Note: I am hearing the following sentiments by increasing numbers of Israeli leaders who believe that this current Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not only the most extremist nationalist and ultra-Orthodox right-wing government in the 75-year history of the State of Israel but is an existential threat to Israeli democracy itself. Yesterday, Rabbi Gilad Kariv (MK Labor Party and the former head of the Israeli Reform and Progressive Movement), in a conference call of international leadership of the Reform movement, called on the liberal American Jewish community in particular (given that we are the most important Diaspora community in the world) to stand publicly with the Israeli opposition by contacting the Biden Administration, our Congressional Representatives, Israeli Consuls General across the United States, and our Israeli friends to express our friendship and solidarity with Israeli opposition per what the two writers of the following op-ed in the Haaretz daily newspaper yesterday wrote.
A disclaimer – I am a national co-chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street (a pro-Israel, pro-peace, and pro-democracy American political organization based in Washington, D.C.) comprised of more than 1030 rabbis and cantors across America’s liberal streams. Etzion and Shek (note their bios at the conclusion) confirm the important place in American politics that J Street has assumed (as opposed to AIPAC). I am posting this op-ed in its entirety not only for the authors’ articulate expression of Israeli outrage at the anti-democratic agenda of this Israeli government, but because Haaretz is a subscription newspaper and the article is likely unavailable to many of you. As I have written before, it is worth it if you are a keen watcher of all things Israeli to subscribe to Haaretz, the equivalent of Israel’s New York Times.
Here is the op-ed:
“To call for American-Jewish ‘unity’ – either in favor of the anti-democratic coup or by adopting ‘neutrality’ – is to betray America’s and Israel’s core values
Op-ed by Eran Etzion and Daniel Shek – Haaretz – February 23, 2023
“Israel is undergoing a rapid, aggressive attempt at regime change. A seemingly legitimate, elected coalition is determined to use its slim, almost accidental majority to reframe Israel’s democratic foundations into an illiberal and hollowed-out state.
If Netanyahu’s co-conspirators achieve their goal, what was for 75 years the only Jewish and democratic state in history will no longer be democratic. Will it still be Jewish? That depends on your definition of Judaism, but for a majority of Israeli Jews, this is not an academic debate. Rather, it is an existential battle for their homeland’s soul, and for their children and grandchildren’s very possibility of a future life as proud and free Israelis, “to be a free nation in our land,” as the national anthem goes.
This is not your run-of-the-mill expression of “Israel’s vibrant democracy” or “lively debate,” as supporters of the coup d’état – and unfortunately some middle-of-the-road, well-intentioned but hopelessly naïve voices – are trying to argue. (See this misguided recent piece) This is a transformative point in the history of the Israeli nation and the Jewish people. At this moment, our entire nation-state is on the verge of a homemade catastrophe.
What is the role of Israel’s greatest ally in such a defining moment? And what position should America’s crucially important Jewish community, which is liberal to its core, take?
In recent years, the political spheres in both the United States and Israel deteriorated into chaos. A large chunk of the citizenry fell prey to nationalist, populist, and sometimes racist and conspiratorial narratives, propagated by toxic leaders and fueled by irresponsible social media moguls and cynical media figures.
In both countries, any talk of “unity” is detached from political and constitutional realities. There is no “united” America, there is no “united” Israel and there is no “united” American Jewish community. One needs to shut one’s eyes firmly, cover one’s ears hermetically and seal one’s nose completely in order to maintain the stale position of “let there only be one American Jewish voice on Israel.”
The argument that American Jews should represent a united front on Israel went bankrupt decades ago, when AIPAC refused to support the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s historic peace initiative, which was backed by the majority of the Israeli people. It was once again proven to be counter-productive when AIPAC supported Netanyahu’s destructive crusade against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. These are core national security issues for all Israelis, but they were still played out within the bounds of democracy. Nowadays, the rules have been thrown out the window by a coalition of convicted felons, anti-democratic conspirators, religious fundamentalists and messianic zealots.
To call for American-Jewish “unity” – either in favor of the anti-democratic coup or by adopting “neutrality” – is to betray America’s and Israel’s core values. With AIPAC having veered rightward, both in American and Israeli terms, the liberal pro-Israel group J Street has not only earned its role as representative of the center and center-left of American Jewry, it now has to struggle alongside its Israeli liberal and progressive counterparts against the attack on the democratic foundations of the Jewish state.
Well over 100,000 people have taken to the streets in recent weeks for regular protests against the government’s so-called “judicial reform” and other parts of the right-wing agenda. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut has warned that “if the people who made up this plan have their way, Israel’s 75th year will be remembered as the year in which its democracy suffered a fatal blow.” From economists and tech companies to jurists and security leaders, so many corners of our society are more alarmed than ever before – and we are mobilizing.
These Israelis understand exactly what is at stake for our country – and we are saying so loudly and clearly. Now, we need our true friends in the United States and around the world to join us – exactly as J Street has.
This is the moment for the U.S. government, American Jews and all pro-Israel Americans – for all who have deep concerns about our government’s policies and Israel’s future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people – to speak out.
The far-right government falsely tells Israelis that its anti-democratic agenda will not harm Israel’s relationship with the United States, or its standing with the rest of the world. Even as it works to fundamentally transform Israel’s democratic character and its policies toward non-Orthodox Jews, LGBTQ people and Israeli Arabs, the government wants the U.S. government and Israel’s supporters in the American Jewish community to pretend that everything is business as usual, so that all those in the opposition will be left isolated and ignored.
Meanwhile, the right is happy to rely on its own vocal supporters and funders in the United States to help advance a shared illiberal agenda. When Republican billionaires anonymously give millions to the think tank that helped draft the government’s “judicial reform,” they are not told, as J Street is, to “stay out of Israel’s internal affairs.”
Apparently it is only concerned liberal democrats – in fact, the large majority of the American Jewish community – who are attacked and chastised for taking a strong interest in Israel’s future. This will not stand.
J Street ensures that U.S. elected officials receive a nuanced and honest picture of Israel’s reality from its security establishment, opposition leaders and civil society – not just from the government and its cheerleaders. They make clear that while we Israelis need American help to defend ourselves against rockets, terror attacks and other security threats, we also need help to end the cycle of endless conflict, and to achieve peace. They make clear that now, more than ever, we need help to preserve and defend our democracy.
President Joe Biden has already signaled his concerns regarding the future of Israel’s democracy and its “shared values” with the United States. American Jews who hold these values dear, and who value the strategic alliance between the United States and Israel, must stand up and fight shoulder-to-shoulder with us at this critical juncture. The stakes could not be higher. Join our fight for democracy, for freedom, for the Israel our forefathers and foremothers fought so hard to create, the true Israel of the Declaration of Independence. You have a place in this battle as well.”
Eran Etzion is the former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council.
Ambassador Daniel Shek served as Israel’s ambassador to France and spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
William Simon said:
So well stated! Thanks. Bill ________________________________
Zoe Smith said:
I’ve been hearing this sentiment from more and more Israeli leaders, and I think it’s time we all took a closer look at what’s going on in Israel. This government is far too extremist and nationalist, and I believe it’s an existential threat to Israeli democracy. I encourage all of my fellow American Jews to stand with the Israeli opposition and send a clear message to the Obama Administration, our Congressional Representatives, Israeli Consuls General across the United States, and our Israeli friends that we support them and believe in their right to free and fair elections.