United States, like I feel a little depressed. Are we following your play playbook? And like, that doesn’t make me that happy.

But you’re already an expert at this moment of living at the abyss. As you watched America, what was it that got us there? 

Elana: Well, soo, it’s actually interesting, I think a lot of people pointed to this idea of people not talking to each other and becoming alienated from each other. But one thing, I have to say, that feels different is, you know, after Trump was elected, you’d see all these liberals walking around with the book Hillbilly Elegy because it would help you understand the other side. It’s like, oh, well, who voted for Trump? And what are their issues? An I need to understand them. 

I’ll tell you what feels different as I’m watching Israel. You’ve got people on the right protesting and you’ve got people on the left protesting. So I actually think you’re paradoxically, from the Civil War perspective, I think in some ways you’re in a better place than we were because it’s not as simple as those who oppose the judicial overhaul are all liberals.

Donniel: Yeah. When Miriam Adelson writes a major editorial attacking, you’re right, it isn’t, there is an abyss, but it’s a more complicated one. When, who’s fighting against this reform.

Elana: Yes. It feels more like the government against the people than it does just the people against each other. So I’m just experiencing that watching from afar.

Donniel: Good. I think it’s, but I gotta tell you, I just came from a weekend where we gathered, you know, Hartman Institute has hundreds of schools that we work with, and part of what we’re doing, yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a commercial for the Hartman Institute, but it has a point to it, but I’m allowed as president of the institute.

But part of what we’re doing in shifting our programs is that I’m trying to create, all the thousands of people who are graduates, I’m trying to create networks of people who will be agents of social transformation. I’m taking everybody who studied at Hartman and I’m saying, okay, stand up now.

And so I went for a weekend with 50 principals, just these 50 principals alone. The average school size there is 500, 1000. One of the principals has 5,000 students and there’s, huge schools. And I’m saying stand up, let’s talk about what are the categories of a new social unified coalition. Right, left, cause we’re all there.

And Elana I want to tell you. I’ve met there the people who I don’t meet at the demonstrations. I wanna tell you, it’s also people against people. There are some right-wing, there are. But there is a whole slew of people for whom this is something that they are very, very comfortable with. So it’s not, you’re right, it’s not a right-wing, left-wing divide only. But there still is a very strong right-wing left-wing divide.

And the level of distrust, and by the way, I’m not just interested in people talking with other people. I want people listening to somebody else. I learned so much this weekend just listening. I gave a lot of lectures, which moved me deeply, and I loved my lectures, but listening to where people are and I think we’re just, we’re speaking to ourselves, not listening, but you’re right. Maybe a little saving grace, and maybe this won’t move us to that level of civil discourse is the fact that there are increasing numbers of people on the right joining it as well.

Yossi, this last Shabbos here in Jerusalem. I don’t know, half the audience were Orthodox and they were coming

Yossi: At the demonstrations.

Donniel: Yeah, and they were not just coming from the liberal shuls, like Shira Chadasha, Tzion, and Yedidya. I think half of Nitzanim, mainstream orthodox shul, was showing up. Half of Ramban, you’re right, Elana, it is reaching across. So I think that’s a really valuable thing to remember.

But Yossi, going back to like, what, okay, they’re pushing it through. They didn’t listen, didn’t talk. What was their core miscalculation? Because it’s clear that there was a major miscalculation now, and everybody in the government, with the exception of maybe Levin, is looking for a compromise right now. What was their mistake?

Yossi: You know, when you listen to people on the right or some Charedim, some of the Ultra-Orthodox community speak about Tel Aviv, there’s this patronizing contempt. Oh, these are people who, you know, I remember my cousin, my, I have Haredi cousin who used to talk about chilonim, secularists with two children and a dog, and they care about the dog more than their children. These are people without values.

And I think that that parts of the right came to believe their own rhetoric that their opponents, who they call the left, anyone who opposes the government is the left, have no values. They, are the repository of Jewish identity, Jewish values. And I think that what these demonstrations in part are about, are an expression of outrage. How dare you look at a population that sends its children to the army, that pays taxes, that is the backbone of modern, successful Israel. How dare you speak about this population with contempt instead of gratitude?

And so partly, you know, and this goes back to what you were saying, when you only speak to yourself, when you only read your camp’s newspapers, and you listen to the radio that’s produced by people from your camp, you come to believe your own distorted reality. You’re not seeing, the other becomes a caricature.

And that’s what’s happened. And what’s so ironic in Israel is that we’re such a small country. It’s, it’s so intimate. Everyone’s on top of everyone. We all know people from the other communities, but somehow know they’re the exception to the rule. You know, they’re the good ultra-orthodox, they’re the good secular.

And instead of realizing that each community, each of our tribes as we call them here  is the repository of another set of values that helps make this an extraordinary country.

Donniel: Again, I wanna apologize to our audience. We’re not gonna find disagreements. I think it’s, they miscalculated the values on the other side. And the other side,

Yossi: So you just said it, you, Donniel, you just said it in five words. And because it’s six in the morning here it took me two minutes to say it. But that’s right, that’s exactly right.

Donniel: No, no, but it was very powerful and beautiful. I think there’s another thing that they miscalculated, you know, Yossi, I am better at hiding my politics than you are. At least recently, you’re so overt. You’ve become so far extreme left. Yossi, it’s so funny. Yossi is now the far extreme left. But you at least you helped me feel that I’m mainstream.

Yossi: I’m, it’s true. I’m in a state of outrage.

Donniel: Of outrage. You absolutely are.

Yossi: It’s emotional. It’s not political. It’s an emotional state.

Donniel: I know. I have my emotions more in check than you do for good or for bad. But I have a better denial system than you. But when the demonstration started, I even wrote about this, I said, there’s nothing we could do. They have a 64-seat government. They won. There’s nothing that we could do, and that the people who are demonstrating are by and large, not the people who voted for them, and so, okay, we’ll demonstrate. 

And after the first demonstration, Netanyahu said, oh, there were a hundred thousand people? I had two and a half million people voting for me. You’re not impressing me. And there was a sense of disempowerment because in Israel, you know, you have, there’s three branches of government. You know, you have the executive, you have the legislature, and you have the judiciary and Netanyahu controlled two. And he was about to control the third. And what are we gonna do?

But I think all of us forgot, and I can’t tell you how important this is for the future of Israel. We forgot that there’s actually four branches of government, and the fourth branch of the government is the people. And that even though the people vote and so-called, the legislature represents the people in Israel. In Israel, it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Because of the complexity of the coalition governments, many people who sit in the Likud are now in coalitions with people that they disagree with just as much as all three of us disagree with it. But either way, even if you win an election, it doesn’t mean that you have the ability to do whatever you want however you want to, because there’s a fourth branch. And they tried to for a while say, oh, you demonstrators, you’re anarchists, all that language. Or the demonstrations are anti-democratic. 

What has happened is that there’s a coalition of opposition to the government, which is far more powerful than the opposition in the Knesset. In the Knesset, it’s mathematics, you won. And Elana, part of it has to do with the complexity of the coalition.

Because while in the Knesset, the opposition who is on the right are all standing and following their parties in the marketplace, the coalition of left, of center, of committed right, even right-wing settler rabbis are talking about you need to have discussion. You can’t do this unilaterally. You add to it the business sector. You add to this, the army, those people who don’t have values who just happen to be the ones who are protecting Israel day and night. Those people, Yossi, those people speaking and saying, I don’t wanna serve, many forms of conscientious objection, which I wanna get to in a moment.

Add to it the international community. Add to it the economic partners, the investors, the high-tech, add to it North American Jews, world politicians. There is a coalition, the 56 opposition in the has no path. They’re gonna lose every vote, but it turns out that a government has limited ability.

Because in fact, audience, let me be the first one to tell you, the reform is not gonna pass. It might pass the first vote. It’s not gonna pass as is. Right now, Herzog is gonna get up and come up with his proposal and he is gonna coerce the government because he has a coalition which is gonna determine the future of the state of Israel, in a way that the 64 camp voted away.

So I think the calculation, and it makes sense, the last time we saw this was in the war in Lebanon, the first war in Lebanon. There is a mass of people getting up and saying no. And this fourth branch of government is letting their voice be heard, and I think the arrogance of, maybe cause we had so many elections and everybody just wanted to finally win an election, we forgot that when you win an election, you’re just starting the moment. You haven’t been given a cart blanche, certainly not to change the country.

Yossi: I think the makeup of this government is a warning to Israeli society. This is the most homogeneous coalition we’ve ever had. Every government in the past, even the Rabin government in the 1990s had Shas, had the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party. This government has no effective dissenting voice. The Likud should have been the dissenting voice. Should have been the moderating voice.

Donniel: By the way, you know, Yossi, they’re starting. There’s 10 members of the Likud who have been telling, Netanyahu now has to pick between those 10 and Levine and his party, because now there’s a split. They’re not speaking publicly, but people like Barkat and Edelstein and Dichtor, and, anyway, I’m blanking on names.

Yossi: But let’s see how they vote.

Donniel: But now, but either way, the president, our coalition has far more, and the government, Netanyahu was speaking over and again about, he knows, he lost, he lost.

Yossi: Yes. And this is what Elana was saying before about the coalition in the streets being reflective of the diversity of Israeli society in a way that our coalition governments always were. The very word coalition really implies diversity. And, and the original sin of this government is that there was no real ideological diversity built in.

Donniel: Right. If you stood with Netanyahu, that was it. That was the only question. Oh, and by the way, to our listeners overseas, Israel usually reports in the newspaper about Jewish life overseas when there’s a terrorist attack, antisemitism, or assimilation statistics. Every single demonstration, protest, declaration, petition, which is being signed now is reported at the top of the websites. 

World Jewry, you are players here. People say, I’m disempowered. I wanna tell you, Israelis are listening. This coalition, which is a diverse coalition, includes now world Jewry, you are part of the story. Don’t feel that you’re disempowered. 

Yossi: So it’s interesting because this government has pushed things so far that it’s really opened up possibilities that we never could have imagined before.

Donniel: Never saw before. But let’s go back to the abyss for a moment because one of the characteristics of this abyss is the fact that one of the first times, or I don’t say it’s in a long time, the politics is also entering into the army and people are getting up and saying, if you pass this, I’m not gonna do reserve duty. If you pass this, I’m not gonna fly. 

And the people who are standing up are the people in the most difficult, dangerous combat units in the country. Or the most significant units for Israel’s security. They’re standing up. Those who don’t have values you’ll see are standing up and saying, I don’t have values? I’m willing to die for this country. But in my code of ethics, it says I’m supposed to die for a country that is a Jewish democratic state. I’m not supposed to die for a country in which the judiciary is destroyed, or in which somebody says, wipe Huwara. I’m not going there.

And this voice, it’s interesting in the religious Zionist community in 2005 or even post Oslo, that level of conscientious objection didn’t really emerge. Now it’s emerging, and again, they’re 

Yossi: It was there, no no, it was there, but not to this extent. Yes.

Donniel: And here it’s at the core of Israel’s most significant combat units. The opposition to these conscientious objectors, I told you, you’re a Tel Avivi, you have no values. It’s the same story, but it’s not working.

And the army, like what’s your position? Because this is an abyss that if we follow this, it’s done, we’re over. Is this, 

Yossi: You know, it’s interesting, Donniel, you just used the word core. And what this divide is about in Israel is over our core identity. Israel is defined, defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state. Any attempt to erase either of those foundational identities is legitimate grounds for a public revolt. 

Now, let’s look at the Gaza withdrawal. In 2005, when settlements were destroyed, people were uprooted from their homes, but the core Jewish identity of Israel was actually not being challenged. And so I wonder if there’s room here to lay out a principle which is that the only grounds for refusing to participate in the defense of the country, in the tax system, is if Israel betrays one or the other part of its core identity.

Donniel: Of its core identity. I like that a lot. There’s a great article, it’s in Hebrew. And it was very, we’re gonna get a translated audience for you. It was on our website written by a scholar at the institute, Avi Sagi, which was very helpful for me because initially I felt that the army shouldn’t, that’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Not pay taxes, civil demonstrations, I’m all in.

I personally don’t go to demonstrations that aren’t approved by the police. I don’t like demonstration days that are called disruption days, or it’s just, you know, I wouldn’t have locked Sara Netanyahu into her hairdresser for three hours. Like, there’s things that, but serious civil, concentrated protest, I’m all in, and I felt the army was one step too far, or it was that the potential, of we’re stepping over the abyss.

And Avi Sagi wrote as follows. In essence, what he’s saying that, like you said, when I serve in the army, I’m serving under a contract. The code of ethics of the Army says that we are the Israel Defense Forces of the state of Israel, which is committed to being a Jewish Democratic state. That’s my contract. What am I dying for? 

Yossi: And every soldier has the written code of ethics in your pocket.

Donniel: But there’s one other thing that Avi said, which I wanna just share with our audience, and then maybe we’ll take a short break. And Elana, you’ll come back in again. 

He said you could say to the people who are refusing to serve, you’re on the slippery slope to social diffusion or disintegration. You could put the onus of the challenge on the soldier, but let’s switch it. Put the onus on the government. You’re creating policies, which soldiers are saying, I can’t serve here. 

Yossi: Exactly. Exactly right. 

Donniel: So it’s not, it’s not to say to them, oh, what’s wrong with you? It’s to say, if you as a government, and maybe this is what we’re talking about, how do we avoid, how do we step back when those in power stand and say, how am I responsible for creating this moment? What have I done? 

Not look at the person who’s demonstrated, say, oh, there’s a slippery slope. You’ve instigated it. And by the way, the moment will come when the center and the left, who in many ways, while it’s not official yet, have won, because the reform is not gonna pass as is. We’re also gonna have to compromise. 

And we could also, you know, say, oh no, let’s keep on fighting. At some moment, it’s not the people who are fighting, but it’s the people who are instigating, saying, what are you fighting for? That, that ability to step back, or to ask yourself, if what I am doing is causing this, then it’s on me.

On Oslo, we were so certain that we were saving Israel, Yossi, that we couldn’t even listen to those other voices. And hopefully at this moment we could, we could move in a different direction. 

Let’s take a short break and then Elana will rejoin us again.

Elana, how are you?

Elana: It’s not six in the morning where I am, so I’m doing just fine. I mean, all I did was lose an hour of sleep this weekend, so I, I have no problems. You know what’s interesting? I hate to do this to us, but I kind of wanna check the recordings of us talking about the change government last year because we might have done something similar.

We were so excited about the change government and we like didn’t even talk about the people who disagreed with it. The people who thought it was the undoing of Jewish and Democratic Israel. We didn’t even talk about it. 

Donniel: Elana, I have to stop you. Because I want to make note to self: delete those podcasts, please. Okay. Please carry on Elana. Please carry on.

Elana: I love it. No, but I think it’s a great, I really think it’s a great moment to actually think about, like, how do we bring those perspectives in on this show if we are in a different place. I don’t know. Right, that’s the first thing. 

And the second thing is, you know, this whole conversation about the slippery slope of, you know, reservists saying, I’m not gonna go and I’m people who fly IAF say I’m not gonna fly.

I always think about this, you know, the, the Talmud in Yoma 86 B, there’s this great line where Rav Huna says, once somebody has done like transgressed and they’ve done it a second time. It’s now allowed. And the Talmud is like, what do you mean it’s allowed? It’s like it, it feels like it’s allowed.

So at the same time, it’s like, yes, of course, everybody has to ask what are they contributing to in terms of the denigration of Jewish and Democratic Israel, so that people in the Israeli Air Force don’t wanna fly. But you gotta admit that like you’re crossing a Rubicon and you’ve now made it a little bit easier to do that some other time. So you’ve gotta work against it also. So I just want to, you know, throw those two things in. 

But what I wanna do today is I, I wanna just give some vocabulary to what we’re talking about. You know me. It’s been too long since I’ve quoted Wisdom literature from the Bible, from Tanakh on this show. So I’m gonna do it a book of Proverbs. And you know what’s great? The book of Proverbs with, I’m learning it actually with my, what do you call your cousin’s daughter? It’s not your second cousin. You’re not, it’s not your cousin once removed.

Donniel: It’s called your cousin’s daughter.

Elana: Exactly. My cousin’s daughter.

Donniel: Fab. Mishpacha.

Elana: Mishpacha. We’re learning Proverbs, we’re learning Mishlei. And do you know that there are 11 terms for wisdom in Proverbs? And it’s not because they’re just flourishes, like they each mean something else. Some of them are like discernment. Some of them are just knowledge, some of them are awareness and there are six terms for folly. Like literally, and they each mean different things. You could be an ignoramous, you could be somebody who purposely doesn’t wanna do the right thing. 

So I actually wanna take one of the terms for folly in Proverbs, in Mishlei, and I want to talk about it because I think that’s where we are right now. A lot of folly, and it’s what leads people into the abyss. And that word in Hebrew is latzon. And if you are doing it, you are a letz. I guess for a woman it would be a letzah. You are a scorner. I wanna describe what this is. 

So you look in Proverbs 21:24, the proud insolent person is called a scoffer, a letz, and that person acts in a frenzy of insolence. What’s important about this term is that it isn’t just that you’re arrogant. It’s that you act towards others in a scoffing manner. You have contempt for others. And what’s remarkable about the scoffer is that the scoffer can’t take rebuke. People rebuke you, they try to tell you, you just, you don’t wanna hear it. 

So Proverbs 9:7-8, to correct a scoffer or rebuke a wicked person for their blemish is to call down abuse on yourself. Don’t rebuke a scoffer. A scoffer will hate you for giving them rebuke only reprove somebody who’s wise. That person will love you for rebuke. Now, I dunno about you. I find it very difficult to love people for rebuke. 

So like maybe I’m a scoffer, but I think that there’s something to this idea of it’s not just your pride, it’s your contempt towards other people, and the saddest is Proverbs 14:6, which describes somebody who can’t even learn if they try. A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge comes easily to the intelligent person. Meaning even if you start trying to learn something, you can’t, like, that’s the abyss, right? Where you’re like, no, no, I’m really trying to, and you can’t even, like, how do you completely atrophy that muscle of learning from somebody else? 

And it’s funny, I don’t usually quote like Greek mythology on this show, although my older kid would be very proud of me cause he loves Greek mythology. There was actually somebody in Greek mythology called Hybris, which is not hubris. Hybris. It’s where Hubris comes from. And she was the demon of insolence and violence. 

And what I think is so interesting is she was either the daughter of Night and Darkness, which is sort of like, you know a oreboding sense about it. Or she was the daughter of Air and Earth, meaning she was the promise, the great hope of everyone. And because she was the great hope and she was gonna solve everything, she could behave with violence towards those people. 

So I would say two things. One, I think it’s useful sometimes to know that there are different kinds of folly and there are different kinds of wisdom. Because this is hard. Meaning we are, we’re talking about like it’s easy. It’s hard, right? But I think it’s also useful to have a vocabulary sometimes, right? Like you could have pride, you could think you’re right, but that’s not always the same as contempt for others. And an inability to hear rebuke, right?

So to think about that, you know, sometimes you go back to the sources that are written thousands of years ago, because this is who we are as humans.

Donniel: May we learn. You know, in the process of change we have to point to the problem and I think the language and the words could help us locate the problem. See, we’re all experts in locating the problem in the other person. It’s a little harder amongst ourselves. 

But I wanna tell you cause this connects to what you said and what you said beforehand. I have been walking around saying I want a new national social coalition, but one that’s better than the last. Because the truth is that that was a national coalition, but somebody was left out. And so I am starting that process. But just pointing at it, talking with those words, give us an opportunity to grow as people because our job is not to create a cycle of folly where folly on the left and folly on the right are the same. So thank you very much.

Yossi, do you have any last words for our audience today? From the blackness of Vancouver?

Yossi: I want to leave us with a question, and it’s the question that I’m struggling with. I’ve never had a problem dealing with fellow Israelis with whom I disagree across the political spectrum. And in some ways, that commitment to engage with Israelis across the spectrum has been the foundation of my work, of my career. That’s been the message that I’ve tried to convey as a centrist. 

I have to tell you, Donniel, that today, for the first time, I feel stuck. I don’t know what to do with this overwhelming anger and frustration that I feel toward Israelis who continue to support a government that I feel is leading us over the cliff. 

Now, I tried to make a distinction between the government, which I consider to be beyond the moral pale and people, good Israelis who care about the country who vote for them, and they may, from my point of view, be mistaken. And I try to hold on to that distinction. It’s becoming harder and harder for me to do that, and this conversation has been very healing for me. 

And it’s given me a new tone. And I noticed that when I, when I’ve been speaking about the situation in interviews, I speak an octive higher, and this conversation has really helped me lower my own tone. And maybe that’s the beginning. Maybe before, before it becomes a rational policy, it needs to come from that place of quiet change tone. So thank you. Thank you both.

Donniel: Yossi, like I know for a long time that I need you and Elana. Now, you know, you need me and Elana, so I think it’s time to come, have the birth, come on back home and we’ll help you.

My friends. Thank you so much, Elana, Yossi.

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman with support from Michal Taylor. It was edited by Gareth Hobbes at Silver Sound NYC. Our production manager is M. Louis Gordon. Maital Friedman is our vice president of communications and creative. And our music was provided by Socalled.

Major funding for For Heaven’s Sake is provided by the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation of Los Angeles because of our shared commitment to strengthen the connection to the truth in Israel and in North America. And I’m telling you that connection is more powerful than before. 

Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at We wanna know what you think about the show. You can write and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show.  You can also write to us at [email protected]

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Be well, my friends.

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The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics