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The Danger of Stability and the Challenge of the ‘Right’

As Israel’s government enters its fourth year it is beginning to experience the stability and self-satisfaction that is self-destructive

The State of Israel is entering uncharted territory, a territory which is bringing it close to an abyss. For one of the few times since its establishment we are confronting a reality of a government entering into its fourth year, a government which will likely serve its full term. In general, this might seem to be good news, as stability enters the Israeli political system. This government is not simply ruling through coalition manipulation but reflects the will of the majority of Israelis, and therein lays the deepest source of its stability.
Stability, however, is often an overrated virtue, and not merely from the perspective of those who are in the political minority. The greatest danger is that which stability poses to the majority itself. One of the constants of the human condition in general, and in political life in particular, is our capacity to underachieve, a capacity made ever-more real by self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement.
Uncertainty generates reflection and is a powerful catalyst for reevaluation and self-improvement. When things maintain their status quo, social life and policy tend to gravitate toward the lowest common denominator and the individual to mediocrity. This was God’s greatest fear about the Jewish people entering into the Land of Israel and attaining strength and stability. (So Jeshurun [Israel] grew fat and kicked…and forsook the God who made him. Deuteronomy 32:15) The essential goal of religion at its best is to serve as a moral and value challenge, both to the status quo and to the human potential for mediocrity. This was the task and role that the Prophets strove to fulfill, challenging Israel to look honestly at itself, at its failures, and to reach higher.
As our coalition enters into its fourth year with no political competitor on the horizon which can either unseat it or even threaten its next term, it is beginning to experience the stability and self-satisfaction that is self-destructive. Recent legislative efforts, while cloaked in the prerequisite concerns for security or equity, are nothing more than attempts to put into law a reality in which the only voices they will hear are their own.
Freedom of speech and an independent judiciary in a reality in which there is neither a written Constitution nor a culture sensitive to the inalienable rights of the individual, are critical not merely to preserve the rights of the minority but to serve as a constant set of checks and balances to the status quo promulgated by the majority. We need each other not merely for support but for contrast, not merely for mutual reaffirmation but for the challenge that our inevitable differences pose to each other.
The paradigm of corrupt rule in our tradition is depicted in the Book of Esther in the form of King Ahashverosh, who was famous for not allowing anybody to approach him without being beckoned. The world was not allowed to present itself to him unless it was both at a time and a form which he could control. It is just such a king who had no difficulty, at the advice of an aide, to give a ruling aimed at wiping out one of the nations in his domain, and upon doing so sitting down to drink as if nothing had occurred. When one rules alone there are no limits to the moral failures of which one is capable.
In our tradition God presents Godself within a different paradigm. With his words, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 18:17), the idea is introduced that even God’s rule is in need of checks and balances, of someone who will challenge, and if necessary, criticize. The dual role of king and priest with the independent status of the latter as the carrier of the law put into legislation a similar balance.
One of the great challenges to Israel’s democracy today is not from the so-called “religious” parties but from the right. By the “right,” I do not mean the political Right, but those who are certain that they are right, and in no need of voices of dissent.
Israeli society has deeply matured and achieved levels of financial, social, and military strength unimagined even by any of us in our lifetimes. The secret to ensuring this strength is to have the self-confidence to allow a constant measure of instability into our lives, to recognize that our greatest ally is the aggravating critic and our most significant benefactor the individual whose ideas make us uncomfortable.
Israel has no need for a Supreme Court which will rubber stamp the Knesset, and the government does not need the service of NGO’s which will further its cause. Freedom of speech and the importance of dissent are not ends unto themselves but necessary means for moral growth and excellence. If our coalition is looking for a challenge as it serves out its full term, it needs look no further than to ensure this moral growth and aspiration for excellence.

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