Etgar Keret: Israel's Democracy in Danger

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In Israel, the protests against the judicial reform planned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continue. Cultural workers see Israel's democracy in danger. Writer Etgar Keret explains why.

Etgar Keret

Keret is one of the superstars of the Israeli literary scene. The Jewish Museum in Berlin is currently devoting an exhibition to him. The work and life of the author, who was born in Israel in 1967, are presented. Keret, a master of the short story, has trenchant political views, including on the ongoing protests against judicial reform in his country. “All demonstrators have one thing in common,” Keret said in February in an interview with journalist Uri Schneider, who reports from Israel. “They don't want their democracy stolen from them.”

Renewed protests against planned judicial reform in Israel

Keret is also one of the signatories of a letter to the ambassadors of Germany and Great Britain in Israel. Around 1,000 Israeli artists, writers and intellectuals called for the cancellation of Prime Minister Netanyahu's inaugural visits to Berlin and London.

According to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, the cultural workers justified their initiative as follows: Israel is in the worst crisis in its history and is “on the way from a vibrant democracy to a theocratic dictatorship.” In addition to Keret, the writer David Grossmann and the sculptor Sigalit Landau also put their names under the paper. Nevertheless, Netanyahu arrived in the German capital this Thursday, where meetings with Chancellor Scholz and Federal President Steinmeier were scheduled.

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu on his first visit to Germany, here during a visit to the “Gleis 17” memorial in Berlin Grunewald, from where the Nazis once sent Jews to the extermination camps

The criticism of the protesters

More power for the government, less rule-of-law control through an independent judiciary: critics accuse Netanyahu and his right-wing religious coalition of weakening the judiciary and thus undermining democracy. The government in Jerusalem, which has been in office since December, wants to use the reform to increase its influence on the selection of judges, among other things. The powers of the Supreme Court are to be reduced. She justified this with the accusation that judges had interfered in politics. Netanyahu, who is in coalition with the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing extremists, is currently facing charges of corruption. “The whole state,” says Keret, “is hostage to this man who – like Nero or Caligula – considers himself more important than the state.”

Ongoing protests in Israel against planned judicial reform

“This protest movement doesn't need writers to explain the world,” Keret said in an interview. “Any liberal Democrat understands that a court under the control of the prime minister is a weak court.” The same applies if the government hires a “misogynist, homophobic racist” in the Ministry of Education. “Then my son will learn misogynist and homophobic attitudes. You don't have to be a genius to understand that. Everyone understands that.” 

Broad protest movement

According to Keret, the protest movement unites the people of Israel across political divides: “I've never been to demonstrations with so many people with whom I have almost nothing in common,” reports the writer. “To my left are hipsters with joints in their mouths, to my right are high-tech entrepreneurs and behind me are communists. A range of rich and poor, army and conscientious objectors.” What they all have in common is the fear of losing democracy.

Warner about democracy: the Israeli writer Etgar Keret

Older people in particular took to the streets. With good reason, according to Keret, because Israel is a country of immigration. “A lot of the people who came here did so because they saw the democracies they came from collapse.” The older people in particular shaped the image of the demonstrations today: “They are the ones who come week after week. In the rain. In the cold. Maybe because they know what price we will pay if these government plans go through.”

Religious fundamentalists in the government

The state of Israel, founded in 1948, defines itself as Jewish and democratic, according to Keret. “But it's actually a Jewish state that's also democratic as a hobby.” Anyone who speaks to members of the religious camp is told: “Democracy is a temporary phenomenon.” Judaism existed before and will also exist after democracy. “They don't care about the weakening of democracy, because in the end only God decides anyway.”

The interview was conducted by Uri Schneider.