Israel: To be a Free People in Our Land

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, March 31, 2023

ISRAEL Lihiyot am chofshi b’artezynu – To be a free people in our land

Dear Solelniks,

We are all concerned about the events unfolding in Israel and the extreme political and ideological divisions that are tearing Israeli society apart. Certainly, this is not the scenario that we dreamed of as Israel approaches her 75th birthday.

The current events are at the same time both troubling and a reason for hope. This moment is about saving both democracy and Zionism in the State of Israel and for the Jewish people. Around the world, Israelis and Jews are standing up and speaking out against the judicial overhaul. A broad protest movement has become an inspiring non-violent uprising in Israel. In response to an intolerant leadership that aims to destroy the Democratic nature of the Jewish State, hundreds of thousands of people are joining together to protect civil and human rights in Israel, standing up for freedom, democracy, and full equality. It gives me immense hope to see patriotic people infused with good Jewish values and morals taking to the streets in peaceful protest. We are praying that ethics and justice will win out in the end.

Since January 4th, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets every week in large scale peaceful demonstrations to protest the Netanyahu government’s plans to create what would amount to a dictatorship in Israel. The enactment of many of the policies called for by members of the coalition would gut the Supreme Court, and likely result in an abandonment of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and in its Basic Laws. Without the protection of the Supreme Court, Palestinian-Israelis, women, Reform and Conservative Jews, the LGBTQ+ community, and many more minorities will be vulnerable. The lack of any balance of power would allow the government to proceed with enacting discriminatory legislation against minorities and would also give the government the ability to swiftly overturn the multiple legal entanglements that the Prime Minister is currently facing.

Influential groups of more than 200 judges and law professors, 270 economists, seven Israeli Nobel laureates, military experts, foreign experts and government leaders have denounced this proposed judicial revolution. Major Israeli hi-tech companies such as Wiz, Verbit and Papaya have announced that they are pulling their money out of Israel and moving their operations abroad.

This week, Prime Minister Netanyahu fired his Defense Minister Galant after he urged Netanyahu to halt the government’s pushing ahead with its legislation. In response, a wave of spontaneous protests erupted across Israel and the Diaspora. Over 150 intersections were blocked by 600-700,000 spontaneous protestors until the early morning hours, including the major Ayalon highway (led by the Chief of the Tel Aviv police!). There was a large protest march from Netanyahu’s house to the Knesset. Ben Gurion airport, schools, hospitals, and labor unions went on general strikes, and many IDF reservists righteously refused to respond to calls to return to their units. Israel’s Counsel General in New York resigned, and international Jewish leaders denounced the legislation and demanded it be stopped. These are the largest anti-Governmental demonstrations ever witnessed in the history of the Jewish State.

In this moment, we are feeling many mixed emotions –worry, uncertainty, pride, hope. As we watch the events unfold from afar, let us not forget that world Jewry has an important role to play. Israel can and must be both a homeland for all of the Jewish people and a vibrant democracy. “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba’zeh” — “all Jews are responsible one for the other.” We share a common destiny and as part of the greater community of the Jewish people, we should be conscious of our responsibility to care for one another. If one of us is in trouble, we must be there in support and love in a time of need.

At this critical time in Israel’s story, it is essential that we show our support and commitment to ensure democracy, pluralism, equality, and justice in the Jewish state. We can do this by becoming informed, by standing up and speaking out, by donating to our Reform institutions in Israel, and by sending messages of support to friends, family members, and to our sister congregation Darchei Noam in Ramat HaSharon.

As we prepare to welcome the holiday of Pesach, may the stories of freedom and hope that are retold each year around our Passover tables help bring to fruition the vision of a Jewish state and a Jewish people that values a pluralistic, compassionate, and secure future.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Chag Pesach Sameach,

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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