The following is reprinted from a letter to Jewish Federation leaders across North America.
As you likely heard, we just returned from a special, twenty-four hour fly-in to Jerusalem to meet with Israel’s political, civic, and business leaders about the advancing legislation in the Knesset that would change the relationship between Israel’s legislative and executive branches on the one hand and their relationship with the independent judiciary on the other. We have written to you about this issue several times before, and we have also taken the unusual step of publishing an open letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Lapid on this subject.
We were joined on the fly-in by thirty Federation lay and professional leaders from over twenty different communities, including Large, Large-Intermediate, and Intermediate-size Federations. We couldn’t have been prouder of this delegation, which reflected the tremendous leadership talent we have within our Jewish Federation system. Every single leader represented us with deep knowledge, empathy, and a sophisticated sense of how to impact a very difficult and complicated political situation.
Our delegation met with Israel’s most senior leaders, including President Isaac Herzog and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, as well as with ministers and Members of Knesset who are at the center of the negotiations and debates; the latter include MK Simcha Rothman, who chairs the Knesset committee through which the judicial reform legislation is advancing. At the conclusion of the fly-in, we issued a joint statement on behalf of all the participants. We are grateful to all the government leaders who made time for us in their incredibly busy schedules. It was clear all day that they were engaged in intense discussions about this issue, and that meeting with us was part of the almost non-stop attention they were paying to it.
We were deeply moved by the fact that everyone with whom we met, on whatever side of the issue, thanked us for coming and appreciated how much we care about the future of Israel. It was not mere politeness, but genuine emotion. In one meeting, our colleague Erika Rudin-Luria, President of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, told our speaker (who was strongly in favor of the reforms) that when Jews anywhere are in distress, “We show up. That’s who we are.” The speaker, expecting another in what has apparently been a long line of purely political meetings, was visibly touched. As we said in our Joint Statement, “We made this extraordinary trip to Israel to show our love for our Israeli brothers and sisters at this challenging time [and] we were welcomed with love.”
Everyone we met also emphasized the extreme seriousness of the moment we are in. One speaker who has spoken to American Jewish audiences for years said, “I have never given a speech like this.”
Just as the fly-in was closing, President Herzog addressed the nation. The president began by saying, “The last few weeks have been tearing us apart. They are harming Israel’s economy, security, political ties, and—especially--Israeli cohesion. The family Shabbat meals have become an arena of struggle; friends and neighbors have become rivals. The conflicts are getting worse. The worries, the fears, the anxieties – they are all more tangible than ever.” He said that he recognized the desires of many for changes to the judicial system in Israel, and offered new proposals that he said would make needed changes without including provisions in the current legislation that many believe are destructive of democratic norms. (A summary of the proposal is here and the full proposal is here.)
Shortly after the president’s announcement, the governing coalition rejected his proposal, with Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that “key sections of the outline only perpetuate the existing situation and do not bring the required balance to the Israeli authorities.” See further details here. Those opposed to the reforms announced that they would continue their protests, with a third “Day of Disruption” on Thursday. See here for more.
We are so grateful for our dear President Herzog and were honored to have a chance to tell him so directly. He has demonstrated great courage, and we wish him continued strength in this process.
The bottom line is clear. There is a real issue in Israel regarding legislative versus judicial power that must be addressed, and there are real concerns that addressing these issues in the wrong way could fundamentally alter Israel’s Jewish, democratic character. Both sides need to listen, learn, and compromise. When a situation becomes so contentious, it is often hard for even obvious compromises to take shape. We are doing everything we can to encourage this process along. In so doing, we believe Federations are acting in the best traditions of Jewish communal leadership.
As we enter Shabbat back in our home communities, we pray for the peace and flourishing of our beloved State of Israel.
Julie Platt, Chair, Board of Trustees
Eric Fingerhut, President & CEO