We just returned from an urgent trip to Israel where we joined a delegation of 30 Federation lay and professional leaders from over 20 communities organized by The Jewish Federations of North America. We went to show solidarity and to advocate for a resolution to the ongoing judicial reform crisis. We heard repeatedly that our presence was desired, and our voices needed. The Diaspora and Israel are inextricably linked. As several people told us during the trip, “Ein Eretz Yisrael ein Am Israel, v’ein Am Israel ein Eretz Yisrael ― There is no Land of Israel without the People of Israel. There is no People of Israel without the Land of Israel.”
To be clear, this moment in Israel is fraught. The social fabric is stretched. Protests have erupted in every major city. Last week, over 500,000 Israelis protested and the numbers are growing. All express strong emotions and deeply held convictions. Even though politics is the arena, this crisis is much more about what it means to be a Jew, an Israeli, and a Zionist.
As a global network, Federations continue to play a vital role in connecting Israel to the Diaspora. It is our responsibility to keep you, our community, educated about this intensifying situation. Here are a few important points to share with you.
- Everyone we spoke with believes there needs to be reform of some kind. They recognize there is an imbalance between the judiciary and the Knesset. However, protesters believe that reform is being used as a pretext to shatter the separation of powers, and those behind reform feel that they have not been well-represented in the judiciary and that these reforms will better reflect their concerns about the Jewish state. Israelis engaged in the process of protest, reform, and mediation are doing so because they are Zionists. This is a pro-Israel movement. Protesters are not burning the flag; they are waving it.Both sides are Zionists and patriots, concerned about the long-term future of the Zionist enterprise.Even though these reforms as written could potentially challenge democracy, it is simultaneously a shining moment for democracy. Many Israelis are becoming more civically active. They are writing petitions. They are organizing protests. A passion for civil discourse has awakened. These are clear examples of democracy at work.
- Everybody who spoke with us, from members of the Knesset in the coalition and the opposition to journalists to scholars to protest organizers to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, thanked us for coming and encouraged us to use our voices both in Israel and at home to help drive compromise. Both opposition and coalition partners spoke of our fly-in as an extended family meeting, using words like “mishpacha.” They called the Diaspora Jewish communities, especially in North America, a “key strategic asset” for Israel politically and culturally. “We have shared values, shared history, and a shared future,” one minister said. The opposition, the coalition, and the protestors thanked us deeply and profoundly for coming to support Israel and Israelis in their time of need.
- Increasingly, the Israeli populace sees itself as part of a global Jewish community. There is an evolution of thought in Israel. Israelis understand that we are global community. We cannot emphasize enough what a shift this is and how it represents a new and more partnered approach to Jewish destiny.
- Perhaps most importantly, now is the time for all of us who care about Israel to be more engaged rather than less. Israelis have asked us to be more engaged. They need us to be more engaged.
We will use the lessons we learned from our trip to strengthen our bond with Israel through continued education and advocacy. This coming week, we are offering the first of a three-part series of webinars where leaders in Israel offer us on-the-ground perspectives about the latest developments from this ongoing debate. In times of plenty and in times of crisis, we support Israel. Our recent trip taught us that, right now, our voice, your voice, is powerful.
As we head into Shabbat, let us remember that we are one people, one nation — Am Yisrael chai.
Chair of the Board
Rabbi Noah Farkas
President & CEO