President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday urged Israelis, and in particular elected officials, to adhere to the ongoing High Holiday period’s tradition of forgiveness in order to bring the nation out of a political crisis he described as testing their ability to live in unity.
Herzog hosted an annual Selichot event at his official residence in Jerusalem. The nightly prayers — a litany of penitential and supplicant prayers — are held every day from before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which began on Friday night, through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which starts this coming Sunday evening.
The president referred to the deep political and social divides that have opened up over the government’s planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary, which has been met by months of mass protests. Herzog has recently renewed his efforts to host negotiations between government and opposition parties to reach an agreement that would end the standoff.
“We are in a period of crisis in Israeli society,” Herzog said. “A period in which our ability to live here together is being tested, a period in which voices are often heard saying: ‘Either us or them.'”
“The period of forgiveness has always been a unifying time,” he said, referring to key theme of the High Holidays, in which individuals seek forgiveness from those they may have wronged in the past. “During this period, for generations upon generations, it was common for women and men of all denominations and all traditions to do a personal soul-searching… to also do a general, communal and national soul-searching.”
“These days oblige us to do soul-searching,” Herzog said. Ongoing events “call us to pay attention to the crisis and its consequences — economic, social and especially security… and to understand that we are all being tested here. All of us – all of Israel’s citizens, certainly everyone who has influence in the public sphere, and first and foremost our elected officials.”
“The State of Israel is in one of the most difficult situations in its history as far as Israeli cohesion is concerned, and the time has come for us to act in the spirit of the Days of Mercy and Forgiveness, abandon the discourse of polarization and isolation, and do everything to get out of the crisis together,” he said and quoted from a Selichot prayer that reads, “And He will remove from you jealousy and hatred and competition.”
Supporters of the overhaul have argued that relevant laws are needed to curb the powers of a judiciary they say is unrestrained and overly activist.
Critics of the coalition’s plans say the legislative package will fundamentally alter Israel’s democratic system by stripping the judiciary’s ability to act as a check on the governing coalition. The government has repeatedly attacked the unprecedented protest movement — among whom are military reservists, pilots, academics, legal professionals, and business and tech leaders.