Senior British rabbis and communal leaders have penned an open letter to the Israeli government pledging their support to pro-democracy protesters opposing ministers’ power grab at the expense of Israel’s judiciary.
In it, more than 100 representatives of British Jewry say they have “deep concern for the future of Israel’s democracy”, adding that they “believe it is our duty to speak out when we witness threats to the values and institutions that form the bedrock of the Jewish nation”.
It follows the Knesset’s vote on Monday to abolish the “Reasonableness Standard” in Israeli jurisprudence, and ahead of Tisha B’av, a mourning day in the Jewish calendar.
The signatories cite “the need to safeguard Israel’s democratic principles and maintain a system of checks and balances,” adding that the new laws “have raised grave concerns among many Israelis, and among Israel’s friends around the world, including us”.
In the letter, the religious and communal leaders say: “Our history has taught us the dangers of tyranny, oppression, and the erosion of democratic norms. As Jews, we carry the collective memory of countless struggles for freedom and justice.
“We have seen the devastating consequences of societies divided and polarised, where voices are silenced and dissent is stifled. We must not allow this to happen to our beloved Israel.”
Signatories include the most senior rabbis from Reform, Masorti, and Liberal synagogues around the UK as well as the heads of several big Jewish youth movements, the Union of Jewish Students, parliamentary pro-Israel groups such as Labour Friends of Israel, big UK-Israel organisations such as UJIA.
The full letter reads as follows:
Open Letter to the Israeli Government – UK Jewish Community Leadership
To the Honourable Members of the Israeli Government,
We, the undersigned Clergy and Jewish community leaders, write to you today to express our deep concern for the future of Israel’s democracy. As spiritual and community leaders of the British Jewish community, we believe it is our duty to speak out when we witness threats to the values and institutions that form the bedrock of the Jewish nation. Our intention is not to align ourselves with any political party or agenda. Rather, we seek to address a matter of vital importance that transcends partisanship – the need to safeguard Israel’s democratic principles and maintain a system of checks and balances. Recent proposals for judicial reform have raised grave concerns among many Israelis, and among Israel’s friends around the world, including us. While we acknowledge the government’s prerogative to propose ways to improve the judicial system, we urge extreme caution in undertaking any changes that might compromise the delicate balance of power and erode the foundations of Israels’democracy. Our history has taught us the dangers of tyranny, oppression, and the erosion of democratic norms. As Jews, we carry the collective memory of countless struggles for freedom and justice. We have seen the devastating consequences of societies divided and polarized, where voices are silenced and dissent is stifled. We must not allow this to happen to our beloved Israel. We stand united in our support for Israel’s democracy, irrespective of our physical location. We recognise the responsibility we share as Jewish leaders to advocate for the preservation of democratic principles in the land that holds such profound significance for our people. It is in this spirit that we implore you to reconsider the proposed judicial reform. We recognize that improvements can be made to any system, and we encourage constructive dialogue and debate to address concerns and find solutions. However, it is crucial that any reforms be carried out with the utmost respect for democratic principles and the preservations of the separation of powers. We firmly believe that a united Israel, founded upon democratic values, is the best hope for its future. As you know, a democracy is judged not only on the principles of majority rule, but also on the principle that the fundamental rights of the minorities are respected and protected. Our diversity is our strength and it is through democratic means that we can ensure the fair and just representation of all Israelis, foster unity and solidarity, and make a home for the diversity of the Jewish people worldwide. We ask you, the representatives of the Israeli people, to find common ground and protect the democratic foundations that our forebears fought so hard to establish. Together, we can strive for a better future – a future where Israel continues to be a beacon of democracy, justice, and equality. Let us ensure that future generations inherit a nation that upholds the principles upon which it was founded – a just and democratic state with checks and balances, and a source of pride for the Jewish people worldwide. With hope for unity and democracy,”
Former heads of the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies have signed the letter, as have the current heads of pro-Israel NGOs such as the New Israel Fund and Yachad, along with several representatives of the Labour Party.
Initiated by Defend Israeli Democracy UK, the letter echoes a similar initiative in the United States and appeared to reflect the growing unease of British rabbis with the direction of Israeli politics.
“These reforms are being carried out in the name of religious Zionism, and this corruption of our values is why you’re seeing such a strong response from clergy,” said Rabbi Deborah Blausten, a signatory from Finchley Reform Synagogue.
“We all have a duty to use whatever channels we can to prevent a situation in which Judaism is made synonymous with the degradation of democratic principles.”
Sharon Shochat, a leader from Defend Israeli Democracy UK, said: “We are encouraged and gratified by the support of the Jewish community. There may be difficult times ahead, and we need the support of the entire community to win this crucial fight for Israel’s soul, and possibly its very existence.”
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