OPINION: Israelis are asking for our support. Will we be there for them?

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OPINION: Israelis are asking for our support. Will we be there for them?

If we do not want this Tisha B’Av to be another harbinger of heartbreak and destruction we need to speak up – not apologetically – but with clarity and conviction, writes Sir Mick Davis

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir in the Knesset.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir in the Knesset.

How tragic that in the week of Tisha B’Av, a reckless Israeli government has us asking whether we are witnessing the self-inflicted destruction of the third Jewish commonwealth. Will future generations of Jews add 2023 to the list of catastrophes that have befallen us this month, when the leader of Israel empowered zealots to implode the pillars on which our Jewish and democratic state depend?

I hope not.

But we all have a responsibility to ensure the 9th of Av remains a reminder of the consequences of division, hatred and zealotry in ancient Israel rather than a contemporary replay.

If we, around the Jewish world, are to help Israelis struggling to protect their state from attack from within, we need to renew our commitment to the State of Israel and re-purpose the Zionist dream.

We have a state because Zionists of a previous generation were inspired, in the words of President Isaac Herzog, by an ancient dream. To keep it we must commit ourselves to healing its fractured society.

Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel SmotrichYonatan Sindel/Flash90

The 75 years of modern statehood have been a golden age of Jewish liberation, self-governance and ingenuity but is being put at risk by a reckless, hubristic government.

This Tisha B’Av we need to reflect on the potential of the Jewish people to destroy what we hold dear. But it is not enough to reflect. We need to act.

And we need to be clear what is happening. This is not a constitutional debate. The judicial overhaul is not, as its leaders, spokespeople and apologists suggest, a minor procedural re-balancing of power between branches of government.

Rather it is an attempt by extremists who have a hold on this government to gerrymander the constitution to enable them to do extremist things.

That couldn’t be achieved in a settled, if imperfect, constitutional environment so they need to play fast and loose with democratic checks and balances.

Community leader Sir Mick Davis

There is a discussion to be had on responsible judicial and constitutional reform, but this isn’t it. Instead, a prime minister whose priorities do not seem to include the welfare and cohesion of the country he leads, has unleashed ultra-nationalist and theocratic forces who don’t want to “re-balance” the power of the judiciary, but crush it.

That is why they now curtail the Supreme Court’s ability to rule policies to be unreasonable: they wish to do unreasonable things. Remember, a senior government minister was sanguine about the sacking of the Palestinian village of Huwara as if that was a “reasonable” proposition.

Israelis understand this instinctively. You don’t get half a million protesters on the street for 29 weeks over a procedural re-balancing of constitutional powers.

Despite their warnings, however, prime minister Netanyahu even refused to hear a security briefing on the day of the vote.

Former prime ministers, IDF chiefs of staff, heads of intelligence agencies, fighter pilots, reservists, tech entrepreneurs and millions more from every walk of life know that the soul of the country is at stake.


Our Editor, Richard Ferrer, talks through the feeling of love and concern that led to the blacked out front page this week. #israel #israelis #jewish #jewishnews #israelitiktok #israelipolitics #netanyahu #bibi #democracy #jewishlife

♬ original sound – Jewish News

“Prime Minister, the Israeli government under your leadership is promoting legislation while completely ignoring its damage to Israeli democracy.

The legislation negates basic values held dear by Israeli society, is tearing the nation apart, disintegrating the IDF and inflicting a fatal blow to Israel’s security,” wrote former heads of the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet and the Police in an unprecedented letter last Saturday.

Despite their warnings, however, Netanyahu even refused to hear a security briefing on the day of the vote.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) welcomes the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to 10 Downing Street, London, ahead of their meeting, March 2023

This is an existential threat to Israel and, therefore, to Jews everywhere and to the ties that bind us.

It is not just an Israeli problem or responsibility. The building and upkeep of the Jewish state was never a solely Israeli project but a joint venture and responsibility of worldwide Jewry.

Through investment, international support and aliyah, Diaspora Jews have been an active partner in Israel’s past. We must not shirk our responsibilities for Israel’s future.

Israelis are appealing to us to step up. The defence of Israel’s democracy isn’t “none of our business” but integral for the future of the Jewish people, including our community.

Israel is our beating heart and an autocratic, messianic Israel will break it.

Defend Israeli Democracy protest outside Downing Street, March 2023

If we do not want this Tisha B’Av to be another harbinger of heartbreak and destruction we need to speak up – not limply and apologetically – but with clarity and conviction.

We can take inspiration from Israelis, like the tens of thousands who marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Like the hundreds of thousands who filled the streets to protest peacefully after Monday’s vote. Like the UK based Israelis who have held several demonstrations here, most impactfully when PM Netanyahu visited London and most recently when over 1,000 people marched over Tower Bridge.

They have implored British Jews to support their protests.

Some individuals have heeded their call but institutional support from Anglo-Jewry has been negligible.

Now is the time for our community to realise that we have a stake in Israel’s future and in the constitution of its soul. We have agency to speak up and a responsibility to do so. That responsibility cannot simply be left in the hands of individuals but should also be carried by our institutions. This is not a time for leaders to fudge, but to lead.

South African-born mining businessman and community leader Sir Mick Davis

The damage being done to Israel’s social fabric will take years to heal.

To play our part in that process we need to acknowledge and address the unfairness, divisions and resentments that affect so many Israelis: between the centre and periphery, between those around the high-tech table and those left behind, between religious and secular, Ashkenazim and Mizrachim and Jew and Arab.

And we need a renewed conversation, delegitimised for so long, about the corrosive impact of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians and its unsustainability for Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy.

Yet no divisions can be healed by kowtowing to those who fan and exploit their flames. Instead, a pre-requisite of a more hopeful future is a forthright, outspoken rejection of the extremist, anti-democratic tendencies that are holding the Jewish state, and with it the Jewish people, hostage to a divisive agenda.

If we do not speak up now then, if yet another disaster is added to the roll-call of Jewish trauma we mark on Tisha B’Av, we will have been complicit.

In modern history, the greatest development in Jewish life is to know that Israel is there for us. Now that Israelis are actively asking for our community’s support, will we be there for them?

  • Sir Mick Davis is former chair of the Jewish Leadership Council and ex-chief executive of the Conservative Party 
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