We live in unprecedented times. On Monday the Knesset voted to pass the first part of the judicial overhaul, abolishing the reasonableness clause, and in doing so, significantly diminishing the power of the Supreme Court.
In the last few days tens of thousands of Israelis have marched for days, defying extreme heat and sleeping in tents, to reach Jerusalem.
In a demonstration which was the culmination of months of innumerable protests of growing strength across the country, they surrounded the Knesset defiantly to challenge the government’s proposed overhaul of Israel’s judicial system.
As rabbis, we have regularly heeded the call to speak up for Israel when the country was under grave threat from external enemies.
Today, Israel’s future is imperilled by dangers from within, which threaten to undermine the foundational values of the State as expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence: liberty, justice, peace, and the commitment, as taught by the Hebrew Prophets, to uphold ‘the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex’.
In the name of these very values, we feel compelled to speak for the sake of Israel’s future.
We act in solidarity with colleagues across Israel who have appealed to us, and to the leadership and communities of the Jewish diaspora, to stand with them at this critical time.
As we approach Tishah be’Av, when we mourn the destruction of the Temples and the loss of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, it is difficult to escape painful parallels.
Isaiah, whose words we read on the Shabbat preceding the fast, cried out repeatedly for the supremacy of justice over self-interest. Decrying the betrayal of integrity, Jeremiah declared himself broken in the brokenness of his people.
The rabbis of the Talmud, struggling to comprehend the disaster which overtook their people, found the courage to suggest that it was baseless hatred which led to the destruction of the Second Temple. It was to this that opposition MK Orit Farkash HaCohen referred when she said in the Knesset: “We will destroy the third home [the modern state of Israel] because of internal hatred.”
Whilst the battle over this component of the government’s planned judicial overhaul may seem lost, the struggle for Israel’s core values is not, and must not, be over. In the coming months, further pieces of legislation will be put forward that represent equally grave challenges to Israel’s democratic character. Our Israeli partners need our solidarity and support; they have called on us in the name of Judaism’s central values to stand by their side in the struggle for Israel’s soul.
The unprecedented crisis in which Israel, and with it the whole of the Jewish world, now finds itself, calls for an unprecedented response. It has been heartening to see scores of Jewish community leaders in the UK publicly express their concerns, including in a letter to the Israeli government.
In London, New York and cities across the world, Jews have taken to the streets, wrapped in or holding the Israeli flag in vocal demonstrations of solidarity with the country and its foundational principles.
As in Israel, organisations across the spectrum – from Defend Israeli Democracy UK, responsible for the rallies in this country to rabbis of different denominations – have taken to the streets. Israel is far too important to us as Jews for us to withdraw from fighting for its values with all our hearts and souls.
Though it is the bleakest fast of the Jewish year, Tishah be’Av ends not in despair but in hope. We herald the rebuilding of a new Jerusalem, the capital city of a country based on justice, human dignity, equality and freedom, and filled with life and joy. This is the outcome for which we protest and for which we pray, and we invite and encourage all those who care about Israel’s future to join us in doing so.
To follow Defend Israeli Democracy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/defendisraeluk
- Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg – Masorti Judaism; Rabbi Charley Baginsky – Liberal Judaism; Rabbi Josh Levy – Movement for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Lea Muhlstein, Arzenu UK
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