50 Holocaust survivors urge stop to judicial overhaul: ‘Shattering Jewish democracy’

Letter says they rose from the ashes of genocide to build a country that’s a light unto the nations; initiator says ‘elimination’ of democracy parallels events preceding Holocaust

A Holocaust survivor shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Holocaust survivor shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Over 50 Holocaust survivors sent a letter to the government Sunday urging that it stop a planned far-reaching overhaul of the judiciary that they said will shatter their ideal of a Jewish and democratic state.

One of the initiators of the letter said that the overhaul reminds him of the undemocratic regime changes in Europe that preceded the Holocaust in which Nazi Germany murdered six million Jewish people.

Holocaust survivors, some of whom arrived after World War II to help establish the State of Israel, hold a particular status in Israeli society as a poignant living reminder of the past while also representing the hope that the country provides a safe refuge for Jews that was not previously available for them or for those who perished.

“We, the survivors of the Holocaust who rose from the ashes like a phoenix,” they wrote, fought to establish a Jewish state “with values, to be a light unto the nations.”

Today, they said, “we witness that the same vision of establishing a Jewish-democratic state, and building a just society with economic, scientific, cultural, and social achievements, is shattering before our eyes.”

“This is due to the actions and omissions of the Israeli government,” they said. “We call on the government of Israel to stop the coup d’état and preserve the Jewish-democratic nature of our country.”

People stand still at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, as a two-minute siren is sounded across Israel to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Noting their elderly age, they said society was nearing the time when “our voices are silenced, and there will no longer be a witness on the face of the earth that can say: I was there!”

“We appeal to the government of Israel to stop the governmental reform before we reach the brink of the abyss,” they concluded.

Avraham Ruth, 95, who helped organize the letter, called for representatives of the government to not attend the upcoming Holocaust Remembrance Day events.

“As a Holocaust survivor, I saw the entire development of the elimination of democracy in Germany and then in the Netherlands, and unfortunately you can draw parallels between what happened [then and now]. It is repeating itself and it is very serious. It keeps us awake,” he told Channel 12.

“Government representatives have no place at the ceremonies, and they don’t understand anything about it, they have no idea what a Shoah is,” Ruth said using the Hebrew phrase for the Holocaust.

Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked by official state ceremonies and includes two minutes of silence in memory of those who died. This year’s memorial day begins on the evening of April 17 and ends the following evening.

A week later, Israel marks a memorial day for fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terror.

Last week, thousands of bereaved military families reportedly called on ministers to stay away from official events for that day, in protest to the judicial overhaul.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the families made the request to Yad Labanim, the largest bereaved family organization in Israel, citing concerns over speeches and potential protests for and against the judicial overhaul.

This aerial view shows people protesting in Tel Aviv against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul bill, on March 25, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the Supreme Court and give it control over the appointment of judges.

They say the plan is a long-overdue measure to curb what they see as outsize influence by unelected judges. But critics say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary majority. They also say it is an attempt by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, to escape justice.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets over the past three months to protest the sweeping overhaul.

Tech entrepreneurs, Nobel-winning economists, and prominent security officials have spoken out against it, military reservists have threatened to stop reporting for duty and even some of Israel’s closest allies, including the US, have urged Netanyahu to slow down. Repeated efforts by President Isaac Herzog to broker a compromise have not yielded fruit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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