By Joel S. Dzodin / Tel Aviv
This is a time of unprecedented political turmoil in Israel. For the past 15 weeks, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have protested across the country, opposed to the extreme weakening of the country’s court system proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government. The protestors argue that the Netanyahu government's proposed judicial overhaul endangers democracy itself in Israel.
Joel Dzodin, who lives in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, has been part of those protest crowds for some ten different weeks. Luckily for Insider readers, Joel, who graduated from Oak Park High School in 1969, is also an accomplished photographer whose work has appeared in this publication several times before:
What follows are Joel’s pictures and words detailing the protests. Explains Joel, “Since making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel) in 2005, I've been protesting certain government actions even before Netanyahu's government came into power, both by participating in actual organized demonstrations as well as on social media. I've always used my photography as a vehicle of expression and documentation.”
Joel says of participating in the protests, “It's been very inspiring because the number of protesters against the so-called judicial reforms have steadily increased. I have seen a wide spectrum of young and old turning out to try and save the democratic character of Israel. I've been inspired by the range of speakers, who have been religious, non-religious, business leaders and everyday students, who are united in trying to prevent this legal nightmare."
Like many observers, Joel sees strong similarities between Netanyahu and Donald Trump. “I think of them as two peas in the same pod,” he says. “Far and away, Netanyahu is much more intelligent than Trump. But they both very effectively know how to appeal to and energize their respective base of supporters. More than any other Israeli public figure, Bibi has done more to damage national social cohesion, demonizing and marginalizing those he sees as enemies, which includes people like me.”
The Insider thanks Joel for bringing our readers to the front line of these historic events!
The photographs in this visual essay were taken over the period of several months, from January 14 to March 18, as discontent and anger throughout Israel grew over the current government's feverish moves to radically alter Israel's judiciary. The current coalition spearheading these changes is the most regressive government we've had since the establishment of the state in 1948.
If you want to understand the strength, fear, and motivations of the protesters against the Netanyahu government, there are a few key points to keep in mind.
The political system we have here necessitates coalitions, which by nature are opportunistic and represent a hodgepodge of narrow, special interest groups with their own specific agendas. Under this system, smaller parties currently need to win at least four seats in the Knesset, Israel's unicameral parliament. The problem is that under such a system, these small parties then have the potential to wield inordinate power and influence (if invited into the coalition), pushing for radical decisions that polls show are rejected by a majority of the population.
Unlike the U.S. and the U.K., we don't have a mature and time-tested system of checks-and-balances in Israel, except for our current Supreme Court, the independence of which is being threatened by efforts to cripple its autonomy to serve as a check in governance. Adding to our difficulties, we lack a formal constitution. The country has been able to hobble by for 70-plus years using something called "The Basic Law," under which ethically problematic practices continue, such as the policy of "administrative detention," where there are no trials or formal charges brought against those incarcerated on suspicion of terrorism, sometimes for long periods of time.
There is widespread sentiment that Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu et al. are deliberately trying to emasculate the Supreme Court as a means of dismissing the outstanding corruption charges against Bibi. While coalition supporters and spokespeople are trying very hard to portray their judicial overhaul platform as a clear Left vs. Right issue, in fact it's evident that opposition against these changes and the manner in which they are being ramrodded through cuts across all sectors of Israeli society.
The protesters, who have assembled week after week no matter how inclement the weather, are pushing back against what they see as an unprecedented effort by the Likud Party-based coalition to alter the essential character of the state, taking it far from the vision of its founders, and trampling on the exhortations for equality for all people that was enshrined in Israel's Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948.
Update by the author on April 16th
Israel has been rocked by terrorist attacks that have resulted in numerous deaths and casualties, each one having galvanized the nation in shock and grief. On February 26, two brothers (Hillel Yaniv, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19) were attacked and killed in the Palestinian town of Huwara. This resulted in a counterattack by Israeli settlers on that same town the following day.
On April 7, a mother and two daughters were attacked and shot in their vehicle. The two daughters (Rina Dee, 16, and Maia Dee, 20) were killed and their mother (Lucy Dee) succumbed to her injuries later in the week. Subsequently, on the same day, an Italian tourist and seven others were wounded in a ramming attack at Tel Aviv's beach promenade.
These tragedies have polarized the rhetoric between Right and Left in calling for an appropriate response. It's sad but inevitable that these deaths and injuries would harden the political discourse regarding their cause and necessary solutions and responses. There are calls to unify the nation but how are we to do this? From my perspective, and from millions of others like me who've been demonstrating against the proposed changes to our judiciary, the only solution to this dire situation is that Netanyahu must exit the scene, and those Likud members who haven't ingested the Kool-Aid must find the courage to speak up and act. They and others not mired in the far-right nationalistic and theocratic camp must put the interests of the nation above their own personal political and ideological pipe dreams.
For readers who want to delve more deeply into why the program of judicial reforms here is so contentious, I would offer several recent resources:
Israeli Protest Photo Essay by Joel S. Dzodin
All photos copyright Joel S. Dzodin, 2023
Joel Dzodin is a former Detroiter now living in Israel. At different points in his life he has worked as an archaeologist, an IT Help Desk guy, and an online English teacher to adults around the world. Photography has long been a major passion and theme in his life, since taking his first photos at the age of 6, using a Kodak box camera. A lot of Joel’s photographs focus on the small unexamined details of everyday life, such as the beauty of minute water condensation that forms on cold bottles in the hot Israeli weather.
During Joel’s time in Israel, he has been fortunate to photograph the activities of the NGO PeacePlayers International, Middle East, witnessing firsthand how authentic friendships can be forged between Jews and Arabs despite long-standing and severe religious, cultural and ideological barriers. He is an inveterate hoarder of technological antiques, so that his young children once referred to his home office as "The NASA Control Room."
One of Joel’s major pleasures during normal times is to wander the fields and trails of Israel, stumbling over prehistoric and historic evidence of previous human settlement. During the pandemic, he has had to occupy himself at home by shooting portraits of ants and spiders also sheltering in place, using a mid-1970s Nikon close-up lens adapted for today's digital cameras.
Today, Joel lives near Tel Aviv with his wife Susanne, whom he met on a kibbutz in 1975. They have two adult children, one living in the U.S. and the other in Israel. During the pandemic lockdowns, he has practiced social distancing outside with his three grandchildren, two of whom are already speaking English.