UK Jewish groups fear for future of Israeli democracy

The Israel Advocacy Movement accused the campaign of ‘disrespecting’ millions of Israelis


A cross-communal campaign protesting against the “extremist elements within Israel’s new government” has signed up 1,150 supporters including scores of Jewish public figures and 13 groups representing over 50,000 community members.

Backers of the “Choose Democracy” petition, launched last week, include the Jewish Labour Movement, the Union of Jewish Students, Liberal Judaism, Masorti Judaism, Movement for Reform Judaism and veteran Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have been protesting in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week against the government’s planned judicial reforms, which have divided the country and triggered fears that democracy itself is under threat in Israel.

In a televised address on Sunday night, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said the country was “on the brink of constitutional and social collapse,” but warned that ignoring complaints from either side of the debate would be “a grave mistake”.

The Choose Democracy website reads: “There is a need to offer a broad and cross-communal response to unite much of the UK Jewish community in their support for Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people and a democratic state that seeks to ‘ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.’

“We want to raise a loud, proud, and credible voice in support of those fighting for Israel’s future as a democracy. As Tzipi Livni said, ‘this is the fight for Israel’s soul’.

“We choose to stand on the side of Israelis protesting against an extremist government.

The campaign has also expressed concerns over the Likud-led coalition’s proposed changes to the Law of Return and plans to weaken LGBT+ rights.

University College London Professor Anthony Julius, who represented the late Princess Diana and Deborah Lipstadt in her case against Holocaust denier David Irving, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Sunday: “There is always tremendous anxiety in our [the British-Jewish] community that public disagreements, particularly over Israel, will give comfort to our enemies. So, there’s a reflex of self-restraint and avoidance of any public statements because of the anxiety over how they might be used or misused.”

Joseph Cohen, executive director of UK-based NGO The Israel Advocacy Movement, said the Choose Democracy petition “disrespects the democratic decision of millions of Israelis who voted for the current government in free and fair elections.

“It is for the Israeli electorate to decide who governs them. If there are British Jews who are unhappy with the direction Israel is heading, we’d encourage them to make aliyah and help create the change they want to see.”

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