United in Support of Israel & the Latest on Judicial Reform

Like everyone who loves and cares about Israel, we are following the news from our Jewish State today with great concern and anxiety.  

We wish Prime Minister Netanyahu a complete and speedy recovery and pray that his newly installed pacemaker will provide the health benefits that his doctors seek. 

As a vote on the first piece of legislation that would change the balance of power between the government and the Supreme Court approaches, protests in Israel both for and against the legislation continue to grow. Efforts to seek compromise also continue, including a visit by our good friend President Herzog to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s hospital room immediately upon his arrival back from his historic trip to the United States, and further meetings with Opposition Leaders Lapid and Gantz, as well as the notable involvement of Israel’s Histadrut Labor Federation. We of course hope for and encourage these efforts at compromise as the very best possible outcome for the country. 

Whether compromise is achieved on this bill or not, the divisions in Israeli society caused by this bitter debate are deep. Even as we approach Tisha B’av, the day on which we commemorate the destruction of the Temples and the loss of Jewish sovereignty for two millennia, it is apparent that the work of building a flourishing Jewish State, to which Jewish Federations are committed, is not done. Israelis with whom we have worked for years – and who have always helped us put Israel’s political debates in perspective – have been issuing dire warnings. The rhetoric that some Israeli officials are directing at segments of society that disagree with their positions is growing harsher and, God forbid, the unity of the IDF is even at risk. This contentious behavior is seeping into our own communities, and we know it would be even worse if our Federations weren’t making constant efforts to bridge the gaps and keep us all working together. 

All of us in the Jewish Federation system will devote the necessary efforts and resources to helping Israel build the social, legal and political structures that can bind the wounds of the past few months and engender the widespread support and respect needed to solve the most vexing issues the country faces. Many of these efforts are already underway, including support for organizations such as the Jewish People’s Policy Institute, the Israel Democracy Institute, our own iRep coalition on religious pluralism, and support for LGBTQ organizations in Israel, as well as many other important efforts of individual Federations. We will all work together to develop additional steps we can take to help build Israel’s civil society.

It is important to emphasize that our efforts to date on judicial reform have not been in vain. Every conversation, every meeting, every fly-in, has had an impact. This week’s Knesset session – whatever happens – is but one moment in a long-term struggle that will play out over many years. 

Nevertheless, the stakes this week go far beyond the particulars of the bill under consideration, and all sides know it. To the governing coalition, the failure to pass this bill would be a major setback. To the opposition, the passage of even a minor bill on the topic of judicial reform would embolden the government to take further steps in the same manner.

Yet the particulars do matter. It is difficult to provide a succinct summary of the legislation under consideration and why it has engendered such strong feelings because the details are complicated and because concerns about the bill must be understood in the context of Israel’s system of government, which does not readily translate to our own systems in the United States and Canada. We will delve more deeply into this subject at a webinar this Tuesday – whether the bill has passed or not – at 12PM ET. In the webinar, we will also consider the impact of President Herzog’s visit to Washington D.C. and New York.

Jewish tradition holds that the age of prophecy ended with Malachi. There are several explanations given throughout Jewish texts for this, but the one that resonates with us today was offered by Rabbi Hayyim Angel: “No longer having prophets to tell us what God wants of us enabled mature human participation in the natural covenant between God and humanity.”

We are in the Three Weeks of mourning stretching from the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B’av. In a remarkable coincidence, the seven and one half year long cycle of studying a page a day of Talmud – daf yomi – focused during these Three Weeks on the destruction of the Temple, and especially on the opinion of the sages that the Temple was destroyed because of divisions within the Jewish people. In yet another coincidence, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog addressed a Joint Session of the United States Congress on Rosh Chodesh Av – the first day of the month of Av, the beginning of the intense Nine Days from the first to the ninth of Av. We may not have prophets, but our history, our sages and even our Jewish calendar are screaming at us, trying to get our attention.

We still have time for “mature human participation in the covenant,” but the harm that has been caused is real and will require serious efforts at repair. President Herzog has led the call for dialogue and civility. His trip to the United States was a triumph of leadership and diplomacy. We must do everything we can to bolster his resolve and help him carry this burden. We must also use all the considerable influence of the North American Jewish community to insist that all sides in Israel take a step back from their extreme positions and return to negotiations. 

In the Talmud, Rabbis Akiva and Tarfon famously debate the relative merits of study and action. Rabbi Akiva wins the argument by concluding that study is greater because it leads to action. We must learn the lessons of our Torah and our history and, as Rabbi Akiva taught, turn those lessons into action. Join us on Tuesday at 12PM ET as we continue to study and consider our role in this important moment.