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What Matters Now… to philosopher Micah Goodman: Preventing civil war

In this first episode of our new podcast series What Matters Now, the bestselling author weighs in on the proposed judicial overhaul and its consequences — intended and not

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

Welcome to our inaugural episode of What Matters Now, a new weekly podcast exploration into one key issue shaping Israel and the Jewish World — right now.

Now, I don’t know about you, but even for newshounds like me, sometimes the 24/7 headline barrage zooms by so fast that I feel like I don’t catch all the nuance. There are so many hot-button issues that understanding the arguments for and against them feels like a Herculean task.

So each week, we’ll sit down for an in-depth conversation and find out what matters now to one journalist, thinker or newsmaker.

For this first episode, I turned to philosopher and author Dr. Micah Goodman. His books are read by the country’s leaders, and he’s made a career of explaining Israel and all her nuances — even to Israelis themselves.

Goodman is the author of the best-selling “Catch-67,” as well as “The Wondering Jew” and several surprising bestsellers on canonical Jewish texts, including works on Maimonides.

For this perplexed journalist, understanding this moment in Israel meant having tea with my friendly neighborhood philosopher.

The following transcript has been lightly edited:

The Times of Israel: Micah, thank you so much for joining me today.

Micah Goodman: Thank you so much, Amanda. It’s great to be here with you.

I always enjoy speaking with you, and I never know what you’re going to say, which is such fun. So, Micah, tell me, what matters now?

The judicial reform.

Okay, the judicial reform. So for anyone who has lived in some kind of cave for the past several months, the judicial reform is a set of proposals by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and others. And among other things, it would overhaul the High Court’s ability to overturn laws that were legislated in the Knesset and also provide a systematic way of creating political appointees to the Supreme Court and many other things that are controversial.

So why is this the most important thing for you, Micah?

Well, first of all, this wasn’t something I was thinking about for a while. The whole judicial system was a debate in the periphery of the Israeli public debate. We usually argue about issues regarding the Palestinians and the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, that’s the main issue. And some academics were arguing about the judicial issues.

And suddenly, all of a sudden, almost overnight, that debate took over the public discourse and the level of political awareness grew dramatically. This is very interesting. Like, people that are very close to me, without naming names, which are on a daily basis very indifferent to political issues, suddenly they — I mean they barely know the name of the foreign minister, okay? They don’t really care about politics and national issues — suddenly they’re awakened. They care. They go to protests on Saturday nights, and I realize, wow, this moment where Israeli indifference has been broken down and a new awareness has been born. And so much, I think this is patriotism, where so many Israelis care about the structure of our regime. This is a very powerful moment. Interesting moment, scary moment, exciting moment, and it’s a pregnant moment.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on January 16, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

Okay, so let’s talk about the protest. On any given Saturday night, it can reach up to 100,000, more if you combine all the different protests. But as someone mentioned to me recently, that’s basically the funeral of a second-tier rabbi. Why does this number seem so high in your world?

It’s just because it’s people that usually don’t go to protest. It’s not the regular social activists that are out there in the streets yelling and screaming every other day. These are people that are usually just sitting at home watching Netflix. And something is pushing them out of their homes, out of their comfort zone. And the fact that so many different types of people, who are usually very indifferent to national issues, now suddenly are awakened and they care and they’re protesting. That is one of the reasons why this moment is an interesting moment.

Okay, let’s zoom out slightly and talk about what brought us here.

Okay, so I’ll share with you my understanding, and I’m not a constitutional lawyer, okay? This is not my expertise, but I think what I’m going to say is more or less correct.

Israel is an interesting country because we don’t have a constitution. Now, there are countries that don’t have constitutions, like, let’s say, England, but they have a tradition. They have a tradition. Israel obviously has no tradition because we’re a new country, and no constitution. So to begin with, we have a problem. There is no real official document that defines the relationship between the branches of government.

Now, there was supposed to be one, according to Megilat Ha’Atzmaut, our Declaration of Independence. Right? So the first Knesset was supposed to write a constitution, and then there’ll be elections. And then from the second Knesset on, we will have a constitution that will — it’s like the constitution is like the rules of the game and that’s what made sense. The first Knesset defines the rules of the game, and then from that moment on, we’re playing the game.

But what happens in Israel — classic Israeli moments — we couldn’t decide on the rules of the game in our founding moment in the first Knesset, back in the late 1940s. So we didn’t create a constitution. So we kind of decided, you know what? Let’s play the game without defining the rules of the game. Let’s see how that works.

And Amanda, surprisingly, it kind of worked. It kind of worked until it doesn’t work anymore. And now is that moment where it doesn’t work anymore.  For 75 years, we were playing a game without really knowing what the rules of the game are, and now it’s not working anymore.

David Ben Gurion signs Israel’s Declaration of Independence on November 29, 1947. (Hans Pinn/GPO)

So I think there are two moments in this story, but beforehand, I want to back up and try to understand how we understand what is a constitution. Okay? This is something that I’ve been thinking about lately.

If “laws” is the attempt of the government to limit the behavior of civilians — like, when I drive my car, there’s a speed limit — that’s a law. It limits my behavior. So laws limit civilians, “constitution” limits governments. And it limits also the ability of the legislator, of the parliament. A constitution limits the ability of the parliament to legislate. It says there’s certain laws that are unconstitutional.

So for civilians, there is behavior that’s not legal. And for the parliament, there are laws which are unconstitutional, like illegal laws. And in Israel, we didn’t have the idea of — since we didn’t have a constitution — we didn’t have the concept of laws that are illegal. Laws that are unconstitutional — until 1995.

And what happened in 1995?

We have to understand 1995 in order to understand 2023. So in 1995, Aharon Barak, who was the head of the Supreme Court, he interpreted a law legislated by the Knesset in 1992. Now, this law in 1992, was called the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, basically says that we have basic human rights. Like, our Bill of Rights was legislated in 1992. Think about that. Only 1992. And we have rights for basic freedoms.

But that law, the process that the Knesset went through to legislate that law was the same process of any other law. And by the way, there were 31 MKs that voted for that law. That’s it, not 61, I think it was 31 or 30 something.

Okay, so three years later, Aharon Barak reads into that law saying that law has constitutional authority, which means that if any law contradicts that law, that Basic Law of 1992, so the law that contradicts it is illegal. So Barak in 1995 gives the law of 1992 constitutional authority.

Mishael Cheshin, left, and Aharon Barak at a ceremony in Jerusalem on October 18, 2006. (FLASH90)

Now, this is a big debate, it’s an internal debate among academics, among Supreme Court judges at the time. Can he do that? Can he decide retroactively, oh, three years ago, the Knesset legislated the constitution? Can he do that? And the argument against that, of a Supreme Court judge named Mishael Cheshin, was that you can’t create a constitution using the same process that creates a regular law. Because put it this way, why would a Basic Law have more authority over a regular law if it was legislated using the same process?

You need some kind of Magna Carta-like ceremony. You need King John to be dragged out there. You need the signing on the document.

Something exciting, right? Like, in the US, I think if I understand, in order to create a correction of the Constitution, you need I think two-thirds of the House, two-thirds the Senate, and then 75% of the state legislators? Like, okay, if you could pass that, then that’s authority that enables you to cancel future laws.

But the same process that creates a regular law can create a Basic Law that could cancel regular laws. So that itself, Mishael Cheshin said, well, maybe this is just a regular law and it doesn’t have constitutional authority.

But the thing was that once Aharon Barak decided that the law of 1992 is like our constitution. So that means that, think of it this way, with no drama, no ceremony, no one knew about it, we have a constitution, and we discovered we had a constitution three years after it was legislated.

So that’s interesting. I think that’s probably unprecedented. Right? And then the Supreme Court starts being more active and starts canceling laws of the Knesset, saying that they contradict the Basic Law of the Knesset of 1992. And then they do something else. They start reading into the Basic Law of 1992 rights that are not written there, like equality. Very important rights by the way.

And another thing happens — this also becomes very complicated. The attorney general and the advisers now have a lot of power partially because they say, listen, they said to the government, if there’s a law you want to legislate, effectively they have veto power over the ability of the government to promote legislation in the Knesset. Because we’re saying, we don’t think that law is constitutional. We think that law contradicts the Basic Law of 1992. So let’s not legislate it. So the government now feels very limited in its ability to promote legislation in the parliament.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir (L) speaks to Religious Zionism chief Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset on December 29, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Now, all this leads up to a narrative that started growing in the Israeli right. And it’s the following narrative: Power has now shifted from the parliament to the Supreme Court. The problem, it could legislate laws and the Supreme Court could cancel those laws, and there’s nothing the parliament can do about it. Once the Supreme Court cancels a decision of the parliament, there’s nothing the parliament can do about it. It only has to obey.

So if power is being shifted from the parliament to the Supreme Court, that means that civilians that are expressing their will every election, choosing their representatives to represent the will of the people, well, when the legislative represents the will of the people, what they legislate becomes illegal.

So actually there was a sense that now the people are being robbed of their power. Now, Amanda, this is just part one of a narrative that was growing in the Israeli right.

Okay, let’s pause here. So, just to recap, to make sure I understand what’s going on, there are two original sins that are leading up to the moment that we’re having now in terms of the feelings on the political right. One is the lack of a constitution at the foundation of the state, and the other is this strange mechanism that created our Basic Laws, or quasi-constitution in 1992, but ratified, shall we say, in 1995 by Chief Justice Aharon Barak. And the right feels like it doesn’t have any kind of power when it’s choosing its legislators because actually, the High Court can usurp that power willy-nilly anytime it wants.

That’s right. So this was criticized by Mishael Cheshin, Supreme Court judge, and later on by [Hebrew University Law Prof.] Ruth Gavison — it was more of an academic debate. This issue did not divide Israeli politics. It wasn’t like right-wingers were against the judicial reform of Aharon Barak and left-wingers were for it. It was an internal debate among lawyers and among professors. And in politics, they were debating West Bank, Judea, Samaria, Palestinian settlements, that whole thing.

But then a narrative was born that made this issue political. More and more people on the right were saying, well, we just noticed an interesting coincidence that power started shifting from the Knesset to the Supreme Court — which means from the body that the people elect to a body that people don’t elect — when the right-wingers started winning.

So a narrative was born that the left could not get itself elected. So what it did, it robbed the elected body of its power. And that’s a way of people on the right, this interesting conspiracy theory on the right, is that the left are sore losers. Is that because people that seem like they are on the left side of Israeli politics dominate the Supreme Court, so by moving power from the Knesset, which is mostly right wing, to the Supreme Court that is mostly left wing, by doing that, the left that could not win an election still wins in the battle for power because the power has shifted to the Supreme Court.

So once that narrative became the dominant narrative, and that narrative started accumulating popularity and power, that led us to this moment. Now, this moment is the counter-revolution.

Supreme Court Chief of Justice Ester Hayut at a court hearing in the Supreme Court for petitions against the Citizenship Law, December 1, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It’s the pendulum swinging the other way.

Extremely to the other way. Now, what Yariv Levin is doing, by the way, I don’t think this reform will pass as it is. But just to understand this reform, this is not canceling Aharon Barak’s constitutional revolution of shifting power to the Supreme Court. This is doing much more than that: This is saying because it’s — it’s a complicated reform, but I just want to mention two components of this reform.

One is saying the Knesset can override any decision of the Supreme Court, and the majority it needs to override a decision of the Supreme Court is 61. Now, just to remind anyone that’s listening, any coalition by definition has 61 in Israel; this coalition, the current coalition, has 64. So even if three MKs stay at home, they still can override a decision of the Supreme Court. So it means that the Supreme Court’s ability to cancel decisions of the Knesset because they’re unconstitutional is now taken away from them. But there’s another piece to this judicial reform of Yariv Levin, and that is that effectively, politicians will appoint the Supreme Court judges. So if you add this up, this means politicians appoint Supreme Court judges and then those politicians can cancel the decisions of the Supreme Court judges.

That seems to many people — myself included, by the way — as a violation of the balance between the branches. It’s kind of like Barak’s reform, just upside down. If the original sin of Barak’s reform is that he violated the balance because he gave too much power to the Supreme Court, Yariv Levin is not restoring the balance. He is replicating the violation of the balance. Just this time, the power is shifting towards the Knesset.

Which takes me to why this moment is so pregnant. This is a metaphor. I love this metaphor of a moment that’s pregnant.

I know pregnancy, Micah. Let’s hear it.

Just we don’t know what this moment is pregnant with. I’ll tell you. I want to sell you, Amanda, I want to sell you on two possibilities. Like, how does this end? So it could have a terrible ending and it could have a very powerful ending, this moment. And I’ll try to sell you two scenarios, okay?

One scenario is the constitutional breakdown scenario, and I think we’re, like, two or three steps away from that. I don’t think it’s going to happen, by the way, but I’m saying it could happen.

Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on January 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Meaning the quasi-constitution, the Basic Laws, would be repealed or what?

Here’s how it could be played out. Let’s say Yariv Levin’s reforms pass, as Israelis say, al malei, completely. Effectively canceling the power of the Supreme Court to cancel decisions of the Knesset. The next day, the Supreme Court convenes, and they get together and they decide that Levin’s reforms are unconstitutional. So they cancel it. So let’s try to think about this. They’re canceling the cancellation of their power to cancel.

Well, it is all about cancel culture now, right?

Right. Can you follow me logically?

Yup, it’s the double negative. You have the Supreme Court, which is canceling the power of Yariv Levin to cancel their own power. So we’re at a set null. So now we’re at zero, and we’re back to where we are today.

No, no, actually, I think we’re in a new place in history. Because if the Knesset cancels the power of the Supreme Court to cancel the Knesset, and the Supreme Court cancels the Knesset’s attempt to cancel the power of the Supreme Court to cancel the Knesset… I see your eyes, I think you’re following me. I think. I hope.

So, here’s where we are the day later, as far as the Knesset is concerned, hey, the Supreme Court can’t cancel us anymore. We canceled them. And the Supreme Court said, hey, we can cancel the Knesset because we canceled their cancellation of our power to cancel.

Okay. So now we have two universes. The universe the Supreme Court is living in where it still could cancel decisions of the government, and the universe where the government is living where it’s now liberated from the Supreme Court. Okay?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Herzi Halevi’s wife, Sharon award the incoming IDF chief with the rank of lieutenant general at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, January 16, 2023. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

So now, let’s say three days later, the Israeli military is sending soldiers to evacuate an illegal Palestinian post in Area C. It happens all the time. And the Palestinians petition to the Israeli Supreme Court and say, listen, please stop them from doing this. And the Supreme Court looks into this and says, you know what? This is unconstitutional. So you tell the government, you can’t do that. And the government is saying, yeah, but you don’t tell us what to do anymore.

Okay, now, we’re in a very scary scenario. Let’s say your name is Herzi Halevi, the head of the army. The Supreme Court told you, don’t do it. The army says, we don’t listen to them anymore. Go do it.

Who do you listen to?

Now here’s the thing, Amanda. Israel has managed to survive 75 years with our chief of staff, the head of the army, never facing this dilemma. And once our chief of staff, our head of the army faces this dilemma, or the head of the police faces this dilemma, or the head of the Shin Bet, or our FBI faces this dilemma; or the Supreme Court tells you one thing, the government tells you anything, and you don’t know who you listen to. I can’t imagine a scarier moment for Israeli democracy. It’s like, you know how Ray Kurzweil, the futurist, he says, in the future, they’ll be their singular moments. That’s when AI passes our human intelligence and he says, beyond that moment, we can’t predict anything. It’s like a black hole where there’s new laws of physics.

I think once we reach our constitutional moments beyond that moment, anything could happen. It’s the twilight zone. It’s unfamiliar territory for us. And when people say that’s the beginning of the end, the beginning of something horrible, I identify with that.

Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee MK Simcha Rothman leads a committee hearing on his sweeping legal reform agenda alongside the legal adviser to the committee attorney Gur Bligh, February 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Okay, but it doesn’t sound like a pregnancy to me. It sounds more like a divorce parent situation.

No, I’m saying this moment could lead… we’re two steps away. Just think about how close we are. Because when Israelis think about the end of Israel, we usually think about Iran, we think about other issues. I never thought that it could end because of this issue, because of a constitutional breakdown in Israel.

But why would you not think that internal strife wouldn’t fell the kingdom yet again? I mean, we’ve seen it already in history.

You’re right. This is what usually brought us down. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m just saying the fact that we could see this happening within a few months, this constitutional breakdown is terrifying. But, Amanda, I want to sell you a different scenario.

All right, I’m all ears.

When we look at the polls this is what we see. We see the majority of Israelis want to reform the judicial system. They think Aharon Barak went too far, but they don’t want this reform, Yariv Levin’s reform. They think it’s too quick, too radical, too revolutionary. We want a reform, not this reform, a more subtle, more balanced reform.

Or the way I’ll put it, liberal democracies are healthy when there is a tension between the branches, between the Supreme Court and the parliaments. Barak violated the tension, gave too much power to the Supreme Court. Levin is violating the tension, giving too much power to the Knesset. What we want is tension itself, to restore the tension.

Now, the tension between those two bodies is a pain in the neck for them, for the politicians, and for the judges. It’s a massive, constant battle and headache for them. But their headache is our liberty. Their tension is our liberty. And I think what most Israelis say, we need to restore the tension, not replicate the violation of the tension, just this time towards the parliament. That’s what most Israelis want and there’s something else they want: They think that these reforms that will restore the tension need to be done within the framework that will create broad consensus.

Israelis cast their votes at a voting station in Tel Aviv, during Knesset elections, March 23, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

You can’t create a constitution or change the constitution without having real consensus. So I think the two aspects that most Israelis agree on. So here we have something very interesting. If I notice, like, from the point of view of history, of ideas, it’s interesting.

People on the left, like on the hardcore left, they don’t make any changes in the judicial system. So people on the left are now very conservative. They want to conserve the status quo exactly the way they are. So left-wingers are thinking like right-wingers. Okay? On the other hand, on the far right, you have people that want to be radical, change everything, revolutionize everything. Interesting. So you have right-wingers thinking like radical left-wingers. So what happens when the left is conservative and the right is radical?

I love this. This is great.

But most people in the soft right, soft left, in the radical center, not just the majority, they want change as opposed to the conservative left, but not this change, as opposed to the radical right. They want soft change that will restore the balance. So that’s interesting.

So I want to take this point and add it to something we said before. This moment has two qualities in it, if I feel it correctly. One, high alertness. You know, people that don’t care about politics are protesting in the streets. High level of alertness and invisible consensus, invisible consent.

And this invisible consent is so interesting. We agree, and we don’t know that we agree because Israelis today polarized in the streets, polarized on social media, and they agree in the polls. We hate each other in social media, but we agree with each other according to the polls. This is, by the way, so this is such an Israeli typical paradox where we agree with each other in the polls and we hate each other in social media. It means that if we — I don’t think this will end up in civil war, but if it will end up in civil war, be the most absurd civil war in the history of civil wars. It will be a civil war between civilians that agree with each other. Okay? That’s how weird this moment is.

Noam party leader Deputy Minister Avi Maoz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on January 30, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

So if we add these together, political alertness plus political agreement, that could lead to a foundation of a real constitution for Israel. It could lead to a constitutional moment. And a constitutional moment means that Israel legislates, maybe it looks like this — Basic Law of Legislation — which is something we didn’t have for 75 years, that defines and designs the rules of the game.

How many MKs does it take to override a decision of the Supreme Court? It can be 61, maybe 67. They’ll figure it out. Maybe 70, maybe 80. How many Supreme Court judges does it take in order to cancel a decision of the Knesset? It can’t just be accidental, has to be… And they’ll figure out the laws of the game that most Israelis could agree on, and then that means we finally have our version of a constitution that we all signed up for.

So that would be a very exciting moment. And I think this moment could lead because that we are all highly engaged. We know that. And we also mostly agree, we just don’t know that. So we put that together.

So, Amanda, if you’re in a moment that could lead on the one hand to constitutional crisis and on the other hand to constitutional moments and we don’t know where this is taking us, I think that makes a very interesting moment.

So who is the Moses to lead us out of the 75 years of the desert without this constitution? Who is the person to actually lead and take charge and bring this forward?

That’s a very good question. Right now it’s President [Isaac] Herzog. He’s supposed to be the peacemaker. He’s supposed to be the person that could shift Israeli history from constitutional crisis to constitutional moments. My dream is that we’ll have like the Israeli equivalent of, you know, Philadelphia back then, right?

Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaks at a gathering in Tel Aviv, December 13, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A constitutional congress.

Exactly. And it probably won’t be as dramatic, but like, the president will have some kind of a constitutional congress where serious people representing all communities in Israel will take advantage of this moment where Israelis really care about our invisible constitution and express their invisible consensus and design a reasonable constitution.

Or I would say we don’t have to have a complete constitution — a Basic Law defining the rules of the game is enough, would be a tremendous achievement. And obviously, we need… what’s important is that this will happen if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will capture this opportunity.

So let’s talk about him a little bit. I don’t know him like you do. I’ve never shared a stage with him or anything like that. And I read the review that you did of his autobiography. And I just wonder if this is just a big fake-out, if this is the same kind of thing like what we had several years ago with the annexation, which just seemed to be on the doorstep, it seemed to be almost happening. And then it all went away immediately once things got straightened out with the Abraham Accords. Is this that kind of moment, is he just bluffing everyone?

So I think the analogy you’re creating is fascinating. Let’s unpack that. I think it was 2020, right? So we thought we’re going towards annexation. And that created a tremendous amount of anxiety in Israel, in the US and in the Middle East. And then almost overnight, instead of annexation, we had peace and we had the Abraham Accords and the brilliance of political leadership at that moment, which Bibi was a part of it, was the alchemy of turning anxiety into opportunity. The anxiety of annexation turned into, transformed into an opportunity for peace.

Are we in that same moment? The anxiety of a constitutional breakdown will turn into an opportunity for constitutional moments. Are we in that moment?

I would say that it’s highly probable that this will have a good ending. And the reason I say that is because first of all, we have that precedent. We also know that Netanyahu himself is celebrating that precedent in his book, like how he knew he’s taking credit for that alchemy for that transforming anxiety into the opportunity of back then from annexation to peace. So maybe he’ll be doing this again. But also, I must say, what we see now is also a window into everything that’s interesting and weird about this new government.

A group photo of the 37th Government of Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 29, 2022 (Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office)

Interesting and weird. Those are two terms, not exactly how I describe it, but yes, interesting and weird.

Yes. About this new government. This new government is a marriage between two different currents of right-wing Israeli politics. Now ideologically speaking, they are very different currents. The only thing they have in common is a brand. They’re right-wing. But besides a shared brand, it’s very different ideologies. One ideology is called the conservative ideology, which is called right wing. And then there’s messianic ideology, which is called right wing.

Now Amanda, messianism and conservativism, those are two opposite ideologies. Let’s try to drill into this because this is very interesting, because this government is a marriage between two opposites. And usually, people say this is a very homogeneous government. No, it’s not. No it’s not. It’s a very heterogeneous government. And the conservative way of thinking, I would say, has two components to it. One, I’m talking about specifically Bibi Netanyahu, which is conservative, has two aspects.

One, understand that you can’t predict the future, you can’t predict the results of your own actions, and you definitely can’t predict the unintended consequences of your own actions. An example I like to give is in the 1990s when the internet was created, there was a lot of techno-optimism. People were saying that this will lead to more democracy and more human rights around the world. Because, and it made sense, because if you have democratization of information and that will lead to the democratization of power, that made sense, right? Twenty years later, you have democratization of disinformation and conspiracy theories go mainstream and you say, hey, how did this happen? The internet was supposed to promote democracy, not threaten democracy. Well, no one saw it, no one predicted it. This is the law of unintended consequences.

And they can go on and on with this law. But conservative people believe in the law of unintended consequences. That creates very careful politics. Don’t change everything very quickly, change some things slowly, gradually. Now, if you add Bibi’s brand of Zionism to that, you have hyper-conservativism. Why? Because people usually are daring when they have nothing to lose and they become very careful once they make a lot of money, right?

I don’t know that from personal experience.

But you know, someone that’s starting a startup now from scratch takes risks. And once they make a fortune and they’re like, OK, you take less risks, right? So think about Jewish history. In 1948, Ben Gurion took real risks, but we have nothing. Seventy-five years later we have — I don’t want to say we have everything, but we have Israel is a miracle. In ’48 it was formed, in ’67 it expanded. And then we have the high tech. And once it’s so successful, you become, OK, let’s not rock the boat, let’s not rock the boat. Let’s not make very quick changes, radical changes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

And Bibi is an inheritor of his father’s thinking. I think the key to understanding Bibi’s thinking is his father’s philosophy, which says the Jewish state can collapse at any moment. It’s an achievement of Jewish history. It’s a very fragile achievement and it could collapse at any moment. That’s right. Bibi, throughout his career, is probably the most one of the most careful Israeli leaders. Careful when it comes to peace, careful when it comes to war. In 2014, there was a grassroots calling. In 2014, when we were in Tzuk Eitan, the operation in Gaza of 2014, people on the right were saying, conquer Gaza, destroy Hamas, go for a massive operation.

He didn’t do that. At that same time, [former US president] Barack Obama and [former secretary of State] John Kerry were pushing him to a diplomatic journey towards peace and two-state solution. He didn’t do that. He almost always avoids military adventures and diplomatic adventures. Careful when it comes to peace, careful when it comes to war and people think, oh, he’s so careful, he is so afraid, he’s sacrificing what he believes in. People don’t understand. No, no, his carefulness, his fear is not sacrificing his ideology. That’s implementing his ideology. He thinks the State of Israel is a fragile achievement and we don’t rock the boat, we don’t know the unintended consequences.

His partners are not conservative. His partners want dramatic change and they want it now. They are messianic. Now, you could become a radical thinker and think that you can predict the future and you can predict the results of your actions in history if you’re on the left because Karl Marx gives you like a map of the future or if you’re on the right because a prophet Isaiah gives you a map of the future. But when you have the confidence that you can predict because you know where history is going, like Marxists on the left or messianics on the right, if you know where history is going then you feel very comfortable to do radical changes because you can predict their results.

So we have this government that is a marriage between messianic right-wingers and conservative right-wingers. And I must say, Amanda, it’s like you know how you have today companies could give the same brand to very different products. Like, you have the same brand for shoes and for chairs. But there are different products.

Philosopher and author Dr. Micah Goodman, February 1, 2023. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

So today in politics, very different currents of the right have the same name, “right.” (By the way, the left has the same problem. I won’t go into the problems of the left.) And now that is why this government is a marriage between two very different currents of the Israeli right. And you have people on the right that want to completely, for example, the judicial reform, they want radical reform now. And I think Bibi’s temperament, which we have not heard him completely yet, will be not radical, more moderate, not now, maybe a little bit later, more gradual. See to predict Bibi’s behavior I think there’s three different components: his personality, his interests and his ideology.

Now, I think his personality is very careful. His personality is in harmony with his ideology. He always thinks there’s a catastrophe around the corner. But his interests might be in contradiction with his ideology. He has an interest: He has a whole court case against him. He has his own interests.

So what will predict Bibi’s behavior? His interests, which might lead him to extreme reform, or his ideology, which might lead him to create restraints and to block at least some element of his reform? We don’t know. We don’t know. I have no idea. But if Bibi comes out as a great statesman and joins Bougie Herzog, Israel’s president, to transform this moment from a constitutional breakdown to a constitutional moment, it won’t because he’s turning back on his right-wing ideology. It’s because he’ll be loyal to his conservative right-wing ideology.

And he’s done it before.

And he’s done it before. So we don’t know. We have no idea. I’m willing to offer my guess.

I think this will end okay. I don’t think we’re on the verge of a crisis and civil war. I think this will end much better than it seems, but my guess is as good as anyone else. And I’m using Bibi’s ideology to predict his behavior and not other elements in his ecosystem to predict his behavior.

Micah, so much to digest. I really appreciate you sitting with me today.

Thank you.

What Matters Now podcasts are available for download on iTunes, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, PlayerFM or wherever you get your podcasts.

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