We Will Live to See Better Days
This year we will celebrate Passover, the Festival of Spring and Liberty, in particularly sad circumstances. The Coronavirus is preventing us from enjoying the fresh and fragrant spring air, while dark political processes threaten our liberty. It sometimes seems that Israel will be unable to repel both these terrifying threats simultaneously. While most countries are devoting their talents to conquering the common enemy, here the virus is being recruited to silence the judiciary, crush the independence of the Knesset, and entrench the rule of a religious and nationalist cult that discriminates against different sections of society, supports the occupation, and refuses to place any limits on corruption.
For thousands of years, the Jewish people faced persecution because it carried the beacon of liberty and free thought. We encouraged the rule of law, because once it was eroded we faced mortal danger. We preached solidarity and peace, because in their absence our lives were threatened. When liberty was absent, we suffered from discrimination, alienation, and even genocide. Now, in the nation founded with the aspiration of building a democratic society, the authorities are acting in an antidemocratic manner and exercising draconian emergency powers without supervision or parliamentary review. As they do so, they trample on individual rights. As we face this lethal virus, the circle of poverty is expanding. Many Israelis will begin the festival after losing their jobs. Many cannot afford to buy food and medicine. Tragically, at this time we find ourselves under a self-indulgent regime that has consistently crushed the welfare state and impoverished the public health system. We are getting the terrifying sense that our elected leaders have effectively told us to abandon the elderly people who built our country to the dark recesses of the epidemic.
Yet despite all these challenges, I believe that we can pull ourselves out of this nightmare.
I believe that we can present a wise leadership devoted to all parts of Israeli society. I believe that we can usher in an enlightened rule that will encourage culture and humanity.
I believe that one day we will realize that our neighbors are our future friends in this vast region, and not enemies to be vanquished. I believe that we and our neighbors will be able to celebrate festivals of liberty and blossoming in an atmosphere of optimism.
I believe all this despite the politicians who betray their voters and their destiny. I believe all this even though authors and poets, intellectuals and journalists have failed in their duty to serve as the vanguard of democracy, liberty, and freedom of expression.
I believe with all my soul in a better future. I have experienced bitter festivals before. I personally lived through the Second World War, when one-third of the Jewish people was annihilated. The war brought riots to the doorstep of my home in Baghdad, and the world was seized by a madness so terrible that atom bombs were used in an attempt to bring it to an end. Even then, as we paid a dreadful price in blood, we did not give up as humans or as Jews. We pulled ourselves up, fought back, and stood tall alongside humane forces around the world. At the age of 93, I have not lost hope now, either, thanks to the humane forces among us. There are many of us, and we are stronger than any corrupt regime. We, the staff of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, along with other civil society organizations, will continue to work resolutely to block antidemocratic legislation and to defend human rights in all times.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the brave health professionals, Jews and Arabs alike, who are on the frontline of the war against the Coronavirus. We will live to see better days: days when all of us – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – will celebrate our festivals in health, happiness, and comfort. Best wishes to you all, Happy Passover and Easter.