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What’s Happening in Israel and What Can We Do in This Moment?

As Israel Affairs Specialist at Reconstructing Judaism, I have many conversations with people across the movement about Israel. Given how fast events have been developing in Israel, a lot of people are asking “what’s happening” and “what can we do?” I’d like to offer some thoughts.

What follows is solely my own personal perspective, not an official statement of Reconstructing Judaism. 

What’s Happening?

What’s happening in Israel is a popular resistance movement against a government that is attempting to pass laws that severely undermine some of the pillars of a representative democracy with basic rights for minority parties and constituencies. The centerpiece of the proposed laws undercuts the independence of the judiciary and its ability to serve as a check on the legislative majority’s power. There’s also a proposed law that would give the ruling parties greater control over the government body that supervises elections, a law that would bar the police from investigating the prime minister on corruption charges while in office, and a law that removes restrictions on Knesset members’ ability to accept valuable gifts while in office. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting for over a dozen weeks, calling on the government to scrap these laws. Protestors have also been decrying the openly racist, homophobic, and misogynistic views and legislative proposals of the ultra-nationalist extremist parties that are part of the coalition.

In simpler terms, Israel is having a pro-democracy mass-movement in response to a crisis of democracy. That said, some segments of Israeli society who oppose the current government have not joined the demonstrations in large numbers. Palestinian citizens of Israel have not come out en masse. Some are unsure how warm the welcome would be at demonstrations that have been intensely patriotic. Other Palestinians are worried that even if the pro-democracy demonstrations succeed in blocking these terrible laws, the demand for democracy and equality for all will not extend to them as well. On a hopeful note, conversations about these very questions are happening all across Israeli and Palestinian society. 

All this notwithstanding, in a country of 9.3 million people, some estimate that as many as 1 out of 5 Israelis have now participated in a protest.

What Can We Do?

Here are four things we can do:

  1. We can strengthen our relationships with pro-democracy Israelis, by attending demonstrations in support of them and by holding online events that invite them into our communities to tell us what they’re facing and how we can be allies. The Progressive Israel Network is a helpful resource serving as an information hub about many of the organizations supporting democracy in Israel. 

  2. We can donate to organizations like the New Israel Fund (NIF), which provides grants to many of the non-profit organizations and advocacy groups in Israel that are in the streets right now. NIF also supports groups that are publicly linking the crisis in Israeli democracy to ending the occupation and gaining full equality for non-Jewish Israeli citizens, including Palestinians. NIF is a member of the Progressive Israel Network.

  3. We can contact our elected officials wherever we live to let them know that we support Israelis who have mobilized in support of democracy and that we want them to take public stands that reflect a commitment to democracy here and in Israel.

  4. We can be patient with uncertainty about what’s going to happen. Nobody knows – not the Israelis marching in the streets, not the ultra-nationalists in the Knesset hoping to upend democratic institutions, not the press, and certainly not us. I don’t like uncertainty any more than the next person, but it is in this uncertain moment that we can act on core Reconstructionist values such as democracy, pluralism, having honest courts and judges, and affirming equal rights because every person is created in God’s image. We can’t control the outcomes, but we can use our energies meaningfully.

As Yom Ha’atzmaut Approaches

Finally, some of the people I’ve heard from recently have expressed uncertainty about how to approach the upcoming Yom Ha’atzmaut / Israeli Independence Day holiday when there is so much turmoil over Israel’s democratic foundations.

I’d like to encourage people to consider registering to attend the upcoming event that Reconstructing Judaism is co-sponsoring with the Progressive Israel Network (PIN), commemorating Israel’s upcoming 75th birthday

This event will feature two outstanding panels of Israelis and Americans, emceed by Noa Landau, Deputy Editor of Ha’aretz, and Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, with music from the Jerusalem Youth Choir.

It will engage some of the burning questions at stake for Israel at this time, with love and honesty, and it will be an online gathering place for all of us who are holding many intense feelings and concerns about Israel at this time. 

The event will take place on Thursday, April 20, 2023 at 1 pm Eastern time, and you can register here

Rabbi Maurice Harris is Associate Director for Thriving Communities and Israel Affairs Specialist at Reconstructing Judaism. The views expressed above are entirely his own.

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