A veteran reservist said to me this week: "We always joked about how the air force is a friendly foreign army. Now I am not so sure about the friendly part."
The most shocking aspect of the all-out battle to thwart the coalition's proposed judicial reform was the aggressive enlistment of so many of the country's institutions: the air force, hi tech barons, media, the Histradrut labor union, and even the Tel Aviv police force. Everything was considered legitimate, with no setting of red lines: blocking main highways, economic sanctions, blackening the state's reputation abroad, wildcat strikes, refusal to serve in the IDF and blatant incitement to revolution. The leaders of Israel's establishment are normally political and cultural moderates, but once the hyped anti-judicial reform propaganda fired them up, they trampled us, its supporters, without a second's thought.
What especially shocked me was the enlistment of the universities, all of which joined the protests against the judicial reform. These institutions are government-funded, supposedly bastions of freedom of opinion and critical thought. Despite that, the universities took part in hysterical incitement, declared a general strike, and forced faculty and students who disagreed to toe the line. And although we hope a compromise agreement is reached, we will not forget the way we were stepped upon and trampled underfoot.
The Kohelet Policy Forum, the conservative think tank which was the main framer of the judicial reform plan, was the most maligned of all by the protestors. Not just in op-ed articles, but in actions. At some point, out of control protestors blockaded the entrance to the think tank's offices with barbed wire while one of the workers was inside, and attacked the CEO, who came to the rescue. A group of unbridled protestors from the Breaking Walls feminist organization invaded the offices on Sunday, April 2 after pretending to be delivering flowers, pasting signs on the walls,and shouting threatening calumnies until police intervened. The level of hatred evinced against the think tank is surprising, because there are so few right-wing think tanks pitted against the ten powerful universities and so many well-funded institutes. If there are a few people who dare to dissent from the anti-reform viewpoint, why is that so hard for their opponents to digest?
Perhaps it is because the protestors understand the influence of ideas. The judicial reform was born due to several brilliant independent-thinking legal minds who developed the principles of Israeli conservative legal thought for over twenty years. That was enough to shock the progressive consensus of the Israeli court system. For those who are accustomed to homogenous thought, one person who dares to differ is threatening, because one never knows what dangerous idea he or she will come up with next. Israel, however, is not the only place where academia is uniformly aligned with the left. In the 1990s there were four times as many leftist psychology professors as rightists in the USA, but by 2016 the ratio was seventeen to one. I asked a doctoral student if the situation in Israel is any better and he said that it is more likely worse. Our academia is ordinarily far removed from the American extremism, with our leftists less far out but generally not more pluralistic.
What to do? Think. We need more ideas and more think tanks. Now, when a right-leaning Education Minister is appointed, the Kohelet Policy Forum people know how to give him good advice on decentralization and management, topics on which they focus. But no one knows how to give him an up-to-date position paper on nationalistic and conservative approaches to education. That is the reason why, minister after minister, the educational system continues to promote the same skewed and distorted educational principles. I failed to find one current Hebrew book on nationalistic or traditional educational philosophy. The nation which established an educational system before any other people in the world has not succeeded in systematically articulating a Jewish, traditional, deep and relevant approach to education in its own language.
Complaints about the aggressive progressivism in the academic world are interesting topics of conversation at Shabbat meals, but talk is not really of much use. What can actually effect change? If the best minds turn to academia; the best minds to think tanks; the best minds to writing. Anyone who can move forward on the exhausting road to academic success is capable of bringing much blessing to the world. That, of course, is dependent on his having the backbone to remain steadfast to his principles and not turn into a "progressive of the Mosaic faith" (a takeoff on the 18th century expression used to describe emancipated Jews who were Jewish mostly in name only [ed.]), as has too frequently occurred. We need many more nationalists and conservative thinkers in academia, not in order to take over but so as to make it more varied - and to keep them from trampling on us.
We have to produce more of these thinkers from the Religious Zionist yeshivas. While there are less and less students in the liberal arts, there are more and more yeshiva students. Yeshivas are immensely successful institutions, not only due to what is studied in them but because they concentrate on dedicated learning, not on research and writing. But that is just the problem. Our greatest minds become Rosh Yeshivas who have not a moment to write and think about these pressing issues. Yeshivas lack for money and have limited faculty who are dedicated to their students day and night. This focus on education should not be changed, but if we manage to send our Rosh Yeshivas and Talmudists for sabbaticals of concentrated thought, study and writing, we will all benefit from the results.
Besides that, we need more think tanks independent of academia. Begin promised, two days after he was elected in 1977, that "we will have many more Elon Moreh [communities]" in Judea and Samaria, and we do. I am awaiting a rightist politician who promises: "We will have many more Kohelet Policy Forums."
Rabbi Chaim Navon is an Israeli writer, philosopher and publicist. He teaches Gemara and Jewish Thought at Midreshet Lindenbaum and Herzog College and is the author of several books.
This article is a translation by Rochel Sylvetsky of his weekly column in the Hebrew Makor Rishon newspaper.