The Jewish diaspora must speak out against Netanyahu's reforms

Jewish Labour officers argue that Netanyahu's proposed reforms are of those who want to rig Israel’s political and judicial system to cling to power


Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) sits next to Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri during a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2023. (Photo by RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by RONEN ZVULUN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

February 07, 2023 10:49

Israel’s new far-right coalition has rightly set off alarm bells for the diaspora, progressive Jews, those who hope for a resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and all who hope to see Israel as a thriving democracy.

Only weeks into Netanyahu’s coalition with the far-right, we are seeing their plans for Israel being set in train. That’s why we, as proud Zionists who hold the original mission and ambition of Israel close to our hearts, feel obliged to speak out. In the spirit of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are taking to the streets to protest, we in the diaspora must be firm in our opposition.

Under Justice Minister Yariv Levin, changes to the High Court are set to significantly weaken the judiciary in a huge blow to Israel’s democratic foundations. This would allow the Knesset to enact legislation ruled to be unconstitutional by the High Court, control the appointment of judges and dilute checks and balances placed on the government. And with Levin planning to legislate for these reforms by the end of April, now is the time to speak out.

His own position aside, Netanyahu has already shown a clear intention of undermining the judiciary. Shas leader Aryeh Deri has a string of criminal convictions and promised the court prior to the election he would retire from public life. Nevertheless, he stood again and Netanyahu appointed him as a minister. When, unsurprisingly, the High Court ruled the appointment cannot stand, Netanyahu called the decision “unfortunate”, saying it “ignores the will of the people” - rhetoric which feeds his ‘judges versus the people’ narrative.

This is not the behaviour of a strong democracy. It is the behaviour of those who want to  rig Israel’s political and judicial system to cling to power. Israel will be left with fewer checks and balances on the power of the executive than any other democracy on the planet. No upper chamber. No constitution. No European Court of Human Rights (yes - the UK is still part of that) for appeal. No overriding Human Rights act. And after this - a feeble and frail Supreme Court. The seriousness of this should not be underestimated.

This weakening of the judiciary and Israel’s democracy will unlock more fundamental changes heading down the track in Israel.

Under the coalition agreement, the ‘grandchild’ clause in the law of return could be removed. The coalition, already defunding non-orthodox Judaism, is preparing to remove the right to make aliyah from non-orthodox converts to Judaism - impacting hundreds of thousands of Jewish families across the world - especially those in North America and Britain with large non-orthodox movements.

This will be one of the most consequential acts of the government for diaspora Jewry. The decision by the Israeli government to tell progressive and Masorti Jews, patrilineal Jews and non-orthodox converts, that they are not worthy of aliyah will cause a rupture between Israel and its diaspora, on both sides of the Atlantic, on a scale hitherto unseen. We all know or have met Jews who will be impacted by this extreme, dangerous direction.

The inclusion of the openly homophobic Noam Party, and its MK Avi Maoz, in Netanyahu’s government is a worrying sign for the position of LGBT+ people in Israel. This is a man who has called for Jerusalem Pride to be banned. The leader of ‘Religious Zionism’, Bezalel Smotrich, has proudly declared his voters don’t care that he’s against LGBTQ people. These are the extremists Netanyahu has had to bring into government. His future as PM relies on him acquiescing to their views.

One thing is sure: life for Palestinians will only get worse under this government. It is with unimaginable levels of cruelty that perpetual occupation exists for Palestinians. Lives are lost in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel with little hope for change. All inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza deserve their civil rights, or the aspiration to those rights under a Palestinian state. Appointing Itamar Ben-Gvir as Minister for National Security demonstrates a complete disregard for Palestinians and Israeli Palestinian-Arabs. A disciple of Meir Kahane, fan of terrorist Baruch Goldstein and indicted for his own far-right activities, Ben-Gvir’s position could have destabilising consequences.

We cannot let the door slam shut on a two state solution to the conflict, and under this government it looks all too possible that it could. We need to be frank about what happens without a two state solution and what the consequences are. It is why we must cling to it, however distant it might feel. Perpetual occupation rots the foundations and soul of Israel.

Some argue that diaspora Jews should keep out of decisions made in Israel. However, direct consequences for us are greater than ever before and we must make our opposition clear. JLM will be ensuring our deputies raise the issue within the Board of Deputies. We will be speaking to our counterparts in the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia about coordinated action within our communities. We will be standing in solidarity with protesters in Israel. We will be inviting progressive-minded speakers from Israel to talk to our community. And we have written in the strongest possible terms to the Ambassador of Israel stating that Israel's relationship with diaspora Jewry is on the line. We will do all this as passionate Zionists desperate for the future of the Jewish State.

Mike Katz is the National Chair and Izzy Lenga is the International Officer of the Jewish Labour Movement

February 07, 2023 10:49

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