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American Jews: Don’t Give Up on Israel

The recent turbulence in Israel has already troubled American Jews who are now pondering how to respond to what seems like an assault from within on the Israeli democracy.
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March 16, 2023
Racide/Getty Images, modified

The recent turbulence in Israel has already troubled American Jews who are now pondering how to respond to what seems like an assault from within on the Israeli democracy. They are worried, because they are invested in the Jewish state both materially and emotionally. According to the 2020 survey of the Pew Research Center on their attitudes towards Israel, “(n)early six-in-10 U.S. Jews say they are either very emotionally attached (25%) or somewhat emotionally attached (32%) to the modern state of Israel.” It is no wonder, then, why they are alarmed by the recent aggressive legislative campaign by the Israeli government that, if it goes through, will critically weaken the democratic nature of Israel. Putting words into action, Julie Sandorf, president of the Revson Foundation, came up with a creative idea: Holders of Israel Bonds, instead of welcoming to their conference Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (who had said that the Palestinian village of Hawara should be wiped out), should cash these bonds and allocate the money to Israeli organizations which promote democracy for all.

Indeed, all this mayhem came as a big surprise. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched his current government, he presented three top priorities for his new government: “stopping Iran’s nuclear program, developing state infrastructure — with an emphasis on connecting the so-called periphery to the center of the country — and restoring internal security and governance.” In reality, however, these three priorities have been left aside, and a new one suddenly emerged, which had hardly been mentioned in the election campaign: Reforming the judicial system by weakening the Supreme Court and giving the government almost unlimited power. In a country which doesn’t have a constitution, this means an immediate threat to human and civil rights, and in general, might move Israel towards the authoritarian model of the regimes of Hungary and Poland.

The conventional wisdom is that while disguising this constitutional revolution as a necessary reform of our judicial system, Netanyahu cunningly masterminded it in order to get away from the charges of corruption he is facing. If he can decide who the judges are, and he can pull off a Trumpesque move and fire the Attorney General and appoint someone to his liking, and the government can overrule any decision of the court, then he can escape justice.

There might be another explanation to this Bibi frenzy. After ruling Israel for so long, he made himself believe – like French king Louis XIV in the 17th and 18th Century – that “L’état, c’est moi,” meaning that “I myself am the nation.” Gen. Giora Eiland, former Head of the National Security Council, agrees: Bibi has become weary of being “just” an ordinary prime minister, who is limited by parliamentary majority and by a restricting Supreme Court. And Tamir Pardo, former Head of the Mossad, who worked closely with Netanyahu, believes that the turning point was 2015, when, against all odds, Netanyahu won the elections singlehandedly, and since then started to see himself as a giant surrounded by dwarfs.

This time, Netanyahu, who is traditionally considered a political wizard, grossly miscalculated, unleashing an unprecedented volcano of popular rage. 

Having said all that, here is the good news. This time, Netanyahu, who is traditionally considered a political wizard, grossly miscalculated. By launching this set of crazy moves against our democracy, he has unleashed an unprecedented volcano of popular rage. For the last 10 weeks, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been taking to the streets, Israeli flags in their hands, to protest against this onslaught on their liberty. They will never let this happen.

Furthermore, now that this authentic popular response has erupted, there is no way back, and the protesters – the best people Israel can put forward – are starting to also question some basic tenets which were taken for granted for too long. For example, the fact that the Haredim, who don’t serve in the IDF but nevertheless demand that the rest of us should fund them. Or the issue of the West Bank: Isn’t this a time to wonder what happens if Netanyahu’s other radical partners, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, succeed in fulfilling their dream of a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, where 3 million Palestinians will be without any rights.

Jewish American friends of Israel, then, shouldn’t give us up at this crucial point. On the contrary, they should collaborate with us in stopping this attack on our democracy. Together we will save Israel.


Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments, 1992-1996. 

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