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Don’t give up on us, not yet


Don’t give up on us, not yet

"’Israel's stock’ has suffered and will continue to suffer painful blows in the coming months, but you should not short it. Israel will survive this autoimmune attack on its democracy,” writes Yoel Esteron

Yoel Esteron | 17:01, 26.02.23

Israel is facing an existential crisis. The most right-wing government in our history is vowing to change the very nature of our society. It wants to curb the independence of the Supreme Court and make the world's only Jewish democracy more Jewish and less democratic. We who live here are deeply alarmed, and we know that many of you abroad are too. But will the prophecies of fury and gloomy predictions come true?

The government's frantic first two months might remind Americans of the chaotic first months of the Trump administration; A roller coaster of hasty decisions, frequent layoffs, and irresponsible tweets from the White House bedroom. For British readers, the inevitable comparison is to the brief and fatal tenure of Liz Truss, which caused an immediate financial crisis before she was tossed to the wayside.

A protest against the judicial coup. A protest against the judicial coup. A protest against the judicial coup.

In a short and frightening period, the Israel brand has suffered particularly painful blows. International investors from the largest funds in the United States, who invested tens of billions of dollars here, were alarmed and stopped investing in Israeli high-tech. Israeli entrepreneurs are looking at ways to move their companies abroad. The shekel, stable and strong for years, has been plunging. Many Jewish leaders and staunch friends from around the world are anxiously calling in. The most important newspapers and websites in the world - including the New York Times, the Economist, the Financial Times, and Bloomberg - are publishing analyses and commentaries that read more like obituaries for the Israeli economy.

And yet I call on investors and friends of Israel, decision-makers around the world, and colleagues in the international press: do not give up on us. Not yet. The Israelis who created the Israeli miracle are not giving up. The State of Israel is not shrinking to the miserable dimensions of this government. We are stronger than it. Your support will help us win the battle.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been going on continuous and stubborn demonstrations over recent weeks. These are not "anarchists" - a nickname that the prime minister and some ministers who are the actual anarchists tried to give them. I participate in these demonstrations on Saturday nights. I saw a spectacular array of Israelis: high-tech people and businessmen, teachers, doctors, psychologists, young and old, center-left, and disillusioned right-wing voters. Among the protesters - even Mossad personnel who asked for and received permission to participate in the protest.

Public opinion polls consistently show that a large majority of the public opposes harming the country's democratic foundations. According to the polls, even among Netanyahu's supporters he does not have a majority for the anti-democratic legislation he is promoting.

The huge camp of Israelis who want to live in a democracy suddenly woke up, realizing that freedom is not a given, and escaped from the indifference that characterized them in the last five elections, embarking on a defensive war against those who hate democratic systems and prefer an autocratic halachic state.

It is difficult to estimate the size of the camps facing each other on the brink of civil war, but there are numbers that cannot be denied. The Democrats are the ones who maintain the Israeli economy. High-tech, which never needed the government, is responsible for almost 50% of the country's income from exports. Eighty percent of the revenue of the tax authority comes from cities and towns identified with the Democrats. The Israeli economy cannot exist without the Democrats. Those living on benefits need the taxes paid by the Democrats.

Netanyahu and his ministers are trying to make life miserable for senior public servants in order to appoint unworthy cronies in their place. They attack the Supreme Court and the senior officials of the Ministry of Justice, including the Attorney General of Israel, the police commissioner and his senior officers, and even the commanders of the IDF and the heads of the Shin Bet. The disturbed son of the prime minister called for the heads of the Shin Bet to be prosecuted for treason . So far, all these senior officials have shown a solid backbone of integrity. They aren’t resigning and are trying to fight the evil spirits. They don't go gently into the black night.

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Yes, we know all about the precedents of democracies being crushed in places like Turkey, Hungary and Poland. Is Israel following in the footsteps of these countries? Although Israel is only 75 years old, a democratic tradition of free life has taken root in it. And not only in the "State of Tel Aviv". It is worth noting that protests against the coup quickly spread to many cities across the country, and even to the large settlement of Efrat across the green line. The Israeli majority is secular or traditional, not ultra-orthodox and not settlers. This majority wants to continue living in a democracy.

The means to rule a dictatorship are also not in the hands of those who want to rule without checks and balances. The police have so far not responded to the political directives to harm the freedom of protest. The IDF, which was formed as a state army, will not carry out clearly illegal orders that have a black flag flying over them. Reserve pilots and officers in special units have already announced that they will not accept every whim of the government. According to all indications, the Shin Bet will also not give in to political orders by government thugs.

Therefore, while it is understandable that investors are sitting on the fence, entrepreneurs are concerned for their startups, and Jewish leaders and friends of Israel around the world and leading economic commentators are horrified by the potential damage to the economy in general, and high-tech in particular, I still say to them: "Israel's stock" has suffered and will continue to suffer painful blows in the coming months, but you should not short it. Israel will survive this autoimmune attack on its democracy. Help us get through these terrible days.

Don't eulogize us. Do not flee from Israel. Don't give up on us. We shall overcome.

Yoel Esteron is publisher of Calcalist and chairman of Shomrim – center for media and democracy in Israel

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