The Stakes

On May 14, 1948, as the last British troops were leaving Palestine, Jewish leaders declared the establishment of the State of Israel. The Declaration of Independence was read aloud by the country’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, in Tel Aviv and was broadcasted to the world. The declaration proclaimed the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, recognized the historical connection of the Jewish people to the region and pledged to uphold democratic values and principles. Most significantly, the text reads, “The state of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The current challenge to Israel’s Supreme Court jeopardizes these lofty goals and the foundational rights of Israeli citizens. Because if the authority of the Supreme Court is scuttled, then the currently constituted coalition government will redefine what Israel was meant to be since the time of the founders – and even before them.

The promise that Israel will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture” is at risk. That’s why I am supporting the hundreds of thousands of Israeli demonstrators gathering in every Israeli city to demand the government cease and desist in this attempt to destroy democracy.

Reform temples could lose all funding currently guaranteed to ALL synagogues in Israel. Reform rabbis could lose all of their rabbinic authority. Jewish women who want to read Torah at the Western Wall on the women’s side could be arrested.

For the LGBTQ+ community in Israel, all rights for equal access and fair employment standards could be overturned. Their status and their safety could be dangerously tenuous.

Secular Israelis and non-Orthodox Jews could lose access to transportation on Shabbat. Seven-Eleven-style convenience stores and restaurants, and pharmacies that are currently open 24/7 could be forcibly closed on Shabbat.

The settler movement in Israel could use this lack of judicial oversight to continue its increasingly provocative and violent behavior toward Palestinians with impunity.

Most of all, the gutting of the Court’s authority stands to besmirch the image of the modern Jewish State. It causes a calamitous change in who and what Israel has represented since the beginning: the only true democracy in the Middle East. If the Court is lost, so too, then is democracy.

My take on this is from Israeli narratives, not my own. I arrived at my cause for concern via articles and news reports by those on Israel’s Left and Right. From The Times of Israel and Haaretz, and the Jerusalem Post. I have heard the anguish expressed by Israeli army reservists. Jet pilots. Professors. Cab drivers. People in their 20s. People in their 80s.

If we’ve learned anything over the decades since the Holocaust, it is that we need Israel as a bastion of freedom and safety for the Jewish people. We need Israel to continue to struggle with the real-time dilemma of statehood in the face of occupation. We need the Jewish State to proudly embrace the citizenry of Israel with all of its messy, demanding challenges. We, Jews of the Diaspora, need Israel to uphold the best values of progressive Jewish life as it has struggled to do since 1948.

To speak out for a democratic Israel is to uphold the Jewish State’s promise as signified by the Declaration of Independence. It is to declare oneself to be a true Zionist. What are the pro-democracy demonstrators holding at rally after rally throughout Israel? Israeli flags. Hundreds. Thousands of Israeli flags.

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