For most of my adult life I have visited Israel several times a year. I have visited during military conflict, during times of despair and hardship and also during times of great national elation. I have however just returned from the hardest week I have ever had in the country.
I was there to visit my daughter who is ironically doing an MA in conflict resolution but my visit coincided with the annual conference of Israel’s leading think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies which I attended. It also coincided with incidents of terror, of mass demonstrations, of intense febrile political debate, and pervasive feelings of anger and outrage.
It was a brutal week.
On my journey to the conference I had seen groups of people gathering on street corners, on bridges and highways calmly marching to demonstrate against the recent proposals to reform Israel’s legal system.
As I arrived at the Eretz Israel Museum where the conference was taking place I walked through a sea of blue and white flags, held by young and old together with music playing in the background. It was an impressive and peaceful display of patriotism, of civic engagement, and of a healthy vibrant democracy.
Little did I know that a similar demonstration later in the day would turn ugly and violent as the police turned on protestors with stun grenades and tear gas. And that evening I heard that the finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich had horrifyingly called for the wiping out of a Palestinian town following the murder of two Jewish brothers.
The conference itself was deeply unsettling.
I heard intelligence experts describe Iran as days away from full nuclear enrichment, I heard generals describe the major challenges of an unstable Lebanon and the ‘perfect storm’ of the situation in the Palestinian authority.
As a British Jew, a Zionist and someone who engages with Israel on many levels, this is a very disconcerting moment.
They were matter of fact about these challenges, – ‘it’s our day job’ they said, these issues have been with the country for a long time, they are not going away and there are constantly evolving strategies and plans in place.
What was, however, more concerning was hearing a former attorney general claim that the judicial reforms amount to “regime change”, to a “constitutional coup”.
I listened to generals express concern that the resilience of the nation was being challenged, that reservists were considering whether to serve and the social cohesion of the country was at risk.
President Isaac Herzog’s call that these are “fateful days” with Israel being on “the verge of constitutional and social collapse” was a powerful intervention and hearing stories of my friends’ children wanting to leave the country was the most chilling conversation of all.
Israel’s democracy is in peril; nationalism, fundamentalism and racism are outpacing liberalism, moderation, and respect for minorities.
There are many in our community who feel that it is vital for us to speak out, to condemn the current government and some of its more extreme members.
As a British Jew, a Zionist and someone who engages with Israel on many levels, this is a very disconcerting moment. There are many in our community who feel that it is vital for us to speak out, to condemn the current government and some of its more extreme members.
There are on the other hand those who feel that since we don’t live in the country, we don’t vote, we don’t send our children to the military, and we don’t exist under a daily threat of terror or war that we don’t have the right to pass judgement. If you care so much, they say, why don’t you live there?
Who are you to carp from your ivory tower?
Each of us will no doubt make up our own mind and choose our own path of confronting this challenge. My position is that of a deeply concerned friend who feels that the Israel I have loved all my life is in danger.
Our commitment is being tested and how we react may define the nature of the diaspora relationship with Israel for decades and even generations to come
Yes, within Israel there are tremendous stresses and strains, 75 years from its inception, the nation is still fighting ‘to contain multitudes’. Not knowing one day of peace since its foundation, living with the hell of terror and war, building a nation from so many different versions of Jewish and non-Jewish life is an immense challenge. As Chaim Weizman said, “the State will not be given to the Jewish people on a silver platter”.
And now our commitment is being tested and how we react may define the nature of the diaspora relationship with Israel for decades and even generations to come. Israel is already beset with enough enemies; in international forums, amongst the left wing intelligentsia, on campuses, online and in hate forums the world over. We do not wish to and will never join their ranks.
However we do have a role to play in safeguarding Israel as a liberal democracy, the only democracy in the neighborhood, of which we are so proud and we must, each of us, find our own way to play that role. Should the rule of law collapse, should the country fail to democratically elect its authorities, should individual rights and responsibilities be abrogated, then this would become an Israel we no longer recognise and that would be the great tragedy of our time.
It behooves us all to remain engaged, to stay on the inside of this battle, to support the voices of moderation and balance and to remain loyal to the vision of the nation’s founders.
As stated in the Declaration of Independence – Israel will be a country “based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel”. Amen.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.