Protests in Jerusalem over current attempts by the Israeli government to change its Supreme Court

After an 11-hour overnight flight from New York City to Tel Aviv recently, I found myself immediately in the throes of a political protest. Within minutes of reaching my hotel on the outskirts of Jerusalem that Saturday evening, my colleagues Ifat Maoz of Hebrew University and David Sherman of UC Santa Barbara, whisked me off to witness Week 21 of the anti-judicial “reform” protests against Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, which were being held religiously (pun intended) in streets across the nation on Saturday nights. This one outside the President’s home, and a few blocks from the Prime Minister’s official residence.

The crowd, draped in Israeli flags (the Progressive camp’s attempt to lay claim to the national symbol), and chanting De-moh-kraht-yah (Democracy in Hebrew), were thousands of passionate, secular and religious Israelis of all ages, dead set on stemming their nation’s slide toward autocracy. My local colleagues expressed great concern over the designs of current hard-Right government, as well as the current strategy of the Ultra-Orthodox community to procreate its way towards a political powerhouse in order to reshape the future of the country. This, in essence, is Israel — a place I am only beginning to come to know and appreciate as Conflict Central.

I had been invited to the Holy Land(s) to keynote a conference on the future of conflict resolution research by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University. My talk focused on the implications of the approach to addressing toxic polarization in America offered in my recent book The Way Out, for circumstances in Israel today. A tall order. Not only is this part of the world known for the grinding intractability of its many deep-seeded, interlinking conflicts, but in preparing my remarks I learned that US polarization was also having a direct effect on vital American support for Israel, with Republican sympathy for Israel rising and Democratic sentiment plummeting in recent years. Yet another interlinked conflict.

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