Speech at Jerusalem protest, 9.7.23

(This is the English translation of a speech I delivered in Hebrew at a protest against the Israeli government’s policies on Saturday night, July 9, 2023, outside the President’s official residence in Jerusalem.)

When I was 17, in the mid-1990s, I moved from Canada to Israel. I joined the army and found myself with a company of the Nahal Brigade in an outpost north of the border. Like many Israeli men born in the 1970s, I grew up not only in Israel but in Lebanon.

Through the firing slits of Outpost Pumpkin, we looked out on a country that wasn’t much different from ours. Olives and pines. Hills and wadis. Kids playing soccer.

We also saw ruined houses from which the Hezbollah teams operated. We saw a country that had disintegrated. A country that started out like ours, with one foot in the east and one in the west, with beaches and commerce. But Lebanon’s leaders sunk into corruption and failed to create a unifying story for their citizens. The power of the state was parceled out among sects, militias, and extreme clerics. Lebanon might have had a flag and a national anthem, but it had become a collection of rival groups vying for the spoils of what had once been a state.

We were 19. We didn’t understand that in Lebanon we weren’t only seeing a neighboring country – we were seeing a possible future for our own country.

Liberal Israelis have a weakness for Europe. The fantasy of the Nineties was named for Oslo, the capital of Norway. Today, at our protests, we warn of an outcome like Hungary or Poland. But those countries are far away, members of the EU, and those scenarios, too, are European fantasies. The real scenario we need to fear is right here, just north of the border.

We hear a lot about the threat from Lebanon, including this week. But the real threat is that now, 23 years after our withdrawal from the security zone in Lebanon, Israel is closer to Lebanon than ever before.

In the Netanyahu government, a minister from the violent fringes of the right is given control of the police, and his own militia. Another minister from the messianic edge of the settler movement is handed control of the state treasury. Taxpayers’ money is taken not to integrate the Haredi population, but to buttress Haredi autonomy. Political cracks are becoming visible in the army. Anyone who knows Lebanon knows where this can lead.

But there’s a difference between us and Lebanon, and that difference – is us. Us – all Israeli citizens who believe in the common good. We who read the Book of Lamentations and who remember, every Tisha Be’Av, the price of factionalism. We who were born to a national movement that worked miracles, and which taught us that reality is strong but that our will is stronger.

Lebanon is one option, but we won’t let it come to pass. The vast number of Israelis who have come out to protest, and in particular the protest here in Jerusalem, where I’ve been participating since the very first evening – here we see a different future. This is the future we want, and this is the one we’ll have.