A key reason for the sheer venom of the rhetoric surrounding the proposed judicial reforms in Israel is that politics nowadays is everywhere being treated as if it was religion.
This has meant disagreements over politics swiftly turning from disagreements over policy choices into holy wars about right and wrong.
Political disagreements are becoming existential crises. And partly thanks to social media, everyone can now live in their own ideological bubble, never really encountering another point of view.
And that leads to terrible assumptions about the Other Side.
Remember the pandemic? Here in Australia, if you mentioned to the wrong person that you got your first vaccine dose, you might be accused of somehow being part of a secret plot to establish a sinister one-world government.
Alternatively, if you wondered about the negative effects of lockdowns on schoolchildren then you risked being labelled a crazed anti-vaxxer who wanted everyone’s grandmother to die.
What is happening in Israel is partly due to this phenomenon.
In wealthy, developed nations where most people don’t actually have serious problems like “do I have enough food or am I going to die in a pointless civil war”, people seem determined to go out and create problems for themselves.
Israel has, at least until recently, tended not to face this problem, which is perhaps why it regularly comes close to the top of the list of happiest countries and bucks the overwhelming trend of other developed nations by having a greater than replacement level of fertility.
You don’t have so many children if you’re not fundamentally optimistic about the future.
In one sense, the judicial reforms are part of a struggle between classes about who controls the rules of democracy, not about democracy itself, despite some of the bloodcurdling rhetoric.
Everyone is screaming about wanting to “save democracy”, but the word seems to mean different things to different people.
An Israeli friend described it to me as battling Tel Aviv suburbs – Ashkenazi Ramat Aviv looking disapprovingly at Sephardi Bat Yam and Charedi Bnei Brak and insisting on retaining control of a powerful Supreme Court capable of overruling the government to keep their kind of secular liberal Israel protected from change.
Likewise, those in favour of the reforms want a Knesset where they think they can elect a majority to not be, in their eyes, undemocratically fettered by an unelected Supreme Court that doesn’t share the world view of a majority of voters.
Israel doesn’t have a constitution, just a set of Basic Laws, but I’m not sure a constitution would resolve these issues.
The way states govern themselves may have more to do with people than laws.
If you remember the late unlamented Soviet Union, you may recall it had a wonderful constitution, with lots of carefully enumerated rights for everyone. Not that it mattered in the slightest.
New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, all secular, liberal, multicultural democracies populated largely by Anglo-Saxon English speakers don’t have constitutions, but they seem to get along just fine without one.
Israel is a Jewish state and so a certain amount of passionate disagreement and loud argumentation is probably baked into that particular pie.
But it is also a state of the Jewish people and we in the Australian Jewish community have a deep interest in what happens there.
But if all of us, Jewish or Israeli, can perhaps try to get out of our various social media bubbles and reach across to people we don’t have much contact with, we may learn something about Those People that might make us see things differently.
If I can end on a positive note while talking about such a profoundly depressing issue, it was heartening to see two crowds of rival protesters at a Jerusalem railway station recently.
One group was going up the escalator having come from their demonstration, while the other was going down to catch a train to stage their protest.
Both were waving Israeli flags, and as they passed, many of the ideological rivals physically reached out to shake hands with their opponents.
At the end of the day, we are one people and have much more in common with each other than not. We waited 2000 years to re-establish our state. I doubt Israelis are going to wreck it now.
Bruce Hill is an AJN senior journalist.